Codeine

Frigid Stars LP

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The cover of Codeine's Frigid Stars LP sets the mood well -- a negative black and white shot of some stars, looking even more haunting as a result. As for the album, the tone isn't cold or unemotional, but simply gripped by a deep black mood, where everything seems on the verge of suddenly going wrong or collapsing. There's a cryptic warmth in the slow tempos and feedback produced from the deliberate strumming and chords from John Engle and Chris Brokaw's guitars. It isn't the narcotic hush of Low -- there's actually a little more relative energy than that! -- or sludgy stoner rock à la Black Sabbath, but something else entirely. Bassist Stephen Immerwahr's vocals lend to that feeling, softly ruminative, sometimes straining, but never sounding self-important or whining (though sometimes the lyrics are creepily macabre -- check out the start of "Cave-In"). If one lets oneself go for the album's general feel, then it all flows together to make a touching, surprising experience, but those seeking variety aren't likely to be happy. It avoids sounding repetitious by virtue of the dynamics -- treat the entire album as an extended mood piece, and it works well. Engle's lead guitar work throws in enough heartbreakingly strong moments to help -- the sudden low swoop on "Pickup Song" is a standout, while the dark, forbidding drones on "Second Chance" are truly chilling. An interesting cover surfaces a few songs in -- "New Year's" (co-written by Bitch Magnet singer Sooyoung Park but not recorded by him until the first Seam album, Headsparks, two years later). Codeine here sound a touch cleaner than elsewhere on Frigid Stars, where the guitars can really sprawl when needed, but Brokaw's drumming and Immerwahr's great delivery mark it out as their version instead of merely a straightforward remake.

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