The For Carnation are the cover for the cryptic genius of Brian McMahan. From Louisville, Kentucky, he started life as the guitarist of legendary hardcore band Squirrel Bait, worked with Will Oldham (appearing on the first Palace Brothers LP), but is perhaps best known as the parched voice of Slint – a band whose two albums (‘Tweez’ and ‘Spiderland’) laid down a blueprint for post-rock, and established them as a kind of lo-fi Velvet Underground.
Half of what made Slint so darkly out of synch with the times was McMahan. It might be their taut, explosive music which bands most readily attempt to ape, but it was his lyrics – all twisted folklore and surreal, intoned menace – that set them apart. Slint split in 1992, and although McMahan has reappeared since (TFC released two EPs in the mid-’90s), it’s only now that he gives full flight to his skewed imagination.
Co-produced by Tortoise‘s John McEntire and featuring contributions from Kim Deal and former Slint drummer Britt Walford, TFC‘s debut is a rich, dubby take on the blues. There are only six tracks, but locked together they seem to last forever. Over skeletal frames of brushed strings and eerie, plummeting effects, McMahan recreates a warped landscape that first appeared on Slint‘s ‘Spiderland’, offering a gothic cavalcade of death (‘A Tribute To’) and obsession (‘Tales (Live From The Crypt)’).
Throughout McMahan sings like a man who’s just fallen to earth. “When I take the train into town”, he croaks on opening track ‘Empowered Man’s Blues’, “I know everything/And I may take everything I know”. It’s this creeping omniscience, this feeling of mysticism, that pervades the whole record. When it finally ends with the labyrinthine ‘Moonbeams’, it’s like being released from a coffin into the sunshine. The sheer power and claustrophobia of its sound is overwhelming – like Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Songs Of Love And Hate’ rewired by Massive Attack or King Tubby.
It might have been almost a decade since McMahon graced the last Slint record, but his rebirth has been worth the wait. This album is the sound of time stood still. And, slowly, it drags you under.