No one ever said you needed to know the words to sing along with your favorite band, right? Good thing. Because in these three albums I love, the singer doesn’t either.
1) Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain — Pavement
Back when I was writing for an audience of one, I wrote an essay, one that never saw the light of day, called “Pavement: Portrait of the Artists As Young Men”. I wrote it after pouring my mind into Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain the day I bought it. I’ll share the first part of that writing here, unedited, because it remains germane.
Part One: The Etudes——————————
1. “Silent Kit”
A band grows up eventually, but it takes its first steps by fucking around. This album does the same thing. Literally, thirteen seconds of warming up, to show the audience it’s importance and seriousness; “Hey, we’re a new band, kinda, because we kicked out our drummer and got a real one. We’re gonna ‘feel it out’ first. Let’s jam!”
“Silent Kit” feels out the whole album, too: an album that grows through twelve songs to make it’s statement. It comes to terms with it’s past first by addressing the drummer change in a song that sounds like their first rehersal together. Even though the parts of the song are there, they play them like they’ve never written a song in their life. Listen to that anemic guitar in the left channel at 1:14; shouldn’t that be more prominent? There are three parts to this song; wouldn’t it be great if those first two parts repeated, like in a real rock song? They are fucking around, which is mean, but true.
(In case someone else is reading this, let me assure you that, as barely a member of a band named Buttsex, I know about fucking around. More in parentheses to come.)
2.”Elevate Me Later”
A bit more structure, but God forbid it end up as a straight song, taken care of with the bombast psych-out ending. Also fun that none of the guitarists can pick out an articulation style (in classical music circles, Wagnerian cognascenti can talk about articulation until the room is filled, literally, with cum).
This is a good backing for some compelling lyrics, though, and backing vocal “ooh laa laa”s always adds purpose and merit. The fucking around is a lot more purposefull, too; that effectless guitar part at the end is really starting to sound sincere.
So sloppy, but it will become part of the album’s charm eventually.
I can’t find a definitive statement as to whether or not these lyrics are on-the-spot made up, but they do perfectly compliment the raggedy style of the album. The album does mature as it goes (“5-4=Unity” seperating the “etudes” from the “songs”) but the lyrical nonsensities continue, beautifully, throughout. At the time, I felt that the lyrics in “Elevate Me Later” were my favorite, but they are all good, in a sloppy-long-sleeved-flannel-shirt-indie-mumbling kind of way.
The prize of the lyrics was the pouty controversy over “Range Life”, in which the stream-of-conscience goof-off lyrics refer to The Smashing Pumpkins as “nature kids” that the speaker “doesn’t understand” and “could really give a fuck” about. Anyone who actually listened to the melange of words in the album, or even “Range Life” in particular, would know that they were pulled out of thin air, and no offense was intended. But Billy Corgan is a douchebag. Oops.
2) Houdini — Melvins
Sometimes you can have a nightmare and remember vivid details. But the overall sensory experience, the miasma of evil, is what really sticks to your psyche. Philosophers and bird watchers refer to this overall attitude as the “gist”. The definition of “the gist of evil” is commonly refered to by philosophers and Brent Miller as “Melvins”, or “Fucking MELVINS”.
Living in the Gist of Evil doesn’t require you to make any sense in your lyrics, just that they have a sinister quality, be it by hard consonance and assonance, guttural delivery, or banshee wailing. To be sure, Houdini is filled with all three; the singing and lyrical delivery is, as is the music is in general, almost proprietorial in it’s evil ways. But, just to be sure you know that the intent of the Melvins is to create the gist of evil and not just say something spooky, they printed the lyrics to the first song, “Hooch”:
“Los ticka toe rest. Might likea sender doe ree. Your make a doll a ray day sender bright like a penelty.
Exi-tease my ray day member half lost a beat away. Purst in like a one way sender war give a heart like a fay. Cuz I can ford a red eed only street a wide a ree land. Die-mond make a mid-evil bike a sake a like a ree caste. Cuz I can ford a red eed only street a wide a ree land. On a ree land. Find a ree land.
You sink a my swan. Rolly a get a worst in. Maybe minus way far central poor forty duck a pin.
Milk maid dud bean. Master a load a head. Pill pop a dope a well run general hash pump a gonna led.”
Just reading the lyrics out of context brings to mind the village idiot sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But if you haven’t heard this song, hunt it up. Hunt this album up. Hunt them all up. Lock the doors, put on the headphones, and get your face rocked right off. You’ll get the gist of it soon enough.
3) The Biz — The Sea And Cake
John Cage, in his frustrated writings, helped me understand how to articulate to others the idea of “randomness” in music. Cage implored people to understand the difference between “random” and “indeterminate”. The squeak of a door hinge is “random”; someone aware of how the squeak is made, how speed and pressure might effect the pitch of the squeak, and how to open the door in a way to make the squeak last a certain length is making the sound “indeterminably”. Someone who learns that jazz musicians do not have their solos written out might think that they are playing “at random”, when there are actually tons of complicated theoretical thoughts going on, never mind rehearsed musical ideas. Even in the absence of theory, rehearsal of melody, or ensemble placement, a musician can barely make a sound “at random”: they know pitches and intonation, know how to make pure sounds on their instruments, know proper posture and breathing and ambusher forms. Those sounds, even if pulled out of thin air on a whim, are “indeterminate”, not “random”.
The Sea And Cake took the jazzy idea of “indeterminate” music to the obvious, and maybe the best, indie rock conclusion in The Biz.
Some may say it is definitely the best, but I can’t extend it that far in good faith. For one, I am not really well versed in the bands commonly considered in their peer group, like Built To Spill or Les Savy Fav(as close as I get is Cap’n Jazz, if that’s even close). Also, I’m not even sure how deep the indie rock world is in bands reaching the “jazz” plateau; I immediately think of Starless and Bible Black, not F#A# Infinity, when I think of strong “indeterminism” rock music.
The special thing about The Biz is the effortless and easy-going sound that the band achieves. Musically, the songs are jangly and syncopated, with a haze of synth covering every song in space dust. The lengths of the versus and chourses expand and contract beyond the expectations of an average rock quartet. All the solos are relaxed and improvised free from the melody but not obtrusively so. The drums stay nimble, the guitars arppegiate brightly, and the bass is free to be more involved in the chords and less in the rhythm.
The vocals seem more of an additional instrument and not the focus of the songs, and the lyrics do a great job of keeping out of the spotlight by being meandering and vague. Every so often the vocals are doubled or the bass follows the vocal melody line, but the vocals still feel so removed from the forward consciousness of the songs that when you get to “Escort”, you hardly even notice it is an instrumental. The theme of the lyrics are usually the speakers relationships, usually spoken in second-person perspective, but good luck getting more than that out of them; every lyrical passage just seems to be an excuse to elongate a vowel sound to hover over the rapid snare fills.
What separates The Biz from its forefathers, like Daydream Nation, is that it keeps the rock ethos without a scrap of aggression, at the same time having its indeterminate moments inside a structure that, if somewhat tailored, is more “rock” and less “experimental”. It seems like all of The Sea And Cake’s peers and contempories have to be “edgy” to keep their rock credentials; in The Biz you can tell aggression never crossed their minds, yet when you hear the “Kashmir” riff at the end of “For Minor Sky”, it sounds appropriate, even though the song sounds like a Siamese Dream jazz odyssey outtake.