[sic] Magazine

Codeine – Frigid Stars, Barely Real and The White Birch reissues

Codeine are one of those seminal bands I’d never heard until now, so these reissues of their Sub Pop releases, released to coincide with the band reuniting to play some live shows, are a perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.
When you start to explore a band’s discography, the order in which you listen to the albums has a profound impact on your appreciation of them. In the case of Codeine, I started with their second and final album, The White Birch , proceeding backwards via the Barely Real EP to their debut, Frigid Stars . Listening to them in this order has meant that The White Birch has left the most powerful impression. In comparison to the other discs, I prefer the production, I prefer the songs, and I marginally prefer Doug Scharin’s drumming to Chris Brokaw’s .

If you’ve never heard Codeine, their music is slow and sad – but with a compelling undercurrent of rage and desperation. If the guitars were heavier, the music might fit into one of metal’s more atmospheric sub-genres, but there’s something vulnerable about Codeine’s sound, as though it’s puffing its chest up to sound big, when really its ribcage is made of matchsticks. Part of this is down to Stephen Immerwahr’s voice, which is high and unsteady, aching with uncertainty and longing. The music is simple and powerful, the guitars either chiming with radiance or thundering with distortion, the rhythm section tight yet heavy as fuck.

Now that I’ve heard their music, I can hear a lot of Codeine in Mogwai , especially Mogwai’s early releases. Fittingly, as if to acknowledge their influence, Mogwai invited Codeine to play at the I’ll Be Your Mirror festival they curated in May 2012. The slow, sad builds and chiming arpeggios have been passed along. Slint are close cousins in terms of aesthetic, too.

I’m guessing that if you’re a Codeine fan, all of the extra tracks included across these discs will be like manna from heaven. However, coming to this music for the first time, I really don’t need to hear demos and live versions of the same songs. All up, there’s over three-and-a-half hours of Codeine across more than 50 tracks – I’ll wager that’s more than anyone can stand. But, if you dip in now and again, the music’s gravity and spare, crushing power will be hard to resist.

My advice? Seek out The White Birch – Codeine at their best.