Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Damn good albums - The New Despair


After some careful thought, I've decided on a kind of format for at least some of my posts, which will be prefixed in the title with the words 'Damn Good...' followed by whatever it is I'm going to be talking about that I consider to be 'Damn Good'. I figure that mostly albums, movies, books, video games and the like will fall into this category from time to time, and those things that I think deserve a special category all their own like E.C. Comics, or my short love affair with Charmed, or Choco-Tacos will have their own entries.

Look. I know these are just some low-quality ice cream shoved into a taco shell waffle cone in order to make me feel special. But damn it all, it works!

So anyway, on to my post. To be completely honest, The New Despair by The Gothic Archies wasn't what I had originally planned on talking about for my first album, but it just crept up on me, the same my love for Stephen Merritt's songs did, when I first listened to 'Your Long White Fingers' on The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

The song itself was an instrumental variation, but the meaning was clear. It played whenever Pete or Pete had been faced with an existential quandary, and were forced to temporarily submit to defeat. Everything is magnified when one is going through adolescence and childhood, and as slight as the set-backs would be to an adult witnessing them, to a kid they would be utterly devastating.   

I didn't know it who did the song at the time, but the first time I heard the wispy, melancholic notes of that harmonica in the opening of the song, I knew I had found something special. Indeed, it wasn't until several years after the fact that I stumbled upon the album that I have just provided a link too above, that I realized who did that track that touched not only me, but every other kid who at one point in his life or another suffered a road-block to achieving what he wanted.

It was a difficult choice to decide whether or not I wanted to look for more tracks by The Gothic Archies. Did I risk the chance that perhaps I would only care about that track? That I would think that the rest were garbage? It was a serious dilemma. Finally, I took the plunge, and I sought out their first album proper 'The New Despair'. I haven't regretted it since.

Can you feel the misery through my fish-eye lense?

According to their website, The Gothic Archies is not unlike Merritt's other major long-running project The Magnetic Fields, but the major difference is that hope is entirely snuffed out on the recordings in the face of the former. In fact, the whole of the album is so downright maudlin that it comes across as farcical instead of actually depressing.

Indeed, the name of the band itself is taken from 'The Archies' and the words 'Gothic Architecture' and it works so very, very, well. Merritt sings in a voice that would make Darth Vader seem cheerful as upbeat bubble-gum pop plays in the background, lamenting the love life of Tiny Goats and lovers on their final legs. On the surface, it's absolutely hilarious, but there is a certain je nais se... to some of the lyrics, even shining through the ludicrousness of the tracks:

'The truth is as sudden as a hailstorm
And guides weary sailors to the maelstrom'

I know, I know, lovers who are standing on the edge of a precipice, nothing but the torrential fury of the sea to greet them below who would dash them against the rocks if they fell. As an allegory of the pains of love is about as kitschy as plastic pink flamingos in your front yard, but I can't help but like the image. Maybe I read too much Shelley as a kid.

But that doesn't touch on why I chose this album first. It was just a few days ago. Chris and I and the members of our merry band of misfits were going to record, and I didn't have the car. 

So instead, I borrowed the only bicycle I had access too, a mauve colored girls bicycle with a very thin and uncomfortable seat. Having a few days worth of scruff on my face and neck, and slumping over somewhat from work earlier that day, I looked like a rather grimy fellow who purloined girls bicycles from their yards in order to make money.

As I hoisted myself on the bicycle, it groaned under my weight, and its breaks squealed and balked at the slightest application. Aware of how ridiculous I must have looked, I began my trek towards Chris' place, the roads leading to his house being very sparsely lit by street-lights every quarter of a mile or more. As twilight fell and I peddled on my way, with only my iPod shuffle to keep me company, a thick fog began to come in from the shore.

The fog rolled against the ground, obscuring the pedals of the bicycle and the road that I road on, just as this happened, the first solemn bars of 'Your Long White Fingers' began playing, and I remembered I had the album present on my iPod. I turned it to the album, and listened to it all the way through, relishing in the the ludicrous songs as I pedaled my girl's bicycle through the horror movie environ, and I realized I had found with glee, my first album to review.

As 'The City of the Damned' began playing, I came across some kids who were shocked to see me ride out of the fog, they stared at my hoboish appearance, the girls bicycle, the fog adding a sort of surreality and creepiness to the otherwise ridiculous scene, I looked at them, they looked at me, and I tilted my head up, cackling madly as I sped away, quickly as I came upon them. I like to think that I scarred them for life, but only time will tell.       

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