Note: I was going to write a nice introduction to this new weekly column, but Miles sums it up pretty well himself, so I’ll leave him to it. I hope everyone enjoys this as much as I do. Now, on to Miles Doornbos — Josh
By Miles Doornbos
Writing about music, like writing about love, offers challenges that you rarely expect. The truth is that, eventually, you run out of words. Regardless of how many adjectives you attach to nouns, regardless of the thrust of your verbs, words will, doubtless, fail you. Talking about music you love, then, is a challenge that is, by its very nature, Sisyphean. But, just like anything that inspires, writing about music that means something to you can expose it to lights you’ve never seen it under, angles you’ve never bothered to notice, it can rekindle appreciation and deepen love. So, at the behest of my dear friend Josh, I’m going to try to push this stone up the hill. Backwards.
If my exhaustive research into the subject is any indication, a single person’s musical evolution typically follows this pattern:
Uncritical Radio Listening -> Adapting your parents taste -> Worshiping at the altar of punk rock.
I, personally, fit this pattern to a ‘t’. By seventh grade, if your band wasn’t loud, fast, sloppy or able to properly interject the word ‘oi!’ into a song, I wasn’t listening to it. My hair, on the mornings I woke up early, was a mixture of shame and Knox Gelatin. I worked for Hopeless Records street team, handing out flyers at the Shell station nearest to my house. On school days, I would wander the halls of my junior-high, magnetic nose-ring attached, screaming “don’t judge me” at all of the kids I labeled jocks. I was a walking contradiction, some strange bastardization of punk rock zeal wrapped in youthful ignorance. I understood, but I didn’t comprehend. This was, of course, before I discovered The Weakerthans.
The Weakerthans rose from the still smoldering ashes of punk stalwarts Propgandhi, taking the latter bands cynical anger and smoothing the edges. Their debut, Fallow, is an album that bridges the gap between the world of safety pins and VFW halls and the world of literature and rational discussion. It’s a brief album that finds beauty in balance. It is high-brow without being condescending, literary without being inscrutable, emotional without being florid. It is the perfect introduction to adulthood.
The focus of the album is, of course, the budding, brilliant lyrics of John K. Samson. Without Samson’s words, Fallow would be a mildly pleasant, wholly forgettable album. With them, it is a short story collection set to music.
Samson’s words claim dominance from the spare opening pluck of “Illustrated Bible Stories for Children” and retain it until the half-hopeful, half-defeated closing of the title track. Over the course of twelve songs, he sketches portraits of decaying families, lost loves and lazy political dissidents. He wields alliteration like a sword and assonance like a shield. He sums up complex emotions with simple imagery and sustains single, heart-breaking moments for the length of a song. As a thirteen year-old who was just discovering the beauty of A Brave New World, he blew my mind.
It’s here, of course, where words fail me. I can describe the album track-by-track, dissect individual stanza, praise simple hooks, but doing that won’t allow me to express just how much this album means to me. Fallow feels like family, and, like family, helped shape the person that I eventually became. Fallow helped me realize that being sensitive trumped being sanctimonious, that being thoughtful trumped being loud and that lists are an effective way to get your point across. It helped me, in the truest sense of the word, grow.
The whole of my relationship with Fallow is summed up in stand-out track “Sounds Familiar”, which I will, to the chagrin of my editor, quote in full:
We emerged from youth all wide-eyed like the rest. Shedding skin faster than skin can grow, and armed with hammers, feathers, blunt knives: words, to meet and to define and to… but you must know the same games that we played in dirt, in dusty school yards has found a higher pitch and broader scale than we feared possible, and someone must be picked last, and one must bruise and one must fail. And that still twitching bird was so deceived by a window, so we eulogized fondly, we dug deep and threw its elegant plumage and frantic black eyes in a hole, and rushed out to kill something new, so we could bury that too. The first chapters of lives almost made us give up altogether. Pushed towards tired forms of self-immolation that seemed so original. I must, we must never stop watching the sky with our hands in our pockets, stop peering in windows when we know doors are shut. Stop yelling small stories and bad jokes and sorrows, and my voice will scratch to yell many more, but before I spill the things I mean to hide away, or gouge my eyes with platitudes of sentiment, I’ll drown the urge for permanence and certainty; crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.
So, tonight, I’ll be drinking to Fallow and to the man it helped me become. Cheers.