Home Read Albums Of The Week: Spiral Stairs | Medley Attack!!!

Albums Of The Week: Spiral Stairs | Medley Attack!!!

The Pavement co-founder’s supposed swan song is surprisingly warm and welcoming, abandoning '90s indie-rock for the mellow gold of radio-friendly '70s and '80s pop.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “They say that great art is often mined from great adversity, an adage that indie-rock pioneer Scott Kannberg (aka Spiral Stairs) can attest to all too well — especially given the raft of challenges he was forced to face down and overcome in the quest to assemble his sterling new solo album Medley Attack!!!

These roadblocks weren’t trivial concerns. We’re talking multiple international relocations — the album’s genesis was spread between Mexico, Australia and the U.S.A. — as well as the sudden death of a close friend and bandmate, all while battling the COVID restrictions and attendant uncertainty which engulfed us all during the upending course of the pandemic. And it hadn’t been all smooth sailing before all of that transpired, either.

After more than 30 years in the game, the erstwhile Pavement co-founder had all but decided to pull the curtains on his career after finishing the European jaunt promoting his acclaimed 2019 album We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized, a tour which had included a string of shows opening for Americana-slash-rock legends Wilco across that continent and into Scandinavia.

“I did my last shows in London in 2019,” Kannberg explains. “And I had this great show and kinda thought to myself, ‘I don’t really want to play again after this. This is great, this is a good way to end.’ ”

But after returning to his then-adopted hometown of Merida, Mexico on that high, turning off the tap of musical inspiration proved easier said than done. Songs started coming thick and fast, and it became quickly apparent that a farewell statement was in order — a swan-song album, one which would take the take the tally of his post-Pavement output to six LPs (the initial two as Preston School Of Industry and the next four under his long-held Spiral Stairs pseudonym).

With plans already afoot to relocate again to Australia, Kannberg first moved his young family back to his native California to make good on his vision of one final artistic statement. Studios were booked, musicians assembled, everything was taking shape and then… COVID happened. America shut down. The clock kept ticking as the allocated window evaporated, and then suddenly it was time to head to the far-flung reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, Medley Attack!!! still nothing but a pipe dream.

Fortunately that existing momentum proved unstoppable, and soon Kannberg and his remotely assembled team — featuring producer Dan Long and an array of musicians including Kelley Stoltz and Randy Randall (No Age) — began working up Kannberg’s demos from opposite sides of the planet, necessitating a lot of late-night Zoom calls given the arms-length nature of the project.

Things were still progressing at a rate of knots when tragedy struck: Kannberg’s bass player and longtime friend Matt Harris (The Posies, Oranger) passed away suddenly in early 2021. An integral piece of the musical puzzle was taken away, but the massive loss also served to colour Medley Attack!!!‘s tone and lyrics.

With the album’s title a tip of the hat to trailblazing new wave outfit Talking Heads (whose classic 1980 fourth album Remain In Light had the working title of Melody Attack), that band’s sense of musical adventure and willingness to push boundaries in their artistic endeavors permeates this collection of songs.

Kannberg — still a music fan first and foremost — has long been inspired by bands such as Roxy Music and Echo & The Bunnymen as much as the usual suspects like The Clean and The Fall, and on Medley Attack!!! this convergence of worlds has resulted in some of the best songs of his storied career, rife with catchy melodies, fascinating arrangements plus an abundance of both hooks and ideas which make them indelible listens.

These songs both intrigue and delight as they burrow into your consciousness, with plenty of intricacies and embellishments in the margins that slowly unveil themselves with repeated spins. Kannberg has written more than his fair share of terrific songs over the journey, both for Pavement and his solo pursuits, and they’ve all been leading to this triumph.

Now back in the States in anticipation of Pavement’s 2022 reunion — also delayed repeatedly by the pandemic — even the singer himself sees Medley Attack!!! as the peak of his own artistic career:

“It’s definitely been the weirdest and the hardest record to make, but I think I like it the best, really. I think they’re my best lyrics — they’re pretty dark, but they’re pretty honest and they tell stories a little more than in the past. And originally it was really going to be a stripped-down swan-song record — I really didn’t want to get a bunch of people involved — but I ended up getting so many of my closest friends and people I admire to help and I couldn’t be prouder of the results. It’s kind of made me want to make more records!”