SQUAREWAVE – Squarewave
(2006 Boat Records)
Before there was Radiohead there was Ivory Library. In the early nineties Dissolve, Ivory Library’s debut album co-produced by Butch Vig and Doug Olson, caught the attention of local music lovers but also the attention of Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines, among others, who gave the disc favorable reviews. The dreamy pop landscapes were thick with tension and beauty. The lyrics added to the haunting effect, bidding the listener to draw their own conclusions. The vocals were understated in their delivery, even as the music erupted in cacophonous grandeur. The band moved from Madison’s Boat Records to the Twin Cities’ Zeus records for their second release, Parasite, then faded as guitarist Dave Batson left the fold and the Washington Hotel and then O’Cayz went up in flames.
Jeff Jagielo, the chief creative force behind Ivory Library, now returns with a new band, Squarewave, and it’s a welcome, uplifting and inspirational return. Squarewave echoes many of the qualities that made Dissolve so appealing. Joining Jagielo, and credited as co-author on all but one of these thirteen tracks, is Pat Connaughty who took over for Batson after Parasite was released. Brandon Smith plays drums. Although Jagielo and Connaughty are both credited with just guitars, Squarewave is rife with dense soundscapes: keyboards, bass, electronic sound effects and an assortment of ominous sounds.
Every track on Squarewave is like an aural painting with intriguing turns of musical phrase. Take the opener, “A Name that Isn’t Mine,” where driving rhythms and melodic, distorted guitars give way to an electronic instrumental break before the guitars come crashing back in. It all ends rather abruptly and then the ghostly “Broken Car” enters with its open-ended statement, “The drunks in this bar all look the same / No one here could even tell that I.” The lyrics throughout the disc are masterful in this way – nondescript, yet painting a sometimes frightening portrait right in front of your eyes. “Walk Through Walls” features ringing twelve-string guitar as does “Fall From My Youth.” The latter is perhaps the catchiest song on the album sounding like an outtake from REM’s Murmer or Reckoning albums. The lyrics are sometimes just as hard to decipher, nearly spoken in parts and hushed. The most understated track of all, “Follow the Moon” suddenly explodes into noise, then retreats, the tension becoming palpable. “My Siamese” succeeds in adding an Eastern, almost “Kashmir”-like quality to the palette.
The album ends with “I am the Cosmos,” written by Big Star’s Chris Bell, and Jagielo singing “Every night I tell myself / that I am the cosmos / I am the wind / If that won’t get you back again… / I never want to be alone… / If that won’t get you back again / I never want to see you again / I really want to see you again.” It’s as direct and plaintive as Jagielo gets – a gorgeous tune with a slide guitar line that rivals the best George Harrison and capturing the paradox that is love in a fleeting 3:33 of artful pop slendor.
Squarewave was recorded in Jagielo’s house somewhere near Wautoma and is an ultimate achievement of unfettered creativity. Fans of OK Computer and Kid A will love it. The band plans to begin performing once again in the late summer or early fall and there is word that Batson may rejoin the fold for the next Squarewave project. Jagielo will also contribute to Dave Benton’s next Eastern Son project which should be a treat indeed, as every moment of Squarewave is.