Album #17: Codeine – Frigid Stars LP

  • Released: 1990
  • Origin: New York City, USA
  • Label: Glitterhouse/Sub Pop
  • Best Track: Gravel Bed

January is a long, cold and dark month here in Northern England, and I find that the best way to embrace it is with suitably miserable music. Sigur Rós has long been my go-to winter band, but I’m also drawn towards bands of the so-called slowcore/sadcore scene like Low and Red House Painters – that slow, minimalist and often downright depressing type of music.

Also of that ilk were Codeine, a band I’ve been meaning to give a proper listen to for some time. This was their debut album, with a second following in 1994 before the band split. They briefly reformed for shows in 2012 but released no new material, so their catalogue is pretty small, yet often cited as an influence by musicians – including the band Cave In, who took their name from the title of a track on this record.

I really like this kind of music, but it’s hard to describe it in language that doesn’t sound like criticism. It’s slow, serious, bleak, anguished and even a little monotonous, but I don’t necessarily see any of those points as off-putting. It’s also moving, perceptive and at times brutal.

The lyrics often largely consist of a simple rhyming couplet repeated again and again, like “I want you to need me, not to feed me” (‘D’) and “I miss your smile, it’s been a while” (‘Second Chance’). This might sound torturous, but remember this minimalist music and the words follow suit. They actually become more powerful as they’re repeated, becoming reinforced as the idea at the crux of the song.

The particularly languid and grim ‘Gravel Bed’ caught my attention most at first, but after a few listens, penultimate track ‘3 Angels’ is my highlight. Stephen Immerwahr’s drawn-out, pained holler of ‘Take a walk ’round the block’ is a standout moment on the album, and is about as high-pitched as his voice gets in over 40 minutes of music. ‘Cigarette Machine’ is a fine track too, with its spoken word vocals and angular guitars almost sounding like a precursor to Slint’s influential Spiderland album released the following year.

I won’t lie – Frigid Stars is hard work and isn’t for everybody. If you deem anything not about rainbows and lollipops to be “wrist-slitting” music, give it a miss. I love it though, and I love depressing music. I don’t think of myself as a depressed person (and hopefully I’m not a depressing person!), but like anyone I feel sad at times, and for as long as there are things to be sad about, I’d hate not to feel sadness. It’s therefore vital that we have music that’s able to channel that emotion.

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