Silkworm: A look back
(Pictured Above [L-R]: Silkworm's Tim Midgett, Andy Cohen and Michael Dalquist)
Michael Dahlquist, the drummer for long-running indie band Silkworm, was killed July 9 in a tragic act of selfishness, when a suicidal woman rammed her car into he and his friends’ parked vehicle.
But in the wake of this unfortunate incident, I have begun to rediscover the greatness of his now-defunct band. (After Dahlquist’s death, vocalist/bassist Tim Midgett promptly announced that the band would not continue on.)
Silkworm was a complicated and misunderstood band, and with that, it should be noted that its music is not for everyone. I can’t honestly be counted amongst Silkworm’s respectable and rabid fan base. But sometimes a hot/cold relationship is more intense and rewarding than steady but pleasant mediocrity. What I’m getting at is that, when a Silkworm song did connect with me, it made up fivefold for the ones that didn’t. Though the band’s chemistry appeared flawless (aside from the early departure of guitarist/vocalist Joel Phelps), Silkworm’s inconsistency was due to the kind of ego tripping typical in a kitchen choked with cooks. And this is probably why they were confined to hovering just beneath the radar during the course of their near-20-year career. Still, when they were on, they were really on.
The band was trend allergic. Sonically, the closest touchstone I can come up with is Crazy Horse by way of Mission of Burma: often bass-led, with plenty unobtrusive guitar soloing and unflashy, pounding drums.
Lyrically, guitarist Andy Cohen and Midgett both mastered a unique, intelligent and sometimes humorous way of communicating the universal confusion, sadness and turmoil that comes standard issue when one hits their mid 20s. In a non-alienating, un-sexist, subtle fashion, they wrote about being men. And when they hit their stride, it was emotive in the most affective way.
The following is a non-chronological, personal and (look out!) opinionated guide to where newbies should start and stay with Silkworm:
1996’s Firewater, the band’s Matador debut and first album as a trio (Phelps left in ’94), is Silkworm’s strongest front-to-back effort. The record repeatedly peaks with several cleverly placed, slow-to-mid-tempo burners and one rocker—respectively, “Slow Hands,” “Tarnished Angel,” “Don’t Make Plans This Friday,” and “Severance Pay.”
Libertine (1994) is a favorite with Silkworm afficionados, but—while strong—its grunge-fallout muddiness sounds dated. If you want to hear how great a few of Libertine’s tracks were at their core, ferret out the acoustic interpretations on 1995’s 4-song Marco Collins Sessions (Matador). The stripped version of “Couldn’t You Wait” is a compassionate catastrophe wrestling brilliantly with separation anxiety. Over the past decade, I’ve heard very little that compares.
The 1993 EP, His Absence Is A Blessing, is early Silkworm worth seeking out, if only for the fantastic cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s “Motel Blues”—an logical choice, given the band’s often raw treatment of relationship fiascos.
Developer (1997) and Blueblood (released in 1998, heralding the band’s switch to the Touch & Go label) are both lacking, but the final trio of albums, Lifestyles (2000), Italian Platinum (2002) and last year’s It’ll Be Cool (2004) showed breadth and a higher concentration of knockouts, especially on Italian Platinum (album closers “The Ram” and “A Cockfight of Feelings” are not to be missed).
It’s certainly disheartening that the band ended the way it did, with Dahlquist’s tragic death, but perhaps his mates can take some comfort in knowing Silkworm went down swinging, in the midst of a creative renaissance—their friend leaving behind a musical legacy of which to be proud.