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Bottomless Pit - Blood Under the Bridge

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Artist: Bottomless Pit

Album: Blood Under the Bridge

Label: Comedy Minus One

Review date: Aug. 13, 2010

It’s strange, in a way, that the Bottomless Pit turned into an ongoing project. The band’s first album, released early in 2008, was a musical memorial to Michael Dahlquist, the Silkworm drummer who died in 2005 in a senseless traffic accident. The two remaining Silkworm members — Tim Midgett and Andy Cohen (supported by bassist Brian Orchard and drummer Chris Manfrin) — worked out their grief and rage and sense of futility in Hammer of the Gods. The album sounded very much like Silkworm (and how could it not?), with characteristically muscular layers of guitar distortion and irregular, white-space-filled rhythms.

What was missing, obviously, was Dahlquist. Some of the tracks used drum machines as a pale substitute for his raucous, off-center drumming. All of them lacked Silkworm’s blustery, devilish sense of humor. Hammer of the Gods was a serious piece of work, old-fashioned in its reliance on indie rock instruments, fixated on a barely absorbed tragedy, and earnestly concerned with matters of death, fate and persistence. It seemed very specific to the crisis that Midgett and Cohen had experienced — something that would be difficult to repeat or even sustain.

And yet, Bottomless Pit’s first album was also a vehicle for Midgett and Cohen to continue doing what they had done for two decades. It was a working band for working musicians. They followed Hammer of the Gods with the four-song Congress later in 2008, an EP that fleshed out the implications of Midgett’s switch from bass to baritone guitar, and began to propose a more complex, dual guitar aesthetic. They continued, lyrically, to wrestle with ideas like death and random tragedy, though in a less explosive, more restrained way.

Blood Under the Bridge, the second Bottomless Pit full-length, continues this trajectory. It is not as raw as the first LP, not as musically belligerent or emotionally wrenching. Instead, it’s got an elegance and symmetry to it, a sense of space and precision that was, if not entirely missing from Hammer of the Gods, at least not fully realized.

Consider, for instance, the long introduction to “Winterwind,” the album’s first track. It starts with Cohen and Midgett following related, interlocking, but not exactly synchronous lines with guitar and bass. A drum machine provides the rhythm, pushing steadily, consistently, but with no sense of urgency. The piece is allowed to develop very gradually, never taking on the muscle and stridency of old Silkworm, instead substituting a cerebral rigor. The two guitars are less dense than one used to be, possibly because they must leave space for one another in the mix. There’s a sense of balance, of cogitation here. Even the lyrics, which refer to Dahlquist’s death obliquely, have a more filtered, considered tone, contemplating “what it means to be careful / what it means to count.”

“Rhinelander,” following directly after, is even more temperate, a lucid, luminous meditation on time and memory that sounds like Sonic Youth in a contemplative mode. And “Kiss Them All,” late in the disc, beautifully balances the fire of amped guitars with serenity. “Kiss them all like you mean it,” sings Midgett in his even-toned, unruffled voice. “Kiss them all like you’re seeing between the lines.” Call it acceptance, call it maturity, call it not rampaging around like a bull in a china shop, but there’s a still, thoughtful center to these songs.

Not that Bottomless Pit can’t rock any more. In fact, they’re leading with “38 Souls” as a giveaway mp3, a track as dense and distorted and turgid as anything from the Silkworm days. It’s slow and heavy and bristling with aggression, but its preoccupation with mortality isn’t the only hint that this is Bottomless Pit, not a lost Silkworm track. A complicated interplay of multiple guitars, bass, drums and singing, a sense of well-considered architecture and space let you know that, even at its most Silkworm-like, Bottomless Pit has progressed from where it started.

And so, against expectations, Bottomless Pit has turned into an ongoing project, profoundly influenced by its macabre beginnings, closely linked to its predecessor band, but no longer defined by either. The grief that shaped Bottomless Pit’s first record hasn’t gone away. But it has changed. Cohen and Midgett have figured out a way of working together, post-tragedy, that at least allows for a Bottomless Pit record that’s not about Dahlquist’s death. And that’s something no Silkworm fan could have imagined five years ago.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Bottomless Pit

Hammer of the Gods

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