The Slow Signal Fade – Steady

The Slow Signal Fade releases a debut album titled Steady. A deliberate play on contradiction or a careless stab at simplicity? The case could go either way, though the record’s content – itself painstakingly simplistic – seems to favor the latter. And, for all practical purposes, TSSF writes steady songs: four- to five-minute pieces that beat two or three guitar parts to death over a repetitious rhythm section. Well, you might argue, the band has only three instrumentalists and a vocalist – should orchestral complexity be demanded? Only if sound composition is of interest. The thing is, Steady is rife with the kind of segmented guitar parts that make for a fantastic backbone but aren’t sufficient to flesh out a functional album. A standardized concoction of reverb and chorus cannot revitalize an emaciated formula; this is particularly true of the psychedelic, multi-colored rock The Slow Signal Fade has elected to pursue.

Part of the problem might lie in Steady’s recording. The band is quick to boast of its hook-up with Steve Albini, but it is immediately apparent that there is no depth to the album’s production. Indeed, a talented engineer could have laid this down on a four-track. I can imagine the recording layout going like this: 1) mid-tempo drums, focus on the open hi-hat and the kick 2) bass–distortion or no? Moog on “Mary Lou Saw Birds”? 3) all guitar parts out of the Marshall Hot Rod, chorus and reverb up to 10, nobody’ll notice 4) Marguerite Olivelle’s vocals at the top of the mix–let her squeeze it a bit just like Alanis Morisette hell yeah.

A trusty formula indeed, but double check the algebra: poor production coupled with a lack of invention has never yielded a memorable result. This paucity of raw material necessarily yields an oppressively rigid record: the same elements that show up in the intro of “Departmental” persist unabated to the closing seconds of “That’s a Long Way Down.” Monotony is bad enough, but, at nine songs and 48 minutes, Steady really starts to show its stretch marks in the last quarter. Fortunately, the band’s best ideas emerge in “Mary Lou Saw Birds” and “The Same Song” – they actually comes close to jamming at the album’s finale – to round off a steadily deteriorating momentum. But over nine minutes of “At Least We’re Dancing,” arguably the album’s worst song? Excruciating.

Perhaps this is an insensitive appraisal, but it’s probably best for all involved. My baseball coach used to tell me that pain is weakness leaving the body, and I believed it. So, now that TSSF have arrived at the fork, maybe the guys will pick the road less traditional. As I see it, there are two possibilities: 1) they strip down completely and drop the psych-rock pretense, or 2) they decide that the most complicated solution is best and actually go for a guitar solo, or, at the very least, double track a few parts. Steady’s failure is all the more bewildering because the elements are there for a solid record: Olivelle’s vocals are more than strong enough to take over, Aaron Vishria is an immensely talented drummer, and the bass and guitar generate enough parts over 48 minutes to make a brilliant half hour. So, as with most first attempts, the conclusion is that the potential is there – it might simply take some steady practice to capitalize on it.