After listening to Rot Forever, two strong, opposing images of Sioux Falls arise. First is the obsessive, studious trio of dudes so steeped in Built to Spill and Modest Mouse that they used those same shapes when developing their own music just as obsessively. There’s a practiced intensity to that theoretical approach, a meticulous understanding reproduced in detail. Then there’s also the fact that the Portland-via-Bozeman, Montana trio’s Facebook page lists their genres as “buttcore/yolo-fi.” And, come to think about it, their fitful lyrics focus on decidedly non-’90s things, like how much it sucks when the WiFi goes down and finding someone to go to the Pile show with.
Then again, producing a 73-minute double album debut allows a band that kind of flexibility. The massive Rot Forever gives Sioux Falls the capacity to be both: both sensitive and aggressive, messy and precise, cloyingly retro and fiercely modern. They can, for the most part, be everything all at once. As such, listening to Rot Forever for the first time gave off a similar feeling to first listening to Cap’n Jazz’s Analphabetapolothology — not that Sioux Falls often sound that emo, but rather that it’s like discovering a long-lost tangle of classic jams that jump and shout and vibrate across the grooves, packed full with enough songs to contain enough gems to make up for the fact that some fail to stand out as readily.
Vocalist/guitarist Isaac Eiger, bassist Fred Nixon, and drummer Ben Scott sing (often together, shouting) of obsessions and obsession itself. Some might criticize the record for going over-long — and even dedicated fans of the band might shrug and nod when the idea of a little editing was suggested — but that youthful intensity and focus defines the album’s structure just as well as its content. Just when you think they’d be slowing down to a conclusion, Sioux Falls throw in a few more six-minute tracks. If you feel exhausted after listening to Rot Forever, you’re not the only one. You’ll probably find Eiger staring at a computer screen in the middle of the night, practicing guitar with his face illuminated by the screen as on opener “3fast”.
These are the guys that will sing “spending too much time on the internet” to open “Dom”, only to follow it with screams about everything from accusations of molestation to notes about a huge dog that died too young. Eiger comes from the “warts and all” school of lyric-writing. No detail is spared — “Halo 2 in 7th grade/ We watched them hang Saddam Hussein,” he offers on “San Fransisco Earthquake”. Names are used; there must be a real Ben he’s concerned for on the Mike Kinsella-y “Try”. That concern spreads threefold, at least, on “If You Let It”, Eiger checking in lyrically on Dookie, Annie, Ellie. When not using names, the “you” being addressed or discussed knows exactly who they are thanks to all the unflinching details.
Those details are particularly unflinching when it comes to himself, too, a common occurrence for the sect of songwriters from which Eiger arises, the type that would identify so much with Pile and Rick Maguire as to give them a shoutout. “I’m not funny/ Just OCD,” he shrugs on the Pavement falsetto “Chain of Lakes”. He’s getting sick of himself on “Dinosaur Dying” and wonders whether he’s bored or a loser on “Mcconnoughey”. Modest Mouse get a shoutout too, noted on a mix CD on the wordy but surprisingly brief “In Case It Gets Lost”, insisting to himself through the flashes of memory that it’s okay to be alone.
“Who needs a chord sheet/ When you’re the singer in Sioux Falls?” he deadpans on closer “The Winner”. But he knows that you know that he knows what he’s doing. “But meta irony is not the point here/ I just wanna believe that what I’m doing means something to someone else/ Before I die and rot forever.”
There’s some salvation to be had in making music, and even more in the kind of music they’re making. By exposing every issue, problem, mistake, and pain, he’s encouraging the listener to do the same, to find community in imperfection. After picking at the scabs of his own past, his sister’s, and others’ for four minutes, Eiger comes up with a solution: “It goes away/ If you let it,” he screams, though melodically, the fragile guitar webbing bolstered by thundering drums. After that, he can pin his frailties and heartbreak on something besides his brain, even if it’s still his own physical body: “But I think I should go to the dentist/ ‘Cause I haven’t been for a while/ And I need to get my eyes checked/ So I can see your sleepy smile/ From far away.” That pain may be pushed away, but it’s still there if you squint — and you’re going to squint, from time to time, so you might as well get your eyes checked to make sure you’re squinting properly.
Essential Tracks: “If You Let It”, “The Winner”, and “Dinosaur Dying”