For almost a decade, Spider Bags have been one of the steadiest garage rock acts in the country. Not as sporadic as Black Lips or as prolific as Thee Oh Sees, the Chapel Hill trio floated under the radar despite dropping LPs of equal caliber, melding the guitar squalls of their contemporaries with country rock. As Spider Bags fought to be noticed on a wider scale, back home their sounds caught the ear of Mac McCaughan, who signed the band to Merge for their fourth LP, Frozen Letter, following their two on Birdman Records and one on Odessa.
Given Merge’s clout and distribution reach, the album is a major opportunity for increased exposure, and Spider Bags seize the moment, delivering their most polished, adventurous set of songs to date. Garage rock clichés (fat riffs, fuzzed-out chords, and vocal reverb) come and go, giving way to pop songs and weirder experiments, all strung together cohesively. “Back in the World with You Again”, with frontman Dan McGee’s earnest sentiments (“I’ll always be honest with you/ It’s true”), touts the aggro romanticism of Dead Moon, before the band cop the jangly bounce of the dB’s for “Japanese Vacation”. This is a record that can be put on and left on, varied enough to capture your attention with a lick here or a lyric there.
Singing through a Southern accent, McGee shines on Frozen Letter, changing his inflection to suit the mood of each song. On blues rocker “We’ve Got Problems”, there’s a drunken scoundrel-ness to his drawls: “I have my friends when I want them/ Though most of the time I just live without them.” On “Coffin Car”, the most melancholy track here, he puts on a solemn country croon. All the while, there’s the sense that McGee is smiling big as he plays and sings these songs. Unlike some other Merge bands, nothing is overly serious or hung up on lofty pretensions. Spider Bags just want to have a good time and play rock ‘n’ roll, and that lightheartedness makes Frozen Letter a standout release among the crowded garage rock market. It just may be the band’s finest material yet.
Essential Tracks: “Back in the World with You Again”, “Coffin Car”, and “Japanese Vacation”