For all the emotions conveyed on Spiral Stairs' debut album, few of them come from the lyrics. Instead it's Scott Kannberg's artful and nuanced use of sounds that create the most impact.
Spiral Stairs is Seattleite Kannberg's pseudonym (he's also Pavement's founding guitarist and Preston School of Industry's former frontman), and his first official solo album is a cathartic tribute to his recent divorce. Aptly titled The Real Feel, this solid album's 10 musical tracks focus on sounds and senses. Kannberg's beautiful instrumentation mimics the bass-heavy style of The Stranglers; the deep lines on the opening track "True Love" create a dark atmosphere. When Kannberg sings, his voice reminiscent of Billy Bragg, he's more interested in creating feelings than words. He repeats the phrase "true love" again and again, and while it's not a unique lyric, it's the way Kannberg uses the words that carries the meaning. He nearly wails those two syllables, his voice just about to crack—which is as powerful as any more poetic lyric about love. He does the same on "Sublico Shuffle": The refrain is "sacred secret" repeated while Kannberg overenunciates over a swirling low guitar. It's clear that secrets were a strong and destructive force in his marriage.
If The Real Feel has any flaw, it's that Kannberg tries to do too much on these songs. He's clearly thought about every note on this album—there's barely a silent moment here—and it's a little overwhelming. Then again, maybe the distorted guitars, synthesizers and complicated words are Kannberg's way of masking the intense emotions he's put on display.