You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you.
The original column was published on May 28th, 2018 can be found below.
Oh, for once in my
Oh, for once in my life
Could just something go
Could just something go right?
I don’t think I enjoy media anymore. Well, that’s a lie. I still love things, just not in the same ways I used to. I used to just pop on a record or watch a movie and just enjoy the ride without analyzing every single emotional beat and what it means to me at that exact moment. That’s a lie, too, but it’s easier to pretend that this is some big shift into the dramatic.
The first time I heard The Decemberists’ I’ll Be Your Girl, their newest record, I was driving home from a late night meetup with some friends on Record Store Day with my better half asleep in the front seat. When the first song, “Once In My Life,” started, it seemed like the Decemberists I’ve loved for a decade and I was feelin’ it. But then all these synths came in and I was… feelin’ it less. If you’ve never listened to them, they mostly write folky songs about boats and chimneys and medieval queens. After that first listen through, the record sat on my shelf for a month and didn’t get a whole lot of revisiting. Fast forward and I’m listening to it on repeat and crying on the side of the highway. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Since the election, I’ve been struggling with a lot. I feel guilty when I enjoy things that seem “trivial,” but I’ve also felt that those things are more important than ever. I’ve always been an escapist, but I was having a harder time escaping and not yelling “But think about what it represents in a larger context! Think about the ramifications of this story in Trump’s America!” to any squirrel or rabbit who hadn’t yet learned to run away at the first sign of “Post-modern breakdown Ryan.” This was embodied by my two favorite releases of 2017: Paramore’s After Laughter and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. They captured the dichotomy of this feeling better than I could explain. After Laughter is an 80s-style synth-pop record that’s so easy to dance to. But on the first listen, I missed just how sad Hayley Williams’ lyrics were on it. The big single from the album, “Hard Times,” was my “fun song of the summer,” but… well, I’ll let her explain.
All that I want
Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out
Gonna make you wonder why you even try
Hard times – gonna take you down and laugh when you cry
These lives – and I still don’t know how I even survive
Hard times – And I gotta get to rock bottom
And my favorite song of the record, “Fake Happy,” is… pretty self explanatory. Just like my 2017: wow, there’s a lot of great stuff in here and it’s so much fun! But woah, this narrator just shoe horns in some sad and self loathing stuff the whole time!
I’m not gonna go into a whole thing about Last Jedi. Enough people have heard my rant on how it’s all about identity politics and rejecting the savior mentality of the Berniecrats in a post-Obama world, while also rejecting the obsession with legacy and the past that the establishment Democrats won’t leave behind. But there’s so many good jokes and fun settings in it! So yeah, Star Wars.
So that brings me to The Decemberists and I’ll Be Your Girl. Knowing that it had some poppier production, I figured it would be a fun escape from all the terrible. And this time, I really listened to Colin Meloy’s lyrics. It wasn’t! At all! The opening lines are up at the top, but hell, did I start feelin’ it this time through. The songs seem dancy and poppier than the Decemberists have ever been, but the lyrics are maybe Colin’s best. There’s a track that sounds like a real throwback to the lighthearted mid-00s sound that I frequently pined to when it played over a crush’s myspace page, but with an added choir of children singing “We All Die Young.” I pulled open the case and saw a caricature of the president with a lyric in a world bubble. Looking for the full context, I found:
I alone am the answer
I alone will make wrongs right
But in order to root out the cancer
It’s got to be kept from the sight
I was born to a jackal
I was born in a whiteout
Gonna smother you all till I choke you
Gonna smother you all till you kick out
I realized that this album completed my trifecta of “happy, but not really,” when the campy “Everything Is Awful” came on. And I couldn’t help but say, out loud, to no one, “He’s not wrong.” And that silly, but tragic tune perfectly set the stage for my emotional wreck on the highway.
Right after “Everything Is Awful,” “Sucker’s Prayer” starts. I don’t know why this one resonated with me so hard. Maybe it’s the classic Decemberists’ sound that shines through. It sounds like The Band, but with anxiety. Maybe it’s just the day I was having. Maybe it’s because it was the third time through the record that day and it was finally sinking in. Whatever the reason, I found myself singing along as tears filled my eyes. And right then and there, in New York rush hour traffic, I realized something. This certainly wasn’t the album I wanted. But Christ, was it the album I needed.
I was not ready for the road
I was so discontent to wear that heavy load
And so I got down on my knees
I made a sucker’s prayer
A grim bode of baudelaire before
And when nobody did respond
I took my glasses off and went to find a pond
Stuffing rocks into the pockets of my pants
And when I waded in
Those currents carried them away
I wanna love somebody but I don’t know how
I’ve been so long lonely and it’s getting me down
I wanna throw my body in the river and drown
I wanna love somebody but I don’t know how