Album Reviews

SQÜRL – Silver Haze

(Sacred Bones) UK release date: 5 May 2023

Jim Jarmusch’s album can be highly recommended to fans of Cormac McCarthy, Sonic Youth, Clint Eastwood’s early work, Earth and associated bands, and the Old Testament

SQÜRL - Silver Haze Jim Jarmusch is a celebrated, visionary filmmaker renowned for his unique style and thematic explorations of existentialism, individuality, and the wonders and horrors of life. He is well known for his minimalist approach and focus on character development over plot, resulting in films that are both captivating and thought-provoking. Jarmusch’s works often reflect his love for the decay and impermanence of life, as seen in Mystery Train, Dead Man and Only Lovers Left Alive.

However, Jarmusch is not only a filmmaker, but also a musician who has collaborated with a variety of artists. Notably, his music has been heavily influenced by experimental rock, ambient, and drone music (the press release for this record singles out Rowland S Howard and Keith Levene, amongst others), and he has worked alongside and been inspired by Dylan Carlson, the founder of the drone godheads Earth. Through his multi-faceted artistry, Jarmusch has become renowned for capturing the essence of a particular time and place, while conveying universal themes that resonate with his audiences.

His band SQÜRL was formed in 2009 and features Jarmusch alongside Carter Logan, and together they’ve released a range of material – including the soundtracks to Only Lovers Left Alive and The Dead Don’t Die (another classic) – but have finally come around to releasing a ‘debut’ full-length album. Silver Haze is, as you’d expect, an extension of their previous sound but taken to a fully realised end. It’s heavy, gritty and dark at points, but also bright, sun-bleached and strangely ethereal at others. You’ll hear the influence of Neil YoungThe Stooges, Earth (especially due to the production of iconic drone producer Randall Dunn), Whitehouse, various shoegaze bands (Jarmusch is a huge fan of My Bloody Valentine‘s Kevin Shields) and even Silver Apples. It features Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marc Ribot and Anika in prominent roles – underground icons themselves – and represents Jarmusch’s most complete vision in a musical sense.

The album starts with Berlin ‘87, which unfolds slowly, as though it’s blooming in the dark. The guitars are haunting, but warm – as though you were returning to the empty house of a lost loved one after a decade. It sounds almost exactly like Earth, and is all the better for it. The End Of The World continues in the same vein, but Jarmusch’s oily baritone recites a harrowing short story over the top of it – “then the sirens begin again” – that conjures Frank Miller’s Sin City in its graphic urban desolation.

Garden Of Glass, which features Ribot, opts for a different approach – going for a Velvet Underground-influenced narcotic haze, with euphonic drones conjuring a specific kind of drowsy serenity. Ribot is uncharacteristically reserved, his work purely serving the flow of the track, but unmistakable. She Don’t Wanna Talk About It pits Anika against Jarmusch in a warped Gainsbourg/Birkin or Hazlewood/Sinatra faceoff that rides a thunderous rhythm to a faded ending. Il Deserto Rosso (the second Ribot feature) takes things to an altogether stranger place, reminiscent of the written work of Cormac McCarthy or the visual work of Jodorowsky. It’s desolate, and weird, and completely oppressive.

John Ashbery Takes A Walk – probably the highlight of the set – has Gainsbourg read two of the Ashbery’s poems while SQÜRL meander and float along beneath her. The choice of Ashbery is inspired – the second poem, Some Trees (the eponymous work from his debut collection) has always held within it a raw elemental power that Gainsbourg and the band bring to life. Queen Elizabeth (not that one) takes us to the same American West that Nick Cave dreamed into existence. It’s a West that’s scarred by the screams of religious zealots and Natives alike, God and the godless looming large over the unforgiving terrain. The album ends with the title track, where the group fully flex their muscles for first time, as though they were woken from years of slumber. It’s a fittingly monolithic conclusion to an exhausting and exhaustive body of work.

Silver Haze will probably be ignored – it was always destined to be one of the many footnotes in Jarmusch’s legendary career – but if this were the debut album of a new group it would be celebrated as a fantastic example of the visceral and cerebral pleasures of a singularly oppressive style of psychedelic metal. As with all of Jarmusch’s projects, it’s an acquired taste, but a powerful one. Highly recommended to fans of Cormac McCarthy, Sonic Youth, Clint Eastwood’s early work, Earth and associated bands, and the Old Testament.

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