Inspiration and Aspiration: The Front Bottoms and Mutual Benefit

No matter how much I try, there are always holes in my musical year-end capsules.  Some are oversights (lost strains in the brain) while others simply go unnoticed.  The two albums discussed below fall into the former and latter bucket.  The first a record I seriously high-school crushed on for a week, only to be forgotten when summer and the falls sounds came to town.  Yet, like a trustworthy friend, it stuck around to provide me with the necessary pick-me-up and energy to power through a bleakish winter (both from a meteorological and personal perspective). The latter was a casualty of my own end-of-year musical sequestration. It was the cute newcomer in the corner with quirky eyewear, a clever attire, and a meek yet smoldering stare. Both albums also share a thematic similarity, two perspectives on dealing with emotional adversity in the course of maturing, or as some might called it “growing up” – an odd phrase really because one rarely “grows down” (except in old age when bones shrink) but really grows horizontally for what seems like an unending asymptotic period until that aforementioned elder regression.  While similar in inspiration, the musical landscape couldn’t be more disparate: lo-fi punk-inspired rock versus atmospheric, lush baroque orchestrations (which might be labeled indie-folk for lack of a better descriptor).

front bottomsThe Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk

From the opening track, “Au Revoir”, even the not uber-attentive listener can readily discern a seething anger pulsing through the lyrics on this record. But, it isn’t unjustified and illogical animosity or youthful ennui (a sentiment I’m all too familiar with). Rather, the underlying and recurring sentiment that filters into my ears is that of a writer that expects more from others, life, and the world. It is the romantic and idealist’s angst: “I wanna contribute to the chaos, I don’t want to watch and then complain, I am through with finding blame that is a decision that I have made.” I find these types of unabashed hopefully aggressive lines refreshing in a world that often seems more willing to critique, complain, and bemoan all the adversities, real and petty. Broken hearts and promises, mistakes and accidents, mental and emotional breakdowns run rampant through these tracks and despite the recurring slings and arrows, the narrator never retreats and continues to persevere. In fact, there is a youthful appreciation for letting go and appreciating the experiences of the “now”. Even as Brian reflects on missed opportunities, “I could have been a contender”, he responds with an unrelenting, guttural life-affirming mantra: “No I will not surrender!”  Thank you Brian for reminding me/us that it’s only darkest when we stop searching for the light and that it’s cool to have lofty expectations of ourselves and the world around us.

mutual benefit love's crushing diamondMutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond

…then you turn to Mutual Benefit. On the surface, Love’s Crushing Diamond is a multi-textured aural blanket of light, love, and joy. But behind the mirth, whimsy, and reverie, there is the ever present sense of loss, uncertainty, and the overwhelming existential quandary of the unknown and unknowable (or at least it reads this way to me). Without necessarily sounding of an era or genre, the record feel s like a long lost field recording from yesteryear, the soundtrack of memory, wondering (quizzically and awestricken), and wandering (mentally and physically). If you put a camera and recorded the remembrance of things past in my mind, this would be the score I think you would find. With each passing note, a visage of a long lost lover, recollections of a day long conversation overstuffed coffee date, images of multicolored leaves falling through the air, snippets of early morning snow-covered plains endlessly stretching to the horizon, the feel of sunlight creeping over fog covered and dew laden mountains with the invigorating scent and steam of coffee pouring over and into your soul.  Yes… a sonic madeleine and another pleasant reminder of the passing moments of brilliance in our lives and the need to appreciate them as they happen… (not simply documenting them with photos and tweets).

Au Revoir… Adios… Rock N Roll!


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