Spiral Stairs - Doris and the Daggers

by Rob Taylor Rating:7 Release Date:2017-03-24

All the uncertain fluctuations of fame and band camaraderie came to Scott Kannberg aka Spiral Stairs during his tenure with successful 90s’ misfits, Pavement. There were few bands as wilfully anti-establishment and independent that made as deep a mark on the music scene. Towards the end of their time however, real tensions existed between Kannberg and Malkmus regarding Kannberg’s contributions as a songwriter, with Malkmus’s unilateral views steering Pavement inexorably towards a solo Malkmus project. Terror Twilight was really a vehicle for spotlighting Malkmus’s credentials as guitar titan. 

Once out on his own, Kannberg’s work with Preston School of Industry underlined his quest to write tuneful songs without the unorthodox histrionics, confirming there was no common heartbeat left in Pavement’s music in 1999. The command post had been vacated. Time to move on. 

Kannberg's latest album, Doris and the Daggers substantiates his reputation for writing melodic songs, but this time with a subtle folk-rock inflection. As sure as hair loses pigment, we all reach a point when the demands of the external world can’t be escaped by purchasing a one way ticket to Mexico. Much has happened since Kannberg’s last album eight years ago, Real Feel. He moved to Australia for a period, watched his daughter grow up, turned 50 and lost some friends through death and misadventure. He then went in search of his muse, relocating to California. These events form the backbone of Doris and the Daggers. 

Doris and the Daggers was recorded with bass player, Matt Harris and drummer, Justin Peroff (Broken Social Scene), and including guests Kelley Stoltz on ‘AWM’, and Matt Berninger (The National) providing vocals on ‘Exiled Tonight’.

The lyrical message is at the forefront on Doris and the Daggers. ‘Angel Eyes’ for instance is a salute to lost friends, including Darius Minwalla, the Preston School of Industry drummer who died in his sleep. Then there was little D / he was such a good friend to me / those rosy cheeks that girls could not deny. Kannberg’s fond recollection of his old friend is given immortal status with the observation that his ‘angel eyes’ live on in infinite memory, just as DNA is shared with offspring… I’ve got my mother’s eyes / I’ve got my daughter’s eyes / we’ve all got angels’ eyes in the end.  

Not all the lyrical content is so heavy, although the metaphors are common. On ‘Trams (Stole My Love)’ the seemingly mindless journey ‘from town to town’ is not unlike life. Whilst you may have some control over your destiny, it’s the inevitably hidden by-ways which throw up the most exciting possibilities. Or on ‘Dundee Man’ the protagonist is a proud Scottish man who follows his impulse, all nostalgia with no regard for consequence. 

Musically, Kannberg’s essential craft is a simple primary melody supported by some occasionally disparate elements, like the fiddle which lends pathos to ‘AWN’, the toy electronics which bleat away on ‘Dundee Man’, or the rather mischievous spray of electronica on ‘No Comparison’ which is vaguely new wave. He also introduces some very stately horns to ‘Trams (Stole My Love)’ and ‘The Unconditional’ a song about his young daughter and how his love for her blunts his perspective of life’s more mundane concerns.

On Doris and the Daggers, Kannberg strikes a healthy balance of song and heart.

  

 

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