Black coffee to the rest of indie rock’s iced latte, Silkworm continue to proffer their own difficult, acidly beautiful hard rock with continued disregard for form or fashion. Even more densely angular and awkward than usual, It’ll Be Cool finds a band so deeply immersed in its own idiom that it’s hard to imagine an ear making any sense of this music, and yet, in spite of itself, the record works.
First off, what the record doesn’t have is the effortless grace of their previous full-length, Italian Platinum, a fiercely beautiful batch of songs that redefined the band's identity. Silkworm’s music has always seesawed between short, sharp injections and sprawling landscapes; on Platinum, they mostly indulged the former, and the result was a thoroughly accessible record that sacrificed none of the band’s more difficult qualities.
Silkworm is, first and foremost, a band intensely interested in playing together, in developing the special sound that the players share. Occasionally, this falls in line with their audience’s sensibility, but occasionally, they can seem locked off, remote. In other bands, this quality would read as self-indulgent, but Silkworm are far too focused in their approach for that. They simply follow their own particular muse, playing to their own internal logic and rhythm. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many of their more “difficult” releases simply require more time to decipher.
The songs on It’ll Be Cool are a little more rough and less compact in their structure than the tracks on Platinum, but they possess a road-tested sense of purpose that propels them through the awkward passages. There is also a more pronounced sense of experimentation, with the band producing all kinds of weird squawks and even some pitch-shifted vocals. Matt Kadane, of Bedhead and the New Year, returns from Platinum to play keyboards again, often essaying incongruous harpsichord arpeggios and overdriven electric piano. His work here doesn’t replicate the oily melancholy of Platinum; instead, it serves to complicate the arrangements, somehow subverting the songs’ intentions and pulling them in unexpected directions. Although initially a strange fit, the sounds blossom on repeated listens into something compelling and strange.
Slowly, the album creeps up on you and things start to linger: the metallic, rattling bass and crude anthemics of “Insomnia,” the buried emotion on “Don’t Look Back.” Silkworm has recorded with Steve Albini for years, and it shows. Their delivery and the record’s sound are confident, sharp and heavy. Just the racket of the three instruments clanging around together brings a mighty amount of pleasure, and Silkworm’s songs are still filled with novelistic detail, concerning everything from an errant voice on the radio to life at sea on a shitty yacht. Silkworm often create characters who represent a peculiarly American strain of misanthrope, the kind who drink cheap beer and cruise the strip all night, secretly loathing their empty existence. That the band can turn these kind of people and emotions into rock songs is a special kind of magic, a sound that couples complete emotional devastation with a palpable romantic yearning, despite the noisy guitars. It’s not pretty, but it exerts a special pull that few bands can match.
By Jason Dungan