Spiral Stairs: The Real Feel (Matador)

Pavement's Scott Kannberg has finally released his first official "solo" album under his infamously random stage name, Spiral Stairs. Kannberg spent most of the '00s in Preston School of Industry, releasing two glittering albums of anthemic California pop tinged with Americana. Between these albums and Stephen Malkmus' work with the Jicks, Pavement fans could tide themselves over, even whilst ostensibly pining for the days of yore.

Now, on The Real Feel, Kannberg takes a huge step away from the Pavement aesthetic he helped pioneer and continued in PSOI. Which is too bad, because this new direction just isn't as fun or pretty as the work we've gotten from Mr. Stairs in the past. In fact, The Real Feel isn't a pop album at all—even when the break on "Stolen Pills" briefly reminds us of the possibility.

This is a country/blues album filtered through the aesthetics of rock. It's an album that calls up images of hay-balers, lonely country roads, dirty parking lots outside of rural pool halls and big, dark horizons over flat mid-American landscapes. There's a certain romance to all of this, but the songs here are as redundant as the landscapes they conjure and reflect an existential bleakness that's atmospheric but not engaging.

We all know about art's inherent subjective value, which is openly addressed by the album on "Wharf Hand Blues," when Mr. Stairs tells us "What was wrong for you / Might have been right for me." To which his disappointed audience can only respond, "Touché."

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