Album Reviews

Spiral Stairs – The Real Feel

(Domino) UK release date: 19 October 2009

For those in the know, Spiral Stairs is the nickname for Scott Kannberg, founding member guitarist/songwriter with Pavement during the ’90s.

Although The Real Feel is Kannberg’s debut solo album made with session musicians, its ensemble quality makes it sound like an album made by a band. Maybe that’s not so surprising as members of his post-Pavement band Preston School Of Industry contribute to it, but this album delivers what they only promised in their two previous efforts.

Less alternative and more mainstream than Pavement’s output, it may not have the same spirit of adventure. But it shows Kannberg moving confidently into classic rock territory as it boasts his most rounded, mature songs so far. As the title suggests, the music in The Real Feel has a genuine emotional depth which is revealed further with each listen, the understated heartfelt lyrics probably reflecting his marriage break-up a few years ago.

The outstanding opening track True Love, with its jangly guitars and driving beat, has a distinctively retro feel to it. The long and languid countrified Call The Ceasefire, with its nice guitar licks and piano accompaniment, is reminiscent of Neil Young in his Crazy Horse phase. Cold Change is a simple but effective mid-tempo affair, featuring organ and singalong backing vocals.

Subiaco Shuffle’s hard-rock opening gives way to a rootsy folk-blues sound complete with mandolins. Wharf-Hand Blues is a marvellously hypnotic slow bluesy song with slide guitar and very catchy backing vocals, which picks up pace later – and the poignantly wistful words “What was wrong for you/Might’ve been right for me” linger long in the mind. Maltese Terrier is a hook-laden track also featuring mandolin.

A Mighty Mighty Fall, a country ballad with twangy pedal steel guitar, slips into corniness but first single Stolen Pills, an out and out raunchy rocker, blasts all sentimentality away as it hurtles down the freeway. The title track is an easily dispensable psychedelic instrumental lasting just 11 seconds, while Blood Money is the longest track – an eight-minute slow country-rock meander that outstays its welcome a bit but possesses real feeling.

Kannberg’s subtly dextrous guitar playing is a delight; more surprising is his assured vocal performance. Above all what impresses is the quality of his songwriting. Kannberg is much more traditional than the quirky ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, whose albums with backing band The Jicks offer an interesting contrast.

Pavement fans expecting similar lo-fi experimentation may be disappointed with The Real Feel, but anyone who appreciates organically structured rock songs should love this album. The recently confirmed Kannberg/Malkmus et al reunion is undoubtedly a tasty prospect, but this is more than enough to keep us satisfied till then.

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More on Spiral Stairs
Spiral Stairs – We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized
Spiral Stairs – Doris And The Daggers
Spiral Stairs – The Real Feel