When Matt Kadane, frontman for the New Year, saw the preview for a Mission of Burma reunion documentary called Inexplicable, he definitely was amused. It was Kadane, with help from former Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw, who dragged Burma's Clint Conley out of his two-decade retirement.
"Chris and I were joking that it's really not that 'inexplicable,'" says Kadane of the title, which was later changed to Not a Photograph. He remembers Brokaw telling him that Conley had asked to borrow his multi-track cassette recorder. "I said, 'You're kidding! Clint is playing music again? Let's get that fucker out of the house and start playing with him.'"
The resulting band, Consonant, toned down the sonic assault that helped make Boston's Mission of Burma a post-punk legend: "Clint is really into harmonies. It was like Crosby, Stills and Nash! He tried to get me to sing harmonies, but I refused."
Kadane avoids harmonies well, maybe an octave here or there on the New Year's self-titled album, just released on Touch & Go. Its delicate arrangements and thoughtful lyrics recall his former band Bedhead, which was often associated with the "slowcore" non-movement.
"You can 'core' anything," says Kadane, whose brother Bubba (yes, they're from Texas) has played guitar in both bands. "We used to all have beards, and we got called the precursors of beardcore."
Intelligent as they may be, Kadane and Co. are still a bit slow. Album opener "Folios" unfolds with quiet beauty. Kadane's unaffectedly plaintive, always melodic vocal doesn't even come in until nearly four minutes have passed. After a single verse and chorus, it's over, leaving behind impressions of Galaxie 500, Lloyd Cole, Dream Syndicate and the Velvet Underground at their calmest.
Lou Reed and Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn are both influences to an extent, says Kadane.
"But I think if, like me, you can't sing um, not only can't sing, but I've never really gotten any better at it if that's the case and you have a sort of a baritone-y voice, you're drawn to Lou Reed, you know, to turn it into something aesthetically pleasing. At the same time, if you have a certain character in your voice and you're a certain size dude or whatever, you will sound a certain way, and it just so happens that that is Lou Reed-ish."
All of which makes the band suitable for Chicago engineer-producer Steve Albini, who's manned the controls for Nirvana, Low, the Pixies and countless lesser-known bands.
"He's a huge fan of first takes, which he perceives as the truest source of spontaneity," says Kadane. "He often encourages us to go with first takes, and instead we'll go with the 40th take."
Still, the collaboration has resulted in the New Year's poppiest song: "The Company I Can Get," written after Kadane got cut off in traffic. As he sings in the chorus, "I need all the company I can get / Even that redneck in the red Corvette."
Kadane says he was initially "filled with incredible loathing" over the incident, but soon snapped out of it.
"You have to remind yourself of really basic things," he says, "like that other people are not just worthwhile, they're actually what make life worthwhile.
"It's a very uncharacteristically hopeful song for us."