Eisenhower – The Slip
For as many times in as many albums, Eisenhower introduces a brand new version of The Slip. And though more than one person has described the almost-veteran trio’s new sound to me as "indie," they pretty much just sound like themselves with a slightly new filter, which I suppose means it’s really just The Slip as usual, hitting beautiful and convoluted progressions and outlining a cryptically accessed rendition of heartache. Most of what makes them sound as they do, however, is a rhythm section — drummer Andrew Barr and bassist Marc Friedman — capable of playing it every which way but straight (and rather well, taboot).
The Slip have always been capable of writing great hooks (like the burbling outro to From the Gecko’s "Honeymelon"), and there are plenty scattered about here, like the relentlessly catchy whoa, whoa chorus dropped in the middle of "Even Rats." Still, front-loaded with an exhilarating instrumental section, the band — as always — favors arresting complexity over, err, pop sensibility. In choices like this, like finding signs of a pelvis in a dolphin skeleton, the Slip still contain evolutionary traces of the jazz-edged jambandary they made their name with.
What makes Eisenhower a new deal, besides it being their first studio album in four years, though, is maybe the pure sound of it. Textures and tones float crisply in the mix, the band’s choice of tonal color exquisite. On "the Original Blue Air," a stunning post-rock instrumental, drummer Andrew plays a beguiling African counterpoint to a noise-wall from his brother. In the middle, they sink into a mesh of Friedman’s silken bass patterns. It is the type of piece one could imagine stretching and melting into all hours of the evening, from quiet to loud, to quiet again. But instead of feeling like a loose frame for deconstruction, the trio condenses it into less than two-and-a-half minutes, before using it to disintegrate and recombine (another jambandy trick) into the disc-closing "Paper Birds."
On "Suffocation Keep," Brad Barr's acoustic guitar — its tone sharp and clear — rises slowly from a string prelude. "People are strange, that's why we're strangers; words come in, but don't come out," he sings, all pleasant obscurities. And as the guitar rose over the strings, Barr's voice rises over the guitar, and nearly breaks. They do well on the acoustic-driven "Life in Disguise," as well. And, hey, there are still jams, too (or, at least, long instrumental sections). "Airplane/Primitive" builds to a suitably crunchy climax, and "Paper Birds" sprawls over eight pleasant minutes.
To paraphrase Jeff Tweedy, what the Slip once were isn't what they want to be anymore, which is maybe the single most natural impulse for any musician. Such a strange title, then, evoking a President inextricably associated with a period of white-bread stability and normality — two words not in the Slip's vocabulary. If it was hard to know to make of the Slip at first, it's even harder now. I'm glad there are some things I can depend on.