From the nearly cold open I was hooked. I’m talking about this song & the first moment I ever heard it, but I could just as easily be talking about the first time that I heard the band, driving along some lost highway in Minneapolis with Madison at our back & Oregon somewhere nearly unfathomable past where our noses pointed; with no idea what was coming next, where we were going, certain only of the quality of the company I was keeping and the raw emotional force falling out of the stereo, perfectly in tune with all the longing I tried so desperately to hide behind with cold beer and bravado, to no avail. The second I heard her voice, the desire and urgency pushing the very medium out of the way, as if to say, “I know this is a song, but I have no time for music; these feelings will throw themselves against the wall with no time for artifice or craft.” It’s a trick, of course; it’s all craft. Without the music, or the context of a song, the emotion becomes common, loses its specificity and becomes a face in the crowd moving past you, instead of that voice which has channeled something so deep inside of you, it becomes as if it actually has come out of you. It’s like the best poems make you forget you are reading a poem, but it is precisely because it is a poem, not despite the fact, that the experience becomes so moving.
The song begins with a power pop explosion; a somehow upbeat expletive of almost-bemused frustration, “Goddamit…” laid down with tinges of exasperation more than any real condemnation. It’s both a sigh and a scream, a tenderly-sharp plea to listen to what’s happening, without any threat but with so much urgency you could almost sink from the weight of the NOW being thrown at you. There is so much weight, so much joy and desperation and longing, because what’s happening is a fierce renegotiation of terms. It is the negation that is simultaneously an affirmation, as if to say, “I’ve seen the new way to live, to love and it’s calling to me in a way I can’t not hear; that I can’t not follow.” The Hallmark declarations of maudlin sentiments past, they are not enough, they are only the building blocks of what I’m talking about. They are no longer relevant: a cast aside child’s toy, still being flipped over carelessly in the listener’s hand, as if some thoughtless turn could pry the answer up from where it lay hidden. “I’m not talking about my heart like it’s something you could break…”
The slightly off-key vocals convey the urgency, as if to say, “I will not stop for perfection. This needs to be said RIGHT NOW and JUST IN THIS WAY. No other will do.”
At the risk of giving in to some of the sentimentality that I’m suggesting that this expression is trying to break free of, I’d say that the vocals may be slightly off-key, but are perfectly in tune with my heart. (Awwwwww.)
Then the rug is pulled out from under our feet as the drummer stops playing and clicks the sticks together. It’s as if he’s counting off the beat, waiting for the song to begin. And it does begin, anew. The pace picks up, and the vocals begin to overlap, twisting and turning around each other, plaintive wails into the night, full of longing, confusion, finality and hope, as if to say something along the sentiment in Long Knives, as if to just get all of this out to give it a chance at a fresh start. The shouting that turns to the harmless yet ferocious throwing of things at a wall that then explosively transforms into the most mutual of frenzied kissing when emotions immolate themselves in righteous expression.
And the hope is in Caithlin’s voice as she implores, “Your chest is a cage for my letters,” as if the words were somehow inadequate; that the only place where her thoughts and feelings could go was directly to the heart without the imperfect intermediary of language, where they would be kept – where those emotions would sustain and keep the relationship beating, alive.
I can smell the sweat, see the smile through the tears, feel the pull of life in all of its vivid glory every time this song plays & I could live inside of it for an imperfectly perfect moment if I could. I knew, as I listened to this song for the first time, after some lucky record store find for $3 in late November on the rare Portland day when the sun seemed to be beating the clouds and the 2PM sky was spun in various reds, yellows and oranges streaking their way across the heavens with the same sort of urgency that seemed to be pouring out of the stereo I knew right then and there exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, and when I went home and watched the video it confirmed everything I already knew.
Music isn’t everything, but it’s a way of “talking” about that what is: everything. Some days I want to live only where this language is spoken.
I picked something old (though it’s still fairly new to me), in a style that is no longer fashionable currently, but it’s all happening right now. Yes, with different emotions in different styles, but that energy is there. That will to create and express. It’s not all fashion and self-promotion, as my cave-dwelling friends (often rightly) express.
I’m so sick of hearing stories from those friends who have given up on modern music, retreating to the aforementioned metaphorical caves where they take out their expensive headphones, and sit deep in their sagely listening chairs to uncover some tiny nuance they’ve forgotten about in a song they’ve heard a thousand times before; some polished timbre roaring from a Les Paul in a Led Zepplin song or the 107th live Joy Division album, craning their necks to catch something new in those old sounds & failing to find it, perhaps seeking sonic assistance in some “creative enhancement”. I’m not saying that it’s bad to listen to the things you love; on the contrary: LISTEN TO WHAT YOU LOVE! CHASE WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE AFTER THAT WHICH YOU LOVE! All I’m saying is that if you’re not spending any time at all looking for new things too, really great things are passing you by & I think also you’re dying ever-so-slightly. It’s a form of willfully growing old, to ignore what’s happening now & new music & I are gonna hang out on your lawn & do donuts on our BMXs or somethin’.
But I’m serious. Really really great things are happening right now. Brand new things.
Fine. Don’t believe me. Just listen to this.
Told you so.