It’s no secret that some of the best songs are written after some sort of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking relationship fiasco and it’s no different with former frontman of Preston School Of Industry and founding member of Pavement, Scott Kannberg, a.k.a. Spiral Stairs. After a split from his wife and five years of “dark times”, Spiral Stairs has made peace with his demons and assembled an album of emotionally personal music that can be heard in the heartfelt tunes on The Real Feel.
From slow-burning blues-rock to heart-aching ballads to broiling rockers, Kannberg’s smooth songwriting fleshes out the timeless rock textures we all like and have heard before from The Doors and The Rolling Stones and combined them with his charismatic crooning and an original blend of the wild and wooly garage rock of Grinderman and the brooding and bleak indie-rock of The Black Heart Procession and tempered it with the balmy and reflective tones of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. This combination of styles and the polished songwriting and sophisticated integration of instrumentation (guitar, bass, synthesizer, piano, banjo, pedal steel, mellotron, drums and percussion) all provide a certain warm feeling, which in turn brings a genuine and familiar quality to the music.
Opener “True Love” is the most Doors-like but with sludgy guitars instead of organs and is followed by “Call The Ceasefire” which is more of a slow cooking ballad with emotional pedal steel and melodramatic cymbal crashes, highlighted by the sincere vocals. The album then shifts gears a bit with the bouncy beats and poppy keyboards of “Cold Change”. “Subiaco Shuffle” and “Maltese T” are simmering, bluesy rockers that erupt with fiery flashes of wiry guitars and act as rowdy neighbors to the slower, but powerful “Wharf Hand Blues” with it’s glowingly sorrowful, yet supremely catchy refrain “What was wrong for you, might’ve been right for me”. “A Mighty Mighty Fall” may sound sunnier with more country-ish rhythms and more pedal steel but is equally bruising with lyrics like “stay in love as long as you can or this love of life will die” which is followed by the short, pounding rocker “Stolen Pills”.
It may sound like an uneven listen as the songs zigzag through the various styles but the captivating vocals act as a common denominator. And although the track changes can be as rambunctious as the chord progressions, each song is composed to be down to earth and intimate whether it’s the tight and catchy rhythms and wiry guitar solos of the broiling rockers, the shadowy keyboard swells and melancholic pedal steel of the heart-aching ballads or the raw, rough and loud brand of bluesy rock.
There is not much on The Real Feel that is daring or new in terms of musical explorations, but the emotionally energetic vocals and intestinal fortitude of the lyrics coupled with the honesty and the understated transcendence of the songs is quite alluring.
Spiral Stairs: www.spiralstairsmusic.com
Matador Records: www.matadorrecords.com