The New Year Snow

[Undertow; 2017]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: “slowcore,” “sadcore,” good ol’ indie rock
Others: Bedhead, Duster, Yo La Tengo, Wilco

Although by most accounts they never made it big, Dallas five-piece Bedhead spent just under a decade carving out their own space in the hearts of a charmed few. In its short seven-year existence, the act quietly released three outstanding records that were hushed and consistent at a time when the underground was anything but stable. With a few pedals, chords, and a stable simplicity of form, brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane knitted textural tones from layer upon layer of endlessly-pounded guitar, only to retreat back to a sluggish, downtempo torpor. Yet even as similar acts like Pavement, Sebadoh, and Yo La Tengo went on to headline festivals and be sealed into the indie rock history books, Bedhead always faded into the background, their somber, steady sound always secondary to the brighter hues of the era.

In the wake 1998’s Steve Albini-recorded Transactions de Novo, the band broke up. Split between Boston and Dallas with the grueling obligations of adulthood, the Kadane brothers seemingly reluctantly set out on a new project called The New Year. Where Bedhead captured wandering meditations on early relationships with a shimmering, reflective use of space, The New Year instead found the brothers swapping fuzz for more acoustic elements and a plainer, less impactful sound. 2004’s The End Is Near served up lines on giving in and going grey, lost and adrift in songwriting that once made sense from sadness.

Now nine years since their last release, the band feels ready to dive back into what made their early work compelling. Ditching the piano balladry of their last effort for a shot at the same fuzzy downtempo that helped define Bedhead, the act leans in on heavy, blown-out chords, ratcheting jagged edges into stable waves of sound. A euphoric headrush for fans who thought that the band had largely called it quits, “Recent History” starts with a steady minute-and-a-half of instrumental bliss, slowly teasing out lyrics in a push from past to present. “There’s nothing in our recent history that’s new to me and you/ So why are we surprised?” sings Matt Kadane with a newfound focus. Whether musing on personal relationship or the political state-of-things, the words hit with a renewed intensity, a fresh punch after years of diminishing return.

Although far from the sparseness that defined Bedhead’s best, Snow combines the uncertainty of aging with a new studio polish that splits the difference between their past releases. Recorded again in part by Steve Albini, the record collects years of sessions across Texas, New York, and California, smoothing loose ends into a heartfelt assemblage of sounds old and new. With rolling Rhodes chords atop a rhythmic, palm-muted overdrive, “Snow” evokes the muffled confusion of earlier moments from The New Year, flooding the mix with a familiar sonic warmth while struggling to make sense of things lyrically. “Now the only light I see/ Leads to what lead me to leave,” Matt Kadane sings, an almost Ben Gibbard coo giving way to an extended instrumental stretch.

Part of the charm of both projects always lied in their consistency, and Snow is nothing if not consistent. “The Party’s Over” continues Transactions De Novo’s noisiest moments, slinking buzzing tones into the churning engine of “Amnesia,” while “Homebody” grasps at the most heartfelt moments of their self-titled. Far from indie rock innovators (however oxymoronic that seems in retrospect), the act was always ahead of its time in the understanding that there is value in sticking to the formula. Perhaps as prototypically “indie” as it gets, the release still shines with a mastery of all of what once made them hidden heroes to begin with.

As tides change and the popular appetite for these sort of sounds slowly fades, it’s hard to say just what sort of impact can be expected of such a release. The strongest album of a now almost 15-year-old project, Snow glistens with the boyish charm of Bedhead at a time when the Kadane brothers find fewer and fewer contemporaries. Even nine years removed, “Homebody” and “Recent History” find a tender expressivity from deep within a template that’s long since yielded much to get excited about. Heavy and heartbreaking, teeming with a warm, analog energy, Snow looks backward at each defining element that made the band so memorable to begin with. But like many of the best moments, maybe you just had to be there.

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