The Silos
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The Silos

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


It takes an extraordinary songwriter to pen a number as beatifically positive as "Whistled a Slow Waltz," which extols the values of family ties and love without seeming cliché’d. And that’s where Silos frontman Walter Salas-Humara comes in. For 19 years, he’s led the band with his deft pen, having near-scrapes with fame but mostly recording album after album with songs full of heart and musicianship, then buzzing from town to town in a van to deliver them on stage with all he’s got. One could call him New York City’s answer to Austin’s Alejandro Escovedo. He’s explored everything from punk to experimental sonics to down-home country rock without reservation.

This album has a wide range. At times, as in the fiddle-and-B-3-organ-dappled "Whistled a Slow Waltz," he’s deep into a rootsy folk-based sound. Then he’ll dive into a cut like "Innocent" and rock like hell while extolling the virtues of personal responsibility as a kind of inner liberation — a complex topic that he expresses simply and clearly in a hooky chorus. Then there’s "When the Telephone Rings," which uses textural peals of lap steel guitar and little else but the pad of a tom-tom to evoke a sense of longing that’s made all the more resonant by the dusty tones of his voice. It all turns on his knack for spare perfect arrangements — and on his unchecked emotionalism. But few artists wear their hearts on their sleeves with such dignity.

BY TED DROZDOWSK - The Boston Phoenix


When the Silos came to the Roots Café a year ago, Walter Salas-Humara wore all 43 years of his life, most of it spent in rock ’n’ roll’s margins, in his long, creased face. Backed up against a Charles Village church window, he played a battered acoustic guitar, but it generated an unholy racket. It was the sound of things falling apart, and in his New York’s Lower East Side nasal wail he sang, “You feel hungry and lost, but you can’t sit still.”

Salas-Humara may have a longtime New Yorker’s skepticism, but he was raised in Florida’s Cuban-American community and he retains a Latin, Catholic faith, even if his music takes a secular form. When the choppy chords of the verse ascended into the anthemic chorus melody, he cried out, “Only love can send you to the sky.” It’s the kind of line that can be sickeningly sweet in the wrong setting, but Salas-Humara had earned the right to sing it. He acknowledges just how cruel and empty the world can be, reflecting it in his lyrics and music, and the glimmer of transcendence in the chorus from “The Only Love” proved absolutely thrilling.

After all, singing about a world that’s nothing but gloom and doom is as easy and dishonest as singing about a world that’s nothing but love and flowers. The challenge is to evoke the world as it really is—a mixture of injustice and small victories. That’s just what the Silos do on their magnificent new album, When the Telephone Rings. It opens with the studio version of “The Only Love,” this time with Television’s Richard Lloyd playing a spiraling lead guitar part that stokes the song’s climb to an exhilarating climax.

Bassist Drew Glackin switches to weeping lap-steel guitar for the title track, a country lament that declares you can miss your hometown even when you’re still there. “Holding on to Life,” built atop a Neil Young-ish country-rock two-step, finds reasons to keep going, even in the wake of a grisly car wreck. Salas-Humara uses strings to frame “The First Move” in much the same way his ex-band mate Alejandro Escovedo (in the Setters) might. The song argues that there’s no point in “standing in a puddle of water waiting for a shock”; you’ve got to make the first move even if you might lose.

In the same vein is “Innocent,” another highlight of last year’s Roots Café show. It begins with a shouted challenge, “The world doesn’t owe you a thing,” and a stabbing bass line that implies an impatience exhausted with whining. But just when the song feels ready to sink into a despairing answer to the question “Is there ever any end in sight?”, a glorious guitar figure emerges. It releases Salas-Humara’s throaty yowl, “Keep your heart innocent of your world.”

-GOEFFREY HIMES - Baltimore City Paper


Discography

All albums are streamed at www.thesilos.net and www.itunes.com:
When The Telephone Rings, Dualtone, 2004
Laser Beam Next Door, Checkered Past, 2001
Heater, Checkered Past, 1998
Susan Across The Ocean, Watermelon, 1994
Hasta La Victoria, Normal, 1992
The One With The Bird On The Cover, RCA, 1990
Cuba, Record Collect, 1987
About Her Steps, Record Collect, 1986

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

In 1985, when vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Walter Salas-Humara recorded a handful of tunes with the help of a dozen and a half friends and collected the songs under the title About Her Steps, he probably wasn't thinking that it was the start of a career in music that's now approaching 20 years and still going strong. No, at that point, he was too busy thinking about, among other things, names. "In the beginning, I didn't want to use my name because I thought it was too hard for people to deal with," explains Salas-Humara when discussing the origin of the Silos name. "So I came up with a name that was two syllables, easy to roll of the tongue, and works in all languages more or less."

With a name in hand, as well as some (in his words) "unexpected interest" in About Her Steps, Salas-Humara put together a touring band. That line-up made Cuba, originally released in 1987 and reissued last fall by Nashville's Dualtone label, an exhilarating album that introduced the Silos' enviable ability to communicate effectively in both a whisper and a howl. Cuba attracted national attention. The video for "Tennessee Fire" was played by MTV and the band was voted "Best New American Band" by the Rolling Stone critic's poll. The band subsequently signed to RCA Records and the third album under the Silos name (self-titled, but often conveniently referred to as The One With The Bird On The Cover) was even better and led to an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Its spacious, organic quality made it seem out of place in 1990; however, looking back at the album from within the Alternative-Indy glow of the decade's end, The Silos resonates like the work of visionaries.

Since that landmark album, Salas-Humara has kept the Silos name alive with a continuing series of impassioned recordings and miles and miles of roadwork. Four Silos studio albums, Hasta La Victoria (1992) and Susan Across The Ocean (1994), Heater (1998). and Laser Beam Next Door (2001) followed. The latest album, also on Dualtone, When The Telephone Rings (2004), is their most accomplished to date, exploring everything from punk to experimental sonics to down-home organic rock without reservation. Salas-Humara has also released several solo albums, produced several others for such kindred spirits as Michael Hall and Jim Roll, was a founding member of the seminal soul/drone band The Vulgar Boatmen, did some guest drumming on Hazeldine's Orphans, and joined Hall and Alejandro Escovedo in a two-off named The Setters. Ira Robbins, writing in The Trouser Press Record Guide, describes Salas-Humara as an "unflashy auteur whose alt-rock amalgam drapes country, punk, baroque stateliness and pop in an abiding sadness." When you look at Salas-Humara's wide-ranging career and his dedication to the art of songwriting, it's definitely not a stretch to include his name alongside the likes of Escovedo, REM, Lucinda Williams, Stephen Malkmus, and Neil Young.

These days, Salas-Humara is enjoying the stability of a Silos line-up that's been together longer than any other, closing in on seven years, with Drew Glackin on bass and lap steel and Konrad Meissner on drums. "We all enjoy each other's company quite a bit" is Salas-Humara's take on this longevity. "And stylistically, it all locks together in an interesting way. Visceral guitar playing combined with very melodic bass work and eclectic drumming works in a trio format. And to have the steel guitar (courtesy of Glackin) on the quieter songs adds a whole other dimension."

The Silos create a sound that's hard to pin down. According to Buzz McClain in The Washington Post, the band creates "powerful earthy pop that sounds like the result of Nirvana riding on R.E.M.'s tour bus." "The band's austere style inflects the astringent twang of The Velvet Underground with the drone of R.E.M. and adds countryish echoes that recall Gram Parsons," offered Stephen Holden in The New York Times. "We get compared to everybody," says Salas-Humara. "To some people, we're a country band. To other people, we're a rock band. To other people, we're an acoustic band. Some people think we're rootsy, and others think we're arty." He pauses to take a breath and to chuckle at the breadth of it all. "We're all of those things."

Yes, every one of those descriptions is accurate, a snapshot of the truth taken from a different angle. The music of Salas-Humara and his bandmates is the sound of ideas, styles, and maybe even cultures colliding. It deftly combines a big beat with a nothing-wasted leanness, and it's music that possesses a unique blending of intensity and approachability, with the ferocious rockers tilting you back on your heels just as quickly as the hushed, tightly coiled ballads draw you closer.

So how should one sum up the music of the Silos? With a new album in the works and a trail of memorable shows (from performances in large music halls to intimate house concerts) both behind them and in front of them, let's just