The single guitar note, all fragile and frosted glass, falls on the foot of the kick drum.
And then, as the notes continue to unfurl and the metronomic drum spurs a succession, we first hear that voice, sleepy but somehow still resolved and engaged, lingering above a whisper and below a murmur.
“More than ever it seems true to say/ Things won’t always be this way/ The ways we’ve thought to get this far/ Are as outdated as we are.”
Two minutes later, a bass enters the crawl. Then comes the second guitar, adding a simple – but gorgeous – melody to the plucked guitar notes. The music is as carefully paced and natural as breathing.
At three minutes in, the second guitar goes quietly electric and the drums pick up. The voice is gone.
Sometimes, the silence between words can be as powerful and meaningful as what is actually said. Such was the mantra of Bedhead, an act bred in the Dallas and Wichita Falls, Texas area in the ‘90s that, if it can’t lay claim to inventing the slow-core genre, surely perfected it. Now, the group, which dissolved around the turn of the century, is getting the retrospective treatment from a new label and the resulting product – a four-CD boxed set titled Bedhead: 1992-1998 – is one of the top reissues of the year.
I discovered Bedhead in the mid-90s, finding WhatFunLifeWas, the group’s full-length debut, at the local record shop and thinking its melancholy title and minimalist packaging were reasons enough to pick it up. When I got home, I was entranced. I was familiar with the loud-quiet dynamics of The Pixies (though these guys were a million times more sedate), was in love with Slint and Rodan, and knew how bands like Don Caballero were advancing the cause of math-rock. But this was different.
This was post-rock on a morphine drip, everything unfolding in slow motion, the simple lines and crystalline droplets of sound floating somewhere between the haziness of impending sleep and the lucid waves of REM subconsciousness. Bedhead, indeed. In the late 90s, as a college radio station DJ, I played Bedhead’s successive records, Beheaded and Transaction de Novo, to near-death on the air alongside ‘90s cohorts like Seam and Tortoise, and learned to trace how the Kadane brothers’ simple musical statements were inverted and truncated into something majestic.
Though the Kadanes, after Bedhead went dormant, went on to form The New Year, it was good music, more dynamic in some ways, even, but it was a consolation prize compared to the magic of Bedhead. And nobody else – or maybe more accurately, nobody after Low or the rejiggered shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine – seemed to pick up the slow-core mantle. Musicians became enraptured with Minimalism (capital M here) and post-rock became edgier, more bombastic and riddled with polyrhythms and arrhythmic time signatures. Work by post-rock forebears like Gastr Del Sol’s David Grubbs or Slint’s Brian McMahan didn’t find successors; it was replaced by Hella and OXES.
But, here we are again, almost 20 years later, and Bedhead: 1992-1998 reminds us of why this group was so moment-defining and, yeah, I’ll say it, brilliant. WhatFunLifeWas, with its occasional forays into crescendos, gave way to the feathery notes of Beheaded and then the more eclectic, sublime Transaction de Novo. The fourth disc in the new set, in case you’re wondering, compiles The Dark Ages EP, as well as some singles and outtakes, all of which shimmer and shine. (I’ve found myself listening to the seven-inch version of “The Rest of The Day” more than the more refined take found on Beheaded.) The set also comes with an 80-page book unraveling some of the mystery.
The remastering for this Numero Group release is done with as subtle a hand as Bob Weston put to Slint’s remastered Spiderland earlier this year but the result definitely is noticeable. The sound levels, for one, enter 2014. And the little details! On “Exhume,” when the slow dance between that slumbery bass line and trebly guitar are interrupted by the bell (is that a triangle?), the chiming practically jumps out of the speakers. “Leper,” an inviting song previously only available as the flip-side to the “Lepidoptera” 10-inch EP, coos so quietly, you can hear the faux-exhalation of the organ and fingers rubbing across guitar fretboards.
Listening to the boxed set front to back, non-stop, can be transfixing – and highly recommended. “Inhume,” a glassy bit of repetition off the odds-and-ends CD, induces a trance that’s tough to break. The sliding, almost slack-keyed, guitar on Beheaded’s “Roman Candle” has an almost classy sheen to it. “To The Ground,” a honky-tonkish exercise that always seemed a bit out of place to me, seems now to offer a locked groove that fits right alongside the metronomic – that word again! – pace of “Living Well,” which follows it on WhatFunLifeWas. The rarely heard “Heiszahobit,” with its awkward-silence-in-the-studio opening, is dreamy. On the other end of the spectrum, “Extramundane” and, especially, “Psychosomatica” – both off Transaction de Novo – perfect the fuzzy, angular attack Bedhead only briefly flirted with on WhatFunLifeWas. And then there’s the classic “More Than Ever” – let’s say it all with the unsaid.
All in all, an epic offering from a once-epic band. Why must this be written in past tenses? Bedhead is dead; long may they reign.