Spider Bags’ Merge Records debut, Frozen Letter, is both the clearest distillation of the sincerity that has made the band great for years and an exciting extension of the band’s sound.
“You know I’ll always be honest in everything that I do” are the first words Dan McGee sings on opener “Back With You Again in the World.” Frozen Letter’s A-side works to prove this point. The first four will feel familiar to fans of Spider Bags: short, fuzzy, energetic garage gems.
It ends with a cover of John Wesley Coleman’s “Summer of ’79” which takes the nostalgists to task. “Why you wanna be a Rolling Stone? Why you think your daddy’s the king of rock and roll? You weren’t there for ’79. You weren’t there. You weren’t alive.”
Spider Bags aren’t interested in being anybody but themselves. They don’t play rock and roll to try to recreate some illusion of rock’s past. They play it because it’s simply the only way they can say what they need to. With this trust established with the listener, they can pull off the chances they take on Frozen Letter’s B-side.
The last four songs on the album break the band’s mold by stretching over 5 minutes and slowing the tempo. “Coffin Car” unfolds at a wonderful leisurely tempo that is tastefully pushed at key moments. The country flecked “Walking Bubble” is quiet enough that you can hear the guitar being strummed, a rarity for Spider Bags.
The climax comes with “We Got Problems,” a dusty, smoky and dreamy blues that would make Jack White bend a knee in submission. McGee’s guitar solo starts 3 minutes in and builds into 2 minutes of pure catharsis. This moment is when it solidifies that Spider Bags is not just making music that moves you, but takes you someplace else entirely.
Individually, the songs here may not usurp others as fans’ favorites like “Papa Was a Shithead” or “Que Viva Elrocanrol,” but collectively Frozen Letter is Spider Bags’ best album and most satisfying.
Spider Bags’ album release show is August 8 at The Pinhook. Tickets are $10.