If an artist is going to make an album that acts as a compendium of all their formative musical influences up until that point and not have it come across as stale or staid, Sioux Falls’ Rot Forever is a blueprint for how to go about it. The touchstones are many, but the Portland-via-Montana band executes every element cleanly and assuredly, and with their own personal, wearied touch. Even more so than their ’90s forebears, Sioux Falls often recall their contemporaries that have also mined that sound. At times, I get the sense that this is a band who connected more initially with Alex G than Elliott Smith, listened to LVL UP before making their way to Guided By Voices. That’s not a judgement call, it’s just how we tend to be introduced to music these days: a backwards progression.
The result is a band that feels enamored with a scene that they will surely grow to be a part of. On one of the songs, there’s a reference to Porches, seen “with a bunch of artsy kids/ The songs were really great, I didn’t mingle at the show.” Another track ends with a needling invitation to a Pile gig. “I wanted to make the kind of album that I would have gotten really excited about when I was growing up,” frontman Isaac Eiger said over email. “I tried to make something that didn’t feel confined by anything or any one feeling.”
He certainly succeeded at the last part. A 73-minute debut album is a gambit, and a lot to ask an audience to invest in an unknown quantity. Though the band has been around since 2010 in some form or another, and have a trail of releases to show for it, Rot Forever will be many’s first exposure to the group, and that much runtime gives them plenty to work with and they show off every aspect of their sound and attitude, from the more straightforward indie rock wailers (“Dom,” “Dinosaur Dying“) to gently unfurling meditations on what it all means (“Your Name’s Not Ned,” “Copy Paste,” “If You Let It”).
As a lyricist, Eiger largely acts as an observer — even when he’s in the first-person, he feels overly analytical and detached. He fills in details with a well-worn brush, creating portraits of characters that feel all-too-real and indicative of a kind of closed-off suburban upbringing that creates tragedies out of everyday malaise: “It sounds like winter back in 1998,” he reminisces on “In Case It Gets Lost.” “Your mom will stay in bed for hours/ Her eyes are emptier than anything you’ve ever seen.” On “3 Fast,” he looks inward with that same kind of omniscient gaze as he explains his bitter insecurities over some guy whose girl he likes: “Maybe I’m a fucking dick/ And my judgements tend to come way too quick/ Or maybe he’s more talented than me, and that makes me feel weird in an uncomfortable way.”
The album calls back back to childhood a lot, with talk of cartoons and long nights spent smoking with nothing much to do. The most hyper-specific it gets is on “San Francisco Earthquake”: “Halo 2 in seventh grade/ We watched them hang Saddam Hussein/ All my friends were getting old, Seattle lost the Super Bowl.” These dusty songs are evocative of a specific time and place, one that’s not too far removed from now but somehow feels old-fashioned. But it’s also attached to the present: There’s mentions of Googling yourself late at night, of “spending too much time on the internet.” Eiger’s voice aches with the dispassion of a generation that’s never really had to work too hard for anything, but is still surprised when they don’t get the results they want.
The last verse on the last song, “The Winner,” lays out all of the anxieties and self-awareness that the band exemplifies so well: “G-D-C/ Who need a chord sheet when you’re the singer in Sioux Falls?/ 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.” An admirable goal, and with their debut album Sioux Falls have surely achieved at least that. And, of course, the band undercuts themselves at the last possible second with some studio banter about clogs and the Seahawks losing the Super Bowl. So it goes.