The For Carnation

Thursday, July 6; Side Door

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The For Carnation's Louisville lineage stretches back to the early days of the city's post-punk scene, in which future FC member Brian McMahan helped form the ferocious precocious teen band Squirrel Bait, which funneled an ocean's worth of adolescent testosterone through a cocktail straw of rationality. It was beautiful, powerful stuff, and it sounds just as dense a decade-and-a-half after being recorded. Needless to say, the band was dead before any of its members hit 20.

Slint, an even more important offshoot, was formed by a more "mature" McMahan in the wake of the Bait's demise; we have Slint to blame for 1,000 whiny slow-core bands, bands who thought it easy to capture the sound of genius by simply unplugging the distortion and whispering into the mic. It's not that easy, and most of these bands failed because they didn't understand quiet tension. Slint, though, realized that punk and post-punk are the musical equivalent of a crowded restaurant; as the room fills, the conversations get louder, and as it does, everybody gets louder, until it's a ridiculous scream-fest and nobody can hear anyone. The best thing to do in that instance is start whispering, which is what Slint perfected.

The For Carnation whispers and talks, too, and plays soft (but not soft), angular music, but where Slint relied on guitar, bass and drum, the For Carnation expands to include samplers, keyboards and an occasional string arrangement (courtesy of former Louisvillians the Rachels). On their recent The For Carnation (Touch and Go), McMahan and company, with the help of Tortoise's John McEntire, harness the power of dense restraint, and the result is at times more powerful than 100 Marshall stacks. Although it's tough to determine exactly what the hell they're talking about -- McMahan composes little narrative vignettes that he then recites over the music -- their understated humbleness relegates them to a textural background role. The record doesn't suggest an evening of true rock & roll excitement; most likely all the crowd dudes will stand and stare at the band, and the band will stand and stare back. But if they can capture the texture, it'll be worth your buck.

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