The late '90s saw the birth of a genre called "slowcore." As is true of most movements with annoying names, no band ever claimed to be slowcore, but that didn't mean the movement wasn't there. Slowcore bands played gently, but without the folky influences that would relegate them to adult contemporary status. They played with silence, droning and spaced-out echo to create new musical spaces. In the words of one of the movement's followers, quiet was the new loud.
Well, apparently loud was the new loud after all. Andrew W.K. sells more albums than Low does nowadays. And if recent output by the best slowcore bands is any indicator, the movement plans on fading away without a fight. 2003 has already seen one disappointing album from a slowcore luminary: American Analog Set, whose From Our Living Room to Yours and The Fun of Watching Fireworks were slow-burning classics, put out Promise of Love, an album stripped of almost all the droning signifiers that made the band great. And now, right behind them, Kingsbury Manx -- whose self-titled debut is a psychedelica-glazed chillout landmark -- has put out an album of uptempo folk.
It's not that Aztec Discipline is a bad album. It's just missing almost all of the elements that made fans love the band. Gone are the droning keyboard washes and trippy bass of "Pageant Square," and gone are the melodic vocal overdubs of "Regular Hands." Instead, Kingsbury Manx is playing catchy acoustic folk-pop like "Pelz Komet," Aztec's opener. It's a good song, but it's all surface, and there are plenty of bands that could produce it. It sounds more like the new Belle and Sebastian than the brilliant morass of influence that shaped their earlier releases. However, "De-Da Dementia," with its fuzzy guitar, evokes some shoegazer roots, and "Pinstripes" has some of the odd keyboard lines that run behind a soft lead vocal. The album slows down and digs in a bit more at the end, but it's not enough.
There's nothing sadder than a band growing up faster than you. Usually, it means that a band has broken free of the constraints of its genre and is experimenting and growing, while you're stuck in nostalgia. And that could be the case here. But it still feels like Kingsbury Manx has swum from the deep end to the shallow end of the pool. If this is a stepping stone record, which it well may be, there could be more greatness to come. But maybe some bands don't need to grow up to become all adult and contemporary.