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Music and Lyrics: Slothrust and The New Basement Tapes

Sometimes you just want to listen to rock music. You feel a yearning to listen to the kind of music that clangs in your ears and makes your body move. There isn’t much for me these days. Most of what I listen to is odd and lyrical, wonderful, but not exactly something that gives you the internal jolt rock does.

I love a show on FX called “You’re The Worst,” (which, thankfully, will have a second season). It has this perfectly fitting, rock-ish, punk theme song. I found out it was called “7:30 Am” by the band Slothrust. I’ve since been listening to their album Of Course You Do, a lot.

Now, listen, I’m not a great music reviewer. I don’t profess to have any real knowledge about the mechanics of it. I don’t hold a fancy music degree and really know things like other writers at The Tumult… Mike.

But I know how music can make me feel. And Slothrust, all day now, has been giving me this head-thumping buzz. There’s something to be said for lyrical music. My favorite band is fronted by a part-time-poet Canadian. But sometimes it’s not what you need. There is lyricism to Slothrust (in fact, really great lyricism), but they also have this gut-level, rock energy.

Here’s a little anecdote: I was going out to run. I was all dressed, finishing up my pre-run ritual (take Advil, tie shoes, drink water). And I decided to put on Slothrust. I cued it up and cranked the sound as high as my laptop would take it. And before I knew it I was bobbing around my kitchen like a madman, glugging water, barreling my way toward the door. It must have been a scene looking in through the big bay window at the front of the house. But that’s the magic of music. You can disappear into it. Sometimes that means you need the metallic strum of electric guitar, heavy distortion and the sharp crack of a snare drum. Oh—and of course—the volume turned up to 11.

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Which brings me to my other recent listen. The New Basement Tapes (the album itself is called Lost on the River), a makeshift band of well-known musicians composing songs out of rare Bob Dylan lyrics and produced by T Bone Burnett. The original Basement Tapes are a thing of legend, cranked out by peak-of-his-powers, 27-year-old Bob Dylan in a little pink house hidden away in New York State. What came out were raw recordings written alongside The Band. Dylan-heads (Dylan-philes?, Dylanites?) lose their collective minds over the work that came out of the basement. The New Basement Tapes are derived from that time.

The album Elvis Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith and Rhiannon Giddens came up with doesn’t sound like Dylan. That’s fine; nobody wants to hear someone replace Dylan with a Dylan impression. I’m not sure what to make of the album. Oddly enough, in my first few listens, I gravitate toward the songs that lean the furthest away from their basement roots. Listen to “When I Get My Hands On You.” It’s a funky, total re-imagining, jumpy with the thump of a kick drum and plucked fiddle strings. It’s surprising. I came in wanting to hear Dylan’s lyrical voice electrify the songs. Yet I return to this album to figure out how the musicians changed the direction of the music, while keeping Dylan’s lyrics in tact. But that’s the beauty of music; it can be whatever you make it.

Picture a spectrum, music at one end and lyrics at the other. My position on that continuum will always skew heavily toward lyrics. But in reality the two are anything but mutually exclusive. Slothrust, and of course, The New Basement Tapes have great lyrics. But sometimes, I think I just need to shut up, get out of my way, and listen. The music will do the rest.

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