“Solo releases” from “band members” can go either way. They can feel dislocated, reminding you why the person you’re hearing is usually joined by a particular entourage. Or they can open up a whole new space - sharing echoes of a familiar creative vision, but scratching an entirely different itch, for better or worse.
The latter’s true of new tape Silo from Stephen Bailey, who’s elsewise the frontman for local star-spangled sludge-chuggers Mt. Mountain. This record fishes from the same broad pond of sonic touchstones: shoegaze, dream pop, krautrock, 90s jangle-psych revival (which I guess makes this a kind of revival of a revival). But Bailey isn’t interested in replicating the aesthetic or affect of his band, and in turn Silo feels purposeful.
Opener ‘Demure’ functions as a kind of segue from Mt. Mountain to solo Steve. It’s got the motorik beat, layers of electric guitars, and Bailey’s cloudy vocals drifting overhead. But this is a decidedly more restrained version of the formula, in which every part is a discrete and discernible thread. Nothing is swirling or mingling: the cars on this autobahn stay in their lane and stick to 100. ‘Polyester Vision’ ups the clarity even more, with bright McCartney bass, clean motown drums and crotchet organ clicking into a groove that’s crisp as a granny smith. ’Josephine’ re-imagines Galaxie 500 as a band that could sing in tune; less facetiously, it’s also a really pretty, concise pop song, pinned to the paisley wallpaper by a vivid melody and pure silky tones.
‘Sub Zero’ and ‘Let’s Try Love’ are totally serviceable, sparse, vintagey tracks. But they feel maybe too polished, bearing an overwrought studio quality that’s at odds with the stylistic warmth and sprawl, a paradox that’s similarly bothered me with ‘90s psych acts like Flaming Lips. As such, album centrepiece ’Halcyon’ is a shot of oxygen - raw, folky and immediate, like you could be listening to it as it’s being written. It’s only 1 minute and 39 seconds of music, but with its sprightly tambourine and pine-forest recorder melody, it announces a new path for the record to wander down.
That path is taken on ‘Blue Eyes,’ whose guitars are pleasantly imperfect, joining a rice-paper snare to underscore velveteen vocals. It makes sense that these folky timbres lead us into the title track: ‘Silo’ is built around pastoral fingerpicking guitar, wordless cooing, and a few well-placed breaths of recorder - evoking Autumn afternoons in the wheatbelt. Everything converges on ‘Take It Up’ - the Beatlesy piano and production, the woodwind, the soul-tinged backbeat and the dreamy intonations. Given that we’ve already had so much of the above, the track feels kind of surplus: still, it’s probably one of the best tunes on here, all things being equal.
And as it happens, there are more tricks up Stephen’s sleeve. ‘Mr. Fair’ is my favourite song on this album, recalling the daydreamy musings of Vashti Bunyan (not least in terms of Bailey’s vocal range), as well as the loop-folk nostalgia of early Bibio. It’s an understated, immaculately constructed piece of work. Bringing up the rear is ‘The Folons.’ I don’t know what Folons are; possibly they’re artworks by Jean Michel Folon; and if so, this brief piano epilogue well matches their softly delineated forms and wistful pastel hues.
Given that I’m a sucker for 60s/70s folk and psych, as well as plenty of contemporary “throwback” pop, it’s tricky to be objective about a release like this. On the one hand, it doesn’t offer your ears anything that hasn’t effectively been done across several generations. To this extent, you kind of feel like Bailey is too comfortable: you want him to throw some unconventional spices in the warm apple pie. But on the other hand, apple pie is reliable and extremely delicious. Far be it from me to turn it away.