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Spiral Stairs – The Real Feel

on November 12, 2009, 3:15am

Scott Spiral, best known for his membership in Pavement, returns to the land of recorded material with The Real Feel, under the name Spiral Stairs. There are many artists who write about what they know, and incorporate such knowledge into their work. The Real Feel is all about pain, disappointment, and lost love. Spiral’s divorce contributed to the bleak material, and the album is indeed a bitter one. However, the variety of musical arrangements should prevent its listeners from jumping off a nearby ledge.

“True Love” starts things off, with its T-Rex-ian rhythym section and a less-than-pleasant take on the theme of love. The rhythm has a real swagger to it, comparable to a cock-of-the-walk attitude. It’s an attitude that struts its way through most of the album, with some exceptions. A world-weary Spiral wants to “Call the Ceasefire”, a down-tempo fit of accusations (“Did you realize/That that was betrayal/Did you see the lies/And all the details”). It’s a musical switch on the opening track, accompanied by piano and slide guitar.

The chilled-out “Cold Change” speaks of a relationship in transition (“Sold out/It was paramount/With phony sounds that cut and tear us/From our lives”), even features “ba-ba-bas” in the song’s closing moments. Spiral Stairs’ “Subiaco Shuffle” regains the swagger of the opener, sex’d up guitars over crashing cymbals, that breaks down in the middle only to finish with a rampage.

After faltering with the been-there-done-that chords of “Wharf Hand Blues,” the terrier, ahem, “Maltese T”, hops along to its own beat (with a return of the “ba-ba-bas”). The track even features banjo! Such an instrument serves as a precursor to the decidedly alt-country lean of “A Mighty Mighty Fall”, when Spiral harmonizes, “Your love is out back in the stars/Back in the stars/But your on course for a mighty fall.” Simple lyrics? Sure, but nothing here comes off insincere. “Stone Pills” goes lo-fi, from its fuzzed-out guitars to its distorted vocals. It’s the shortest song on the album, keeping true to its Guided by Voices influence.

The album falters a couple times, and unfortunately the longest track here is full of ‘em, and it happens to be the worst song on the record, too. Eight minutes of “Blood Money” slows down the proceedings, with its repeated calls of, you guessed it, “Blood money!” The 17-second title track preceding this is something played backwards, and the last track on “The Real Feel” is an old woman repeating, “Ladies and gentlemen, Spiral Stairs.” It’s funny, I guess, but would have served better as a secret track about five minutes after “Blood Money.” Then again, you’d have to sit through “Blood Money.”

Ultimately, Spiral Stairs’ The Real Feel is a good record. It’s bleak, and may be a little too exhausting to sit through repeatedly. However, it doesn’t leave you wishing Pavement would get back together just so Spiral can stop with the solo outings. It leaves you confident that the once and future guitarist of Pavement can still contribute solid material. I’m not saying that that band will be recording music again, but if they do, it will probably be more Dinosaur Jr. than The New Cars.

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“Maltese Terrier”

The Real Feel Album Review: Spiral Stairs – The Real Feel