Music Reviews

Steel Pole Bath Tub


Zero To One

Unlistenable, the title of Steel Pole Bath Tub’s post-breakup release is all too telling, as it offers probably the best description of what the band had been doing, sonically and conceptually, since their genesis in the late-1980s. Yet somehow, their music was always so damn interesting – if that makes sense and doesn’t completely contradict the prior sentence. In a reflection on the mortality of his band, the 1996 recording sessions (held in various bandmembers’ apartments) from which these songs were culled and the fickleness of major labels, Mor-X writes in the liner notes: “Our living room/studios were not part of any scene, they didn’t worry if we played rock or noise or neither. They floated detached and unconnected and they encouraged us to not give a shit and it worked. Is it a shame that it took so many years to learn such simple lessons? That these recordings were deemed Unlistenable by our label and got us dropped? That this is the last record?”

This collection begins quietly, but inevitably rocks out like only SPBT knows how. It is more of the bass-laden, looping beat and fuzzy vocal “noise” that the band has been doing so well for over a decade. Samples are experimented with, instruments are tuned unconventionally and linearity is thrown out the window. Many critics are quick to codify SPBT’s sound as “messy” or “repetitive.” However, they are merely unable to comprehend SPBT’s ability to transcend sonic barriers, and redefine the superficial line between music and noise, as is deftly exhibited in a brilliant re-presentation of The Cars’ classic “What I Need,” as well as an interpretation of “My Best Friend’s Girl,” here titled “My Best Friend’s a Girl.” “Hot Water Into Steam,” is the most lugubrious moment on the album as a looping pedal steel wails over an insinuating bass line. Perhaps this is the birth of a new subgenre: “” I doubt it, as few other bands could pull it off as well as SPBT can.

Unlistenable is the band’s most infectious and accessible album. Indeed, the notion of accessibility is relative as SPBT is by no means pandering to the sensibilities of any particular demographic (there was a valuable lesson learned during their brief stint on a major). Sure the album lacks cohesion as one song segues into another, but that is what is to be excepted from SPBT. There is nothing wrong with such a modus operandi. After all, it is what makes Sonic Youth and John Coltrane so engaging. It’s a damn shame not enough people understood where they were coming from. R.I.P. boys.

Steel Pole Bath Tub:

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