Dusted Reviews

Silkworm - You Are Dignified

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Silkworm

Album: You Are Dignified

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Jul. 17, 2003

Acoustic Reverence

In the last 15 years, Silkworm have moved above and below the cultural radar, occasionally peaking to be declared “next big things” before they inevitably sink down again. This is not due to a lack of quality or consistency in their music but rather because of the music itself. Silkworm not only refuse to adhere to conventions and expectations, they move forward relentlessly, exploring new possibilities whenever possible. The band’s signature sound, laced with an experimental approach to the formal elements of rock has made them equally loved and ignored, depending on various fashions. Thankfully, however, Silkworm has never bothered to respond to fashion, and its fans were rewarded last year with Italian Platinum, a stunning record that raised the band’s profile once again.

Riding their hot streak, Silkworm has released You Are Dignified, a collection of covers by contemporaries such as Pavement and Bedhead. Although entirely acoustic, the EP is not always a pretty strumfest, as evidenced by the opening track, a performance of Shellac’s “Prayer to God”. The song is a fierce, creepy request to God to take the lives of a wayward girlfriend and her lover, material that is perhaps not well-suited to the campfire treatment. Remarkably, though, in Silkworm’s hands, the song’s bitter anger is scraped away to reveal the wounded pathos lurking beneath lyrics like “fuckin’ kill him / I don’t care if it hurts”.

Silkworm are clearly having fun here; there’s a looseness to the proceedings that speaks of first-takes and improvisation. That said, the songs are intricately arranged, and there is a delicate care given to the material. This is clearly well-loved music, and what You Are Dignified accomplishes, in part, is to remind the listener of just how damn good these bands can be. This is especially true of Pavement’s “And Then…”, which Pavement later transformed into “The Hexx”. Stripped-down to its essential parts, “And Then…” becomes less of a gothic stadium rock tune and morphs into arch folk-pop, complete with vocal trade-offs among all three Silkworm members. Bedhead’s “Lepidoptera”, a solemn, delicate interweaving of guitar, becomes looser and more blues-like in Silkworm’s hands. The change is particularly evident in the vocals. Bedhead’s Matt Kadane often sings in a restrained whisper, whereas Silkworm’s Tim Midgett sings with a gravelly baritone that pushes itself to the front. In its acoustic form, “Lepidoptera” has a much greater emotional heft, and very nearly bests the original.

Like much of Silkworm’s recent work, the material on You Are Dignified benefits from a studied understatement, a sense of restraint and minimalism. Thus, while every song contains mandolin, it is used sparingly, with a knowing sense of where it might have the most impact. Silkworm never plays a note more than it has to, and this EP pushes that aesthetic to its logical end. Moments of silence are allowed to properly stretch out, and if a vocal needs space, everything else settles down or drops out entirely.

But what is most notable is Silkworm’s ability to own the material. The songs here have their own life, and exist apart from their original performances. In part, this is due to canny song selection. This is most apparent with the cover of Robbie Fulks’ “Let’s Kill Saturday Night”. Silkworm have often mined small-town ennui for their subject matter, and Fulks’ song is concerned with similar notions. A well-observed piece of working-class melancholy, “Saturday Night” gets to the heart of the desperation that lurks beneath drunken merriment, detailing an inebriated night on the town. Like John Cougar Mellancamp without the cheese, it’s an honest and blackly funny account of dead-end America. Both deeply sad and warmly human, it’s a truly great song.

Silkworm have betrayed their love of covers before, most infamously at their “Crust Brothers” show with Stephen Malkmus a few years ago. That performance saw them breathe new life into Basement Tapes songs, as well as the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch” and “Heard It Through the Grapevine”. On Lifestyle, Silkworm covered the Faces’ “Ooh La La”, investing the Rod Stewart tearjerker with a newfound gravity. Like all good bands, Silkworm aren’t merely showing off their record collection when they do covers. They’re absorbing a different sensibility, putting themselves in someone else’s head and learning a new musical language. This engagement with other people’s songs has, in part, kept Silkworm from repeating itself, allowing the band to explore new ways of making music. It also affords the band a certain freedom from expectation that translates into an immensely enjoyable record.

By Jason Dungan

Other Reviews of Silkworm

Italian Platinum

It'll Be Cool

Read More

View all articles by Jason Dungan

Find out more about Touch and Go

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.