Maturity is a funny thing. We're conditioned to strive for this developmental plateau of existence within the American narrative of progress, but once the shoe fits, we wish it good riddance and miss the days of barefooted bliss. The opening refrain of It'll Be Cool, the latest record from Silkworm, communicates this aged ennui with veteran sincerity.
"Don't look back," Andy Cohen warns as the drums roll out a David Lynch rumble in harmony with searing guitar feedback and a propellant bass line. A song about a song, "Don't Look Back" chronicles the influence of a prophetic radio hit in smug-serious Dylanesque fashion. It is by no means homage to the aging folk icon, but recognition of the power of song; how music penetrates the listener's heart and inspires a response in kind.
It'll Be Cool serves as a fitting reminder that musicians are still listeners and writers are still readers. There's a storybook quality to the album wherein each song feels like one of Aesop's Fables and every closing line a guiding moral. Silkworm has reached beyond its art-house niche of tunes about Montana labor politics and Godard films to deliver a more universal retrospective smacking of musical, and lyrical, maturity.
Bleeding elementary metaphors with obscure referential wit, the band pens both pop-cultural and learnedly historical allegories from a perspective en masse. Silkworm deciphers grown-up regret by examining youthful illusion with the 20/20-going-on-40 hindsight of under-appreciated elders (like the artists they once revered and now resemble).
While the word play would make an English teacher smile, it is the layered instrumentation of It'll Be Cool that cements the band's maturity. Venting enlightenment through the structured innocence of riff rock, Silkworm gilds every measure with a patience and precision enhanced by Steve Albini's crisp production.
Tim Midgett pounds out plucky bass lines that send each song into orbit as Andy Cohen traverses the final frontier of the fretboard. Bringing it all back down to earth, drummer Michael Dahlquist delivers tom blasts and snare smacks that keep your synapses firing to a head-nodding beat. Matt Kadane, of The New Year and Bedhead, helms the keys, affixing rhythmic textures with organ and clavinet melodies that nicely complement to Cohen's fancy fuzz.
An almost tangible cast of characters and images help illustrate Silkworm's high-falutin' themes in tight narrative form. "Insomnia" likens legions of sleepless to a Caesarian army of the undead and "Xian Undertaker" feels like the existential saloon dirge of an agnostic expatriate bemoaning his bed-ridden beloved. Kadane's cerebral piano buzz invites "Penalty Box" into a driving backbeat reminiscent of early Hüsker Dü before underscoring the malleable chorus with baroque keystrokes.
The frustrated balladry of "Something Hyper" opens with a deep baritone moan of "you should never be afraid to grow" while cymbals splash like footsteps through puddles along memory lane. Pushing the album's run time beyond the half-hour mark of "punkdom" is "The Operative," a charming and punchy finale about enduring camaraderie. "Remember the clever code we used to use to have our say," Cohen implores over seesawing strings. His buoyant hollering gives way and the pace dissolves as Silkworm deconstructs the tonal ebb and flow, note by twinkling note, for an instrumental sendoff.
With It'll Be Cool, Silkworm evolves to shed its minimalist skin for a pair of kaleidoscopic moth wings. Though they caricature themselves with portraits of chain-smoking monkey drunkards in the liner notes, the band members handily transform any such notions of mock maturity into bona fide rock maturity. It may sound like an ordinary coming-of-age record, but trust me, it'll be cool.