Live Music + Gig Reviews

Codeine @ Garage, London

10 September 2023

American slowcore trio return for their first London date in over a decade, showing that their deliberately downplayed, subdued and introspective sounds still have a place in 2023

Codeine (Photo: Daniel Bergeron)

Codeine (Photo: Daniel Bergeron)

Codeine were one of the key bands that were associated with the slowcore genre in the early ’90s. Alongside bands like Red House Painters, American Music Club, Galaxie 500 and Low they pursued a deliberately downplayed, minimalist sound that prioritised a methodical, internally-focused aesthetic. It resulted in a collection of stark, emotionally intense releases and it was the reissuing of these albums earlier this year that helped bring about the band’s first European tour in 11 years, their core line up of Stephen Immerwahr on vocals and bass, John Engle on guitar and Chris Brokaw on drums being in place tonight.

Conditions inside the venue were swelteringly hot, with not even Codeine’s undeviatingly cold, dispassionate sound being able to offer any relief on the hottest day of the year so far. They begin with D and Cigarette Machine, two songs from their first album, 1990’s Frigid Stars. They immediately establish some of their defining characteristics, namely a carefully controlled building of momentum and releasing of tension alongside introspective expression of longing. Immerwahr’s spoken word delivery on the latter in particular complements the wiry, jagged guitar progressions.

Barely Real exhibits a greater sense of space before the doom-laden, inward-looking Loss Leader is given an airing. It’s an early cathartic highlight, exerting an analgesic effect worthy of the band’s name. The sludgy Washed Up meanwhile arguably sees them at their slowest. Later, Tom showcases the vulnerability and beautiful despondency found within their music, Immerwahr’s vocals rising from the charred ground below. Pickup Song offers another robust moment, with a metallic edge. The taut guitar escalations of Jr follow, which possesses hints of nascent post-rock (which helps explain why Mogwai selected them to appear at their 2012 I’ll Be Your Mirror event). Similar can be said of Sea which features more in the way of tightly regimented guitar, further exploring the quiet-loud dynamic. They also play a cover of Atmosphere by Joy Division, a famously slow song decelerated further tonight.

They close their main set with the elegiac, exposed sounds of Pea, Brokaw swapping the drums for guitar to create space for Immerwahr’s sensitive delivery. Alongside the rest of the set, it shows how their songs have stood the test of time, as captivating and impactful as ever. It’s a welcome return that shows how there’s still very much a place in 2023 for their slow, subdued sound.

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Codeine @ Garage, London