Slow Dazzle – The View From the Floor

Slow Dazzle
The View From the Floor

Inspired by “The Prosecution Rests,” the dreamy fourth track on Slow Dazzle’s debut album, The View From the Floor, consider my opening statement, as one of this publication’s new music prosecutors: I rarely enjoy alt-country, but I like The View From the Floor so much that I’ve listened to the album on repeat three times now. That’s over 90 minutes of listening to this new LP by an offshoot of The Mendoza Line. It started when I was chopping cucumbers, green peppers, hot peppers, and Israeli olives in my kitchen for a salad. I thought, “Wow, this is great. I’m surprised I’m enjoying this.”

Then I listened to The View From the Floor a second time while driving late at night, and I concentrated on the clever lyrics. There is a tender, personal aspect to each of the album’s eight songs. I played the album a third time while lying in bed, and the music brought up sweet and sour memories as I tried to fall asleep at 3:30 in the morning. Now, I listen to the album a fourth time while writing this, and Shannon McArdle continues to fascinate me with her dynamic, seductive voice. Even Timothy Bracy’s tired singing is growing on me.

The View From the Floor opens with the pulsating, tubular “Fleur de Lie.” The band fuses distorted electronic instrumentation and loads of reverb with McArdle’s authoritative voice on this tense track. The dramatic decrease in tempo that comes with Bracy’s turn as lead singer on “A Welfare State” and “The Prosecution Rests” is offset by an aching harmonica on the former and a swirling combination of patient drumming and keyboards on the latter. Bracy’s partial duets with McArdle on these two songs highlight a warm, natural mix of male and female vocals. On the album’s title track, McArdle brings to mind Hope Sandoval, but the twang and higher tone here distinguish the two women.

Considering his influence on the band, it’s appropriate that Slow Dazzle covers one of Leonard Cohen’s songs. Somewhat surprisingly, the choice is a more recent Cohen track, “Anthem,” from 1992’s The Future. Slow Dazzle’s version replaces Cohen’s orchestral strings with a drum machine and electronic echoes. McArdle sings in Cohen’s style, pausing and dropping the emphasis on selected syllables, but she has a smooth delivery, as opposed to Cohen’s famous gravelly croon.

The most gripping song on The View From the Floor is “Wedding Dance.” The painstaking arrangement and production by engineer and contributing instrumentalist Peter Langland-Hassan firmly plant “Wedding Dance” in the listener’s mind. The lackadaisical guitars and percussion wrap around McArdle’s desperately determined words: “They claim two years ago they changed the name / But that green and rusted street sign reads the same / I thought you’d come around and sign the sheet / My last name just don’t make yours complete / Oh no / My mother set me up, I had no chance / She turned her back and cursed our wedding dance / I tripped and fell into a burning rage / Made by men who slipped right through her cage.”

With its subtle, tasteful electronic touches, “Wedding Dance” penetrates the soul and compels the listener to empathize with the subject of the song. Such is the entire debut album by Slow Dazzle, an affecting combination of baroque pop and classic country motifs delivered with great concern for each lyrical character. Like the best stories, The View From the Floor transcends stylistic preferences, reveals a universal relevance, and leaves an indelible impression on the listener.