SQÜRL’s roots go back to 2009, when Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan collaborated to score Jarmusch’s film The Limits of Control under the name Bad Rabbit. By this time Jarmusch had already been established as an independent filmmaker for almost three decades, with works such as Stranger Than Paradise leaving a lasting impression in the industry. But his musical roots go back just as far to the no wave scene, and over time SQÜRL’s material has taken a similar abstract approach, pulling from psychedelia, drone, and post rock alongside other influences. Outside of companion pieces to Jarmusch’s films, the group’s material has been limited to short form EPs until this year’s Silver Haze full-length. While not tied to a film, Silver Haze still weaves a cohesive flow that emphasizes a drearier and sometimes apocalyptic tone, resulting in an effort that listeners can truly get lost in.
Opener “Berlin ‘87” sets the tone for what the rest of Silver Haze is going to offer, and it’s one of those instrumental pieces that immediately draws you in. Layers of fuzzed out guitars expand slowly alongside methodical drumming, creating a dreary yet nostalgic tone that makes you think of looking out a window in a Berlin hotel as a storm passes through. It’s somewhere between drone, post rock, and a spaghetti western soundtrack in style, giving off a vibe similar to Earth’s material. Certain tracks adopt a more abstract, stretched out feel while others go for a more driving tempo that gives off hints of a smokey lounge somewhere around the world. As mentioned earlier, while not composed specifically for a film it’s clear that a similar approach to writing has been used, as these songs flow together naturally and allow for the listener to build a narrative in their head as they make their way through. Silver Haze is often slow and deliberate like Jim Jarmusch’s films, but the guitar layers get under your skin and reveal additional details over repeat listens. Sometimes it’s apocalyptic and dreary while other times warm and nostalgic, and while the tempos start to feel a bit similar the way the songs build give them an identity. The guest spots from Marc Ribot on “Garden of Glass” and “Il Deserto Rosso” also deserve mention as they add additional textures to the guitar work, with the latter feeling like a blues piece in slow motion.
While the focus on Silver Haze is often its instrumentation, there are quite a few passages that emphasize spoken word or singing. “The End of the World” in particular proves to be stunning, as Jarmusch speaks about an old man watching teenagers as they navigate a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s a moody piece that is likely to have you under its spell until the very end, and this holds true for many of the other tracks with vocals on the album. “She Don’t Want To Talk About It” features a guest appearance from Anika, whose cold yet booming voice suits the somber nature of SQÜRL’s music. “John Ashberry Takes A Walk” reverts to spoken word, but has Charlotte Gainsbourg reciting the narrative over top of the airier instrumentation. Some may find themselves drawn to Silver Haze based on these guest spots and SQÜRL does make great use of them, but there’s enough substance on the other tracks to make the album strong throughout.
A few of the songs may blur together slightly, but SQÜRL’s attempt to branch out and compose an entire album worth of non-score related material is a success. I spent some time listening to Silver Haze recently with my eyes closed as I flew home from another city, and it served as the perfect backdrop to let my imagination run wild and form all sorts of narratives to its bleak yet inviting music. Drone and post rock can sometimes be overstretched, but SQÜRL keeps things compact and offers plenty of immediate and slow burning moments to keep you coming back for more. Fans of Earth, spaghetti western soundtracks, and other somber drone will definitely want to give this album a go. Silver Haze is available from Sacred Bones Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg