Alivelectric – The SlipAliveacoustic – The Slip
Since their humble beginnings reinterpreting jazz standards in high school
band class, The Slip has always played alarmingly honest improvisational
music. When they want to rock out, they rock out. When they want to chill,
they chill. Some nights they feel like dancing; other nights they'd rather
breathe slowly while lying flat on their backs looking at stars. And then
some nights they feel like doing all of it. If they're going to be honest,
well then, fuck it — I will be too: Aliveacoustic is my favorite
album of 2003. It is a live recording of a band that might not even exist.
It is a collection of acoustic singer-songwriter type songs with lyrics that
make me want to weep in my bedroom alone and melodies that make me want to
brachiate playfully from the trees in my backyard. And if we're going to be
honest here (which is something that Brad, Andrew, and Marc politely demand
from their listeners, through their example) then I'll break from the
professional "CD Review formulas" (all seven templates) that I have
accumulated over the past decade and talk, perhaps at length, about two
particular songs. Maybe three.
The first one is titled "74" and it is the second song on the disc. Let me
backtrack for a moment and say that it was late August when both of these
new Slip CDs were Fed Ex'ed to me for an article that I was writing for
Relix Magazine. That same week I had several features due for several
publications about several bands that I knew but a thing or two about. I
had each band's entire catalog in CD stacks on my stereo, piles of printed
research on my desk. And on my floor. And in my bathroom. I read and I
read but I listened naught. I mean, I listened to what I could; but if I
listened to everything once, there was no time to listen to anything twice.
And still unopened CDs sitting where food should have been on my kitchen
When I opened up the package from the Slip to find two new live CDs, I put
them on for relaxation. As a way to get away from it all. Forget the
article. Id been a fan of the Slip since 1996 when I saw them in the
basement of a friend's house and knew their jazzy jam concoction to be full
of the sort of exotic spices I've taken up since first taking mind-expanding
drugs as a teenager. The Slip's music, I have always found, is equally
Anyway, backlogged on both music and words, I knew that pretty much anything
I put on my stereo would quickly turn into nothing but background sludge
headed down the sewage pipes of my brain while my mind worked over other
thoughts and digested facts and figures. As it turns out, I should've gone
with something else. Rather than give my foot a tempo to tap to while I
worked, The Slip's new discs demanded absolute attention, long-term
commitment, and at least several promises broken in one evening as I had to
make way for two hours of emergency listening. Unlike the poor impulsive
indulgences that one feels remorseful about the day after, both
Aliveacoustic and Alivelectric woke up with me the next day,
and have stayed close by my side ever since. It's a happy situation,
By chance I put Aliveacoustic on first. Perhaps because, at the
time, it was titled Live at Club Helsinki and, you see, I went to
college at a place just a couple miles from Club Helsinki. This would be in
Great Barrington, Massachusetts. When I lived there, Club Helsinki was just
Helsinki — a tea room where I once spilled coffee while reading poetry out
loud to a room full of pseudo-intellectual peers. They found my Beat poems
a bit too lively and my sense of rhythm antithetical to their sense of form.
I put on Aliveacoustic hoping to be reminded of those days of
I was warned by a fellow journalist, who covers the same jamband beat that I
do, that The Slip planned on releasing an album of "pop songs." My friend
alluded to commercial viability. I don't think he meant that The Slip would
land in the weekly ads for Target with this release, but rather that these
songs are easily as crafty and clever and catchy as the best pop music out
there today. And it is. Which brings me back to "74."
Before I listened to music I listened to songs. Up through high school and
even college I made mix tapes whose rhymes were meaningful and whose
meanings were lyrical. (This is way before I decided that "You Enjoy
Myself" was the best song ever written and, needless to say, way before I
decided that I was wrong.) What I'm trying to say is that it's been a long
time since I used the lyrics from somebody else's song to convey my own
feelings about something or someone. I did this with "74." I also sang the
song in my shower every morning for a week straight. My poor neighbors.
Another song on Aliveacoustic that made my shower routine is "Let the
Morning In." Originally written by request for BJ's Warehouse, and later
turned down by BJ's Warehouse, it is a cartoon ditty with a comical melody
and its charming lyrics are irresistible shower-song fodder.
But this is not The Slip Reloaded.
Au contraire, Aliveacoustic captures a night of music where The Slip
got nearly naked, stripping down to acoustics, switching up their
instrumentation, and showcasing the shortest songs in their catalog. The
band's other new release, Alivelectric, is almost a polar opposite.
More typical of what you'd find walking into a random Slip show,
Alivelectric is culled from various performances of 2003. The
compositional wizardry is there. The improvisational three-point basketball
that The Slip team plays is on its usual winning streak. And although it is
taken from different performances throughout the year, the album sounds
smartly cohesive and its winding twists and tempting curves will leave your
headSat least, it leaves my headSfeeling as empty and high and dizzy and
satisfied as it does when leaving a live Slip performance.
Sometimes great albums arrive in bulky packages with loud telegrams and bold
ribbons. These two great albums, however, arrive much more simply. They
are a pair of picture postcards, postmarked from sometime in 2003,
containing the image of three genius musicians, smiling at each other, from
two different scenic overlooks.