Thursday, March 4, 2010

great record: SILKWORM Libertine (1994)

Sorry for the update delay, kids, real life does intrude occasionally and I've also been busy looking for that record. You know, the one that really strikes me as "hey, that's the one! That's the one I'm going to blog next!"...

And oddly enough, while I was already a fan of this week's artist, I never did have this particular record until yesterday. And I've spent the past 24 hours kicking myself in the ass for not discovering it sooner (though admittedly it HAS been physically out-of-print for some time).

Silkworm formed in the thriving postpunk hotbed of Missoula, Montana in 1987, then after spending much of their career in the Pacific Northwest, ended up in Chicago with longtime pal Steve Albini. Tracing a path from 70's retro homage to 80's postpunk to 90's angular indierock, Silkworm was a steady workaday band who reliably issued forth new records every couple years - until 2005, when long-loved drummer Mike Dahlquist was killed (with 2 co-workers) in a car accident near Chicago's Northwest Side by a foolish woman intent on ending her own life (she survived). Needless to say the band ended with this, though two of the members carry on today as part of Bottomless Pit.

Today's record is Silkworm's 1994 release Libertine, their last with founder member Joel Phelps on board (singer, guitars and songwriting). It's a great record that leaps stylistically from Pavement-ish skwonk (I made that word up) to Neil Young rustic to rhythmic postpunk to near Palace-esque Appalachia. They pull it off, somehow, and engineer Steve Albini (him again) captured the enormity of this band's sound just perfectly.

Recorded over a 4-day period in rural Minnesota in May 1994, this record has managed to claw its way to my Desert Island Disc selection in record time. I love the pacing, the songwriting, the rubbery basslines, the sometimes-Televisionesque guitars, the whole damn thing. The quasi-schizoid switching back and forth amongst three different singers (Phelps, bassist Tim Midgett, and guitarist Andy Cohen) just adds to the record's greatness. HIGHLY recommended.

From an archived Matador Records website:

As has been their custom, Silkworm recorded Libertine cheaply and efficiently in a mid-Western recording studio after a lengthy gestation. Discerning listeners will notice the songs of the recording combine to form a compelling inner-rhythm and feel of a high-concept album due to a refinement in the playing and marked diversity in the songs themselves. Libertine includes several classics: Cohen's "Grotto of Miracles", Phelps' "Yen + Janet Forever" and Midgett's "Couldn't You Wait", to our ears the best composition by each of the three writers to date. Many memorable performances are captured on the record: "Written On The Wind" (a self-empowerment dirge), "The Cigarette Lighters" (hey, if W.D.C. can base an entire youth movement on a Gang of 4 rip, please allow this one song nod to Wire, O.K.?), and especially on "Wild In My Day" where the band meticulously recreated the sound and studio environment of the Wedding Present's Seamonsters LP (from the amp settings down to the string gauges and studio engineer).

At the conclusion of the recording the band was asked if they were comfortable with the Hendrix/Television/Band/Roxy Music genre they've invented. Tim Midgett replied "Oh yeah sure". So are we.

The band at the time of this record:

Joel R.L. Phelps -- Telecaster guitar, vocals ("Yen + Janet Forever", "Oh How We Laughed", "The Cigarette Lighters" & "A Tunnel"

Michael Dahlquist -- Drums

Tim Midgett -- Bass, vocals ("Cotton Girl", "Couldn't You Wait?", "Written On The Wind", "Wild In My Day", "Bloody Eyes")

Andrew Cohen -- Stratocaster guitar, vocals ("There Is A Party In Warsaw Tonight", "Grotto Of Miracles")

And now you too can enjoy it!

1994 El Recordo, Ltd.

01 There Is A Party In Warsaw Tonight
02 Grotto Of Miracles
03 Cotton Girl
04 Yen + Janet Forever
05 Oh How We Laughed
06 The Cigarette Lighters
07 Couldn't You Wait?
08 A Tunnel
09 Written On The Wind
10 Wild In My Day
11 Bloody Eyes

EDIT: Removed at new label's request. The record is available digitally via new label Comedy Minus One so go forth and purchase, post-haste!


  1. This record is still available digitally c/o Comedy Minus One. I'm a fan of your site (especially enjoyed your Iain Burgess tribute), but I'd appreciate if you could remove this link.

    Jon Solomon
    Comedy Minus One

  2. Jon, no problem and done. Rather face nice folk such as yourself asking me to remove material than dealing with a DMCA takedown request! Would you (or the band) mind if I included a track or two from this in a future entry?

  3. Well, go out and get it folks! I was lucky enough to get it from CMJ back in the day. Couldn't You Wait is one of my favorite tracks ever.

  4. That's fine by me. There should be a full physical reissue of this record out in the next year or two with a number of bonus materials if all goes as planned.



  5. Such a great record... criminally neglected.

  6. I honestly could NEVER say enough about this record. I found a $1 bin copy ten years ago and it unquestioningly changed my life. I have some audience recorded Silkworm live shows that I've gotten in trade over the years. Would you anyone else be interested in me uploading them?

  7. It's a little late, but Mason, if you wouldn't mind uploading those shows they would be greatly appreciated. It's sad that they were so underrated. Their live shows were awesome, so it would be nice to hear them again.

  8. News on the long-overdue "Libertine" re-issue:

  9. Following up on my comment from 2010, news on the long-overdue Libertine re-issue finally dropped yesterday:

    1. Thanks Jon! Just preordered the vinyl/CD combo!