The Waxwings – Low to the Ground

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I believe this was my first Bobsled records purchase, almost certainly picked up after I read about it in Magnet magazine. Label honcho Bob Salerno gets a production credit, though I think that was more of a Warhol-Velvet Underground & Nico type arrangement. It’s worth mentioning that Bobsled was a joint affair by Salerno and Jeff Slay (Bobsled = BobSleigh = Bob + Slay), and Slay appeared to be a very silent partner whereas Salerno was definitely not silent. Just as an example, not only did Salerno get a production credit, he is listed as a co-arranger; gets credit for additional guitar, percussion, and waves; and receives sole credit for mixing. I think this was the best Bobsled signing, and if the relationship hadn’t fallen apart and the band had maintained their quality, I think the label might have stuck around longer.

What I Think of This Album

From the opening drum hits of “Keeping the Sparks,” this sounds like it’s going to be something special. The production by Bryan Hanna is out of this world – the universe of tones comes through with brilliant clarity and vibrancy. This is one of the best sounding albums I have ever heard, ranking with the Breeders’ Pod. Beyond that, the album is a tapestry of Byrdsy/Beach Boys harmonies and Byrdsy jangle, with a heavy dose of . . . well, Byrdsy psychedelia. Some of this reminds me of what the Beachwood Sparks were doing around the same time, especially on the lush “Sleepy Head” and countryish “Firewood.” Vocalist and lead guitarist Dean Fertita wrote most of the lyrics and guitarist/vocalist Dominic Romano wrote the lyrics for two songs; I assume they each sing their own songs, but the voices aren’t very distinguishable.

One of the highlights is the astonishing “Untied,” about which every element is superb:  the harmonies are glorious; the flourishes like the maracas and phased effects are divine; the guitars move from gritty to jangly and back with panache; the tempo shifts are natural and organic; and the melody is first-rate. Official opener (read on) “Keeping the Sparks” is a pop masterpiece – joyous, hopeful, and expertly played. The gentle guitar figure in the bridge, augmented by sweet harmonies, and then broken up by a blast of distortion, is fucking heavenly. To be sure, “Into the Scenery,” with its concrete-breaking drums, spiraling guitar lines, and sighing backing vocals, has a claim to best song on the album, also. The chiming but jagged guitars on “Ten O’Clock Your Time” rapidly give way to a transatlantic-telegraph-cable-thick bassline and a flurry of handclaps, and I swear to god I almost pass out from happiness every time I hear this. “While You Spiral” is a rollercoaster ride, propelled by Kevin Peyok’s bass part and punctuated by James Edmunds’s thunderclap drumming, all held together by the impeccable harmonies. Acoustic “Different Plane” is like the best campfire song you could imagine (assuming someone brought along a lap steel).

At almost nine minutes, “It Comes In Waves” is where the band fully explores its psychedelic side, though without abandoning its fundamental jangle-pop roots and harmony-rich approach. Basically, its a normal pop song, with a country-druggy, chorused guitar-exploring coda that lasts for about 5 minutes tacked on, and it fucking WORKS. The remaining tracks – “Fragile Girl,” “Sleepy Head,” “Firewood,” and Kinks-like “Low Ceiling” – are also winners. The liner notes credit Greg Frey with production on “Next to Nothing,” which is a hidden track BEFORE THE FIRST TRACK. Honestly, this is one of my favorite albums ever.

The Best Thing About This Album

So much here is right, but without the production by Bryan Hanna, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much.

Release Date

May, 2000

The Cover Art

I like this a lot, but maybe that’s just carried over from my abiding love for the music on this album. I like the torn page scheme, the color palette, the washed out image, the massive amount of text, in different fonts, and, of course, the STEREO tag at the top.

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