Stuck On Repeat: TV Torso “Slanderer’s Stew”

Stuck on Repeat


Sometimes a song from Austin’s past won’t get out of our heads and we’re forced to share it with you so it will get stuck in yours too, like a music nerd version of It Follows. Today we examine Krautrock revivalist TV Torso and their epic “Slanderer’s Stew,” a stand out track from their album Status Quo Vadis that showed off the band’s studio prowess while also indicating they existed outside the mortal musical realm.

When I moved to Austin in 2010, one of the first shows I went to featured TV Torso, a group I was intrigued by before they’d even played a note, thanks to the bassist’s Fender VI, which he told me was a gift to him from his wife. I was unaware of TV Torso’s status as a spin off of legendary Austin ’00s act Sound Team when I saw the band– to my mind they were just a thrilling group that maximized Spoon’s subtle Krautrock obsession, but tackled their live shows with Wire’s nervous aggression, all pent up energy releasing itself a tic at a time. At the point I saw them, TV Torso seemed to be on the verge of becoming something big, their LP Status Quo Vadis having just come out, prominently featuring production help from Stuart Sikes, of White Stripes and Loretta Lynn fame. I didn’t know TV Torso’s specific history but I recognized that they were an evolution of that Texas twist on Krautrock that served as a throughline from Stars of the Lid to Spoon to the current vogue of instrumental ATX groups congregating around Raw Paw. Two years later, TV Torso put out what now quietly appears to have become their swan song, the “Clear Lake Strangler” single, with no indication of what happened or why.

With historical hindsight, Status Quo Vadis’ crowning achievement “Slanderer’s Stew” sounds like a preemptive eulogy, riding out a motorik beat for more than seven minutes as emotions simmer and boil and eventually burst free. The song begins with palm muted harmonics, establishing a disquieting mood before Jordan Johns’ rock solid beat appears, the rhythm a pulsing mass, the single note bassline forcing so much of the guitar work to exist as a suggestion rather than a demand. Matt Oliver’s vocals are kept low in the mix to augment the hypnotic qualities of the tune, not even rising in volume or intensity when the guitars finally do open up, instead remaining obtuse and theoretical. The production gives the vocal a watery reverb effect, like Oliver is a drowning man calling out from the fog, resigned to his fate rather than resisting it.

Live, TV Torso created walls of sound, the aforementioned Fender VI in particular creating muscly melody, generating a distinct otherness to the music of TV Torso, a slight twist in guitar expectations making all the difference. But there is a gentleness to everything TV Torso recorded that stands in opposition to that live dynamic. Listening to “Slanderer’s Stew,” you hear a band that wasn’t merely comfortable in the studio, they were psychically connected to it, a symbiotic relationship between man and machine, the hiss of the band’s favored tape format adding a degree of calculated mistake that offered a counter spontaneity to the chaos of a live show. On stage, the band seemed to be working out frustrations, either from their missed opportunities, or with the format and expectations of the live show itself or maybe even just a desire to be back home, surrounded by analog tape machines and compressors and mic set-ups.

All of Status Quo Vadis is a glorious document of a band at the height of their powers, but “Slanderer’s Stew” is a peek inside their heads, an indication that TV Torso were never meant to last in our world for very long, at least not like we expect bands to. When the climax of the song comes, it has the inexplicable thundering of Austin rains, bass dropping in and out in fits and bursts, guitar switching from sustained open chords to nagging rhythms, what sounds like a Rhodes pushing out the edges. Voices chant from the background, drum rolls duel with synths, cymbals crash and roar, seemingly building up to something, but it never really comes. Instead, like TV Torso itself, “Slanderer’s Stew” builds to a fever pitch and then just ends, leaving only harmonic hints of what was there before to remain as memories.

Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.