Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig is the latest long-playing album from the artist known to the world (or at least to his mother) as Slim Twig. Coming out August 7, 2015 on DFA, you may be surprised to know that it represents the fifth album by the Toronto based songwriter / producer. Twig has released these previous records among a swath of EP’s, singles and one-offs, displaying in the process a complete disregard for genre or consistency. The evolution from Contempt!, his sample-stained 2009 debut, through to A Hound At The Hem, his symphonic tribute album to Nabokov’s Lolita (reissued by DFA in 2014), is not entirely linear, although intriguing all the same. Like so many surf-smoothed stones lining the beach shore, briefly unburied only to be discarded once deemed un-skippable, so Twig has gone about seeking the proper rock to cast at just the right angle. One can see why he extends a gratuity to those listeners who’ve stuck around.
In what form then, do we now find the twenty-six-year old, self-proclaimed ‘wah wah master’? His record reissued last year was completed in 2011. So one might reasonably ask, what has Twig done since? After producing two albums for U.S. Girls (U.S. Girls on Kraak in 2011, Gem in 2012), and scoring two films (Sight Unseen & We Come As Friends (winner of a Special Jury Award at Sundance, among numerous other accolades), Twig found himself in 2013 at a creative impasse re: his own songwriting. He had been through full band incarnations live and on record. They featured a cast of Toronto heavies (members of Zacht Automaat, etc…). He briefly performed Slim Twig sets as a duo, featuring multimedia artist and musician, Meg Remy (U.S. Girls). They performed sets that combined versions of Twig’s released songs with freely structured improvisations, samples, and brightly melodic, synth textures. Something in this combination of the pop-minded and the cerebrally-produced has rubbed off on the recordings found on Twig’s latest.
Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig is to date the most sonically immersive album in Twig’s discography. Where some records have focused explicitly on sample-based songwriting, while others have been completely live-recorded, the new album arrives at a perfectly produced fusion of fidelities. It hovers, glamorously caught between a cloud of obscurant, half-speed tape hiss, and the most stoned Jeff Lynne production you’ve ever heard. Twig flirts here with a variety of vibes, most often opting for a three dimensional approach whereby a warped tape aura is overlaid with colourful, laser-cut keyboard and guitar melodies. A fetishization of analogue texture is married to a digital approach. All the while, we find Twig irreverently raiding classic rock of its symbolism, sexuality, and social ambition for ulterior subversions. In this respect, TYFSWT‘s closest cousin may be Royal Trux’sAccelerator.
Opening cut, ‘Slippin Slidin’, establishes itself as a cock rock analogue to Kanye West’s similarly phallic ‘On Sight’, the bravura Yeezus introduction. We are welcomed by a blast of synth noise, soon followed by sexually agitated lyrics (supported by Meg Remy, whose vocals are featured prominently on much of the record) atop a deafening beat, distorted and sleazy. The immensity of the production (achieved in collaboration with co-producer Anthony Nemet and mixer Steve Chahley) represents an evolution of Twig’s approach, sustained at a fever pitch throughout the album.
‘A Woman’s Touch (It’s No Coincidence)’ is a song sympathizing with the perspective of the Beatles’ wives. The song production sounds like a fusion of dub and baroque pop as played by the cartoon band in the Yellow Submarine movie. Many of the songs play referential sonic games like this, discursively incorporating familiar melodies, production styles or ideas (a fuzzy ballad on wage inequality is cheekily titled ‘Textiles On Mainstreet’), only to pair them with incongruous textures or themes. ‘Live In, Live On Your Era’, a song encouraging an embrace of one’s own cultural circumstance, is consciously styled as the most ‘retro’ sounding cut on the album (Jimmy Page leads and all), seemingly upending the lyrical content. On and on, the jokes and meta-sonic rock commentary continue like so many Zappa-esque indulgences.
The centrepiece of the album is composed of two songs sharing the middle of the running time. ‘Roll Red Roll (Song For Steubenville)’, titled after the football chant of the eponymous town’s high school team, eulogizes the tragedy of the young girl who was the tabloid subject of group sexual abuse (by said football team). Its opening – the most tranquil, dreamy instrumental passage on the record – is harshly interrupted by a mass of pitch-shifted martial drums and wildly panned, distorted fuzz lines. The disturbed atmosphere composes a sonic poem, detailing a narrative through a combination of sound and oblique lyrics (‘Everyone will love / everyone will love / the way you fold / Roll Red Roll’). Side B opens with ‘Fog Of Sex (N.S.I.S)’. A cinematic fusion of plastic soul and flute score-for-horror-film, it comprises TYFSWT’s funkiest recording. With voicings from both Twig and Remy, sung from the perspective of someone unwilling to commit to a single gender identity, the song makes overt the album’s subliminal motive. Instability is addressed from a disenfranchised perspective (perhaps as a metaphor for the music itself, which refuses to stabilize or stay put). Twig himself has referred to his ambition of making “a protest album as obscured by smoke” (and what kind of smoke, we wonder?). In swift combination, these two songs make good on that claim. The lyrical voices here take on an (at times) humorously proletarian tone (‘I work a shift, just up the street / cleaning semen off of seats / it’s a way for ends to meet’) that is alien in the contemporary rock landscape, dominated as it is by reheated garage and psych leftovers.
The album closes with a triumphantly grandiose cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s instrumental ‘Cannabis’ (released as a 7” single on 4/20, and deliberately echoing Twig’s first LP for DFA, which openly shared its Gainsbourgian debt). The aim is somewhat clearer now. Slim Twig’s latest modulation of voice is to re-contextualize an era of ambition in produced rock music, dislodging the hackneyed and clichéd in the process. Sonically and politically, his aim is to be a rock n’ roll subversive in an era where that claim should rightfully be made by luddite cave-people. Context is everything, and Twig’s gift may be in zeroing in on that. He collages his sounds together (here as eclectic as The Love Below, or any Beck album) in a continuum where pop criticism is always recycling through what it chooses to lend cultural currency, if only for an instant. As of now, he’s sized up rock n’ roll, and determined it seems as good as any other vessel to commandeer for his creative impulse. Power to him. Rock may be dumb as a stone, but even so, now and then it’s smart to be dumb.