acoustic

Passive Regressive: Superman Revenge Squad Band’s There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time Reviewed

Superman Revenge Squad - There is Nothing

I suppose most generations want to pin down some sort of identity for themselves, and many have claimed to be lost or blank or useless. So sometimes I wonder if it is actually a peculiarity of my generation (those born in the early to mid-eighties) to feel particularly infantilized, impotent, and inauthentic. Surely others, including the punks of ‘77 and the fabricated cohort of Douglas Coupland’s Gen-X, have felt powerless and disenfranchised. But then I come back to just how self-aware, but self-defeating many of my generation seem to be; we have a sense of our own dearth of maturity and originality, which holds us in fearful stasis. We relate to one another through shared trivia and measure our worth in inconsequential, obscure details that only render us clever around our immediate circle of friends. The idea of wasted time weighs heavily on my mind, and has done for most of my life. This chronophobic dissatisfaction with how life turned out, paired with a lack of control over any of it, leads me to rehearse and remember negligible things, especially from the realm of popular culture, just so I can cling to something that allows me a pathetic sort of mastery and belonging. So much of my anxiety comes from cultural surplus, the acute unease of being always a curator, never a creator. I’m ashamed of how tragic I felt in discovering that I still know all of the words to Savage Garden’s “I Want You,” but that any other memory of my fifteen-year-old experience is virtually non-existent.

Ben Parker, formerly of Nosferatu D2, now recording solo as Superman Revenge Squad Band, has created an album that eloquently articulates these anxieties and musings with an alarming degree of accuracy. There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time terrifies me as much as it comforts me to know that someone else is having these thoughts. Parker’s music itself is lo-fi and acoustic, which is fittingly unassuming. The album rambles, occasionally pauses, and then ends prematurely at under twenty-five minutes. The record is regularly punctuated by gentle drum fills and cymbal shots that propel the album forward whilst also sounding like small ripples of struggle against time, short bursts of energy to fend off the tide. Parker’s vocals are steady, even, and unrelenting, matching the percussion beat for beat. His lyrics are hyper-detailed, and often delivered in a blur of tumbling, stream-of-consciousness soliloquies, paradoxically making them more universal for those in thrall to the tyranny of trivia. We all have our own versions of these stories, filling in the blanks of what amounts to an existential Mad Libs.

Parker’s opening track is the sentiment of Orlando’s “Just for a Second”1 writ large. “Lately I’ve Found Myself Regressing” kicks off with the proclamation of “I’m so indie I could die/I like to underachieve and call it DIY,” and parses the experience of failure, including how it feels to attempt art in the ever-available, ever-expanding glut that already exists. The song effectively encapsulates a passage from Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, which theorizes why the moderately gifted feel so disappointed and stifled in the mass mediatized world2. The song ends on a slightly more hopeful note with the near-sigh of “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of this is a waste of time.” “Paulie in Rocky Three” is another track that speaks very specifically, almost uncannily, to my own paranoid anxieties about information overload. Singing “I don’t remember stuff that matters” over minimal acoustic guitar, Parker speaks poignantly about the bankruptcy of cultural capital. Though his reference points differ from mine–my Rocky III would be Back to the Future, my “Billie Jean” would be “Bizarre Love Triangle”–I feel the same disconnect with the reality of my life and my personal memories, which exists in concert with my propensity to hoard even more “useless” information to guard my identity. His over-cluttered jumble sale of a brain is Bowie’s warehouse in “Five Years,” but crucially without an apocalyptic need for any of it; we hoard because we can. Our intimate knowledge of other people’s fictions keeps us from creating our own. And as we are constantly told that this kind of memory shouldn’t be meaningful–that it is pathological, regressive, and infantile–we only feel more insecure and inept.

This type of “childish” knowledge, which is of apparently no consequence in the real world, continues throughout Parker’s record. “Kendo Nagasaki,” a song which first appeared on a 2009 release, follows the trend which sees British wrestling recently cropping up in music as a nostalgic, albeit kitschy, love and touchstone for UK musicians of a certain age (see Luke Haines’s album 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s And Early ’80s, and the Giant Haystacks reference in Manic Street Preachers’ “Me and Stephen Hawking”). Parker employs this kind of memory whilst contemplating rage against self-pity and disappointment, and the petty schadenfreude that tries to alleviate feelings of inadequacy. He switches between speaking and singing tautly of being the angriest dog in the world, a David Lynchian reference that resurfaces as the title of the last track, a song first recorded in 2008. Whilst the gritted paralysis of Lynch’s comic strip dog is surreally humorous, Parker’s final song on the album is a bittersweet analysis of a sour relationship. The two-note guitar rhythm ticks away with the monotony of lost time, echoing the frustrated repetition of lyrics. The song builds into a rolling melody underpinned by surging strings as Parker admits defeat: “I’m the angriest dog in the world/But you will always be my master.”

Parker uses more rapid-fire spoken delivery for “I’m Gonna Go To Bed and When I Wake Up I’m Gonna Be Someone Else,” a track that also first released in 2008, and again in 2009, in more lo-fi versions. It reminds me of a gentler Art Brut, and is a brilliant analysis of looking back at yourself and realizing that you weren’t as pathetic as you imagined you were; your only tragedy was being average. “Flavor Flav” is an excellent example of the analogical, tautological trap many of us cannot escape. Parker uses highly specific references to Public Enemy and REM in 1993 to express his thoughts on his fraught relationship; they’re apt, astute comparisons that position the listener who understands them as an insider, but they also display the sad hollowness of resorting to these kinds of allusions. We use extensive analogies to express ourselves because the lives of exceptional others smother us and crowd out our own formulations and conceptions of ourselves. We’re the sum of our cultural consumptions, and it doesn’t measure up, so as Parker concludes, there’s “just a box of old records/a box of old books/and us.” The precise observations of how we occupy and move through time keep coming. “A Funny Thing You Said” addresses the way we grow older, but don’t grow up, and “We’re Here for Duration” embodies the melancholic ennui that surrounds the attempt at making art. When Parker softly sings “I listen to the Afghan Whigs for two hours/and I wrote a song like this,” leaving you to wonder whether this is a failure or not.

There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time is a pithy musical exploration of the nagging apprehension felt by those of us who can’t tell whether we’re wasting our lives stranded in the mediated and vicarious, or whether our waste is what binds us to others, with no less meaning than other “worthier” pursuits. In one of David Lynch’s Angriest Dog in the World comic strips, the lone speech bubble says, “If everything is real, then nothing is real as well.” This remark gets at the kind of twisted hope this album offers. Maybe an analogy is always another analogy. The fact I used footnotes in this post only amplifies my incapacity to express myself in my own words, but perhaps demonstrates what I was trying to say better than I could have otherwise. Superman Revenge Squad ultimately functions in much the same way.

1 “Just for a second/you lowered your defenses/and confessed what the world had guessed:/‘Deep down/I fear I might actually be unremarkable.’”

2 “I think that could go back to the time when people had to live in small groups of relatives — maybe fifty or a hundred people at the most. And evolution or God or whatever arranged things genetically to keep the little families going, to cheer them up, so that they could all have somebody to tell stories around the campfire at night, and somebody else to paint pictures on the walls of the caves, and somebody else who wasn’t afraid of anything and so on.

That’s what I think. And of course a scheme like that doesn’t make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world’s champions.

The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tapdances on the coffee table like Fred Astair or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an ‘exhibitionist.’”

Purchase the album via Bandcamp.

Lately I’ve Found Myself Regressing – Superman Revenge Squad Band

A Funny Thing You Said – Superman Revenge Squad Band

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Secrets and Sleeptalking: Trips and Falls’ People Have to Be Told Reviewed

Trips and Falls People Have to Be Told

I first learned of Montreal group Trips and Falls via a random browse through Song by Toad Records, the offshoot of the Song by Toad blog. The core of the band began with Jacob Romero and Paul Gareau with added vocals from Ashleigh Delaye. Gareau has now been replaced with Ian Langohr, and it seems as though Ashleigh Delaye has a more prominent place in the band line-up. The song that originally gripped me with its shambolic bittersweetness was “Prelude to a Shark Attack” from their 2009 debut album He Was Such a Quiet Boy. The record contained other intriguing song titles and premises like “Breaking Up with My Mormon Missionaries” and “And in Real Life He Wears Corduroy Pants,” and the music veered from an offbeat melancholy to a playful acoustic sound that flirted around the greyer edges of twee. The music could be cinematic in some areas while claustrophobic in others; music box glockenspiel was pitted against noises like malfunctioning technology. In many ways, it seemed like the perfect soundtrack to a mumblecore film. Earlier this year, I was happy to hear that Trips and Falls had produced a sophomore album, People Have to Be Told. Overall, the record feels like an anxiety dream with plenty of relentless, accelerating guitars and drums, and patches of woozy reverb. A motif of secrets recurs whether they’re hidden or exposed, making for a furtive atmosphere with bursts of volatility when the restraint seems to be too much.

Romero’s vocal style is much like The Weakerthans’ John K. Samson, while the music tends to utilize the off-kilter unexpectedness of artists like Simon Bookish and the ambling sinister sound of Timber Timbre. The album begins with “I’ll Do the Dishes, You Do the Laundry,” which swings from ethereal boy-girl duet to harsh dissonance. The second track,”Good People Are Always So Sure They’re Right,” recalls the detached, macabre storytelling of songwriters like frYars. Romero sings of a murdered woman, and through the course of the lackadaisical melody and blood stains on the floor, you discover that she is buried at sunset. Her murderer is eventually executed when exposed by his loquacious tendencies, and the song ends in shredding guitars, which speed up and explode like maniacal laughter. The next song, “I Learned Sunday Morning, on a Wednesday,” is a melodic release of tension with a bouncy romp of a rhythm and fuzzy guitars; it’s a bit of a disorienting jig through reckless, amoral abandon: “There’s no use in trying to scare me, ’cause you know I’m already dead.”

The album takes a delightfully creepy turn once more as Romero’s vocals delve into a grittier, lower register for “Is That My Soul That Calls Upon My Name?” It hints at dark desires and urges, which need to be suppressed under some quasi-religious sense of morality and guilt. The frantic song menaces with pulsing guitars and the dry rattle of snare, circling and circling whilst the narrator debates the unforgivable temptations, which are never named. Delaye joins back in for the stop-start musical dialogue of “Marginally More Than Mildly Annoying.” As she and Romero verbally spar about the state of the relationship, the music dashes about, lunging, feinting, side-stepping. It’s a fun track that sounds like the equivalent to running up and down stairs in a romantic farce. They return to a sparser arrangement with the resigned beat of “That is a Big Door!” The breathy duet feels like the tired frustration of inertia, the inability to understand and to move someone else.

Another duet ensues for the beautiful acoustic ballad, “This is All Going to End Badly.” The vocals push and pull in vulnerable harmony as though seeking reassurance and skirting emotional sabotage. The lyrics ache with a yearning to trust oneself as much as to trust another. The music goes to a dimmer, more distorted place for “Why Should Now Be Normal?” The grungy guitars provide a rumbling dreamscape accented by winks of glockenspiel. “I could tell you everything you want to hear…it’s better if you stay inside.” The album concludes with “That’s What She Said,” a shimmering, hazy duet that sounds haunted. It begins with the cryptic line “I know you better than you think you do/And the only way you’ll get out of this is if you give in.” Ending in a gentle, interwoven vocal round, much like the one in “Prelude to a Shark Attack,” the song is like a heavenly lullaby, but also unsettling. As their vocal lines overlap and repeat, the lyric “The stories that I know would put you to sleep” mesmerizes.

I find the lyrical content on this album to be vaguer than on the debut, and there’s less of the twee naiveté, but some playfulness remains in the song narratives, albeit an often macabre playfulness. The cardboard sleeve of the album displays multiple overlapping silhouettes of people, all of them with one hand to their mouth as though telling a secret; however, there are two people in the centre facing each other, holding each other’s face rather than facing outwards like the rest of the figures, who are whispering into other’s ears or speaking away into the air. Or perhaps they’re shouting. There is both a hushed secrecy and an irrepressible urge to speak in the imagery, playing off the album title. Which people need to be told? The other in an intimate relationship? A stranger in a confessional? The album debates what is latent and silent, what is thought and what is spoken, what is held back and what is revealed. How do you read someone else? How do you explain yourself? How do you get others to define you? The music and lyrics evoke these themes while at the same time conveying a sense of troubled slumber and the honesty of the unguarded moment. With these thoughts in mind, I come back to the first line of the first track of the album: “In the middle of the night, I can hear, hear you breathe, you always say such beautiful things.”

I’ll Do the Dishes, You Do the Laundry – Trips and Falls

That’s What She Said – Trips and Falls

Prelude to a Shark Attack – Trips and Falls

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