If this silly music column is known for anything, it’s for taking deep dives.
The usual tm3am entry focuses on one or two records of note, poring over each song in obsessive detail and using thousands of words in the process. I think this has been one of the problems lately with keeping this column on track – I have often psyched myself up about writing one of those more thorough examinations, to the point where I just can’t get started.
So we’re going to try to do a bunch of little ones this time and see how it goes. I know I’ve tried this before, but I’ve never really thought about it as a semi-permanent format change before. I’m not necessarily thinking of it that way now either, but trying this out is all part of making tm3am more enjoyable for me to write. If it feels like homework (as it sometimes did last year), then I should hang it up.
I also hope you’re enjoying these little peeks into my internal monologue. In the early days of tm3am I resisted the term “blog,” insisting I was writing a column instead, as if that’s inherently superior. This year’s posts have been more blog-like than just about anything else I’ve done under the Tuesday Morning name, so… yeah. Embrace it. Live it. Hashtag blog life.
* * * * *
Anyone who has read this thing for any length of time knows how much I love Austin’s Quiet Company. I’ve said before many times that frontman/mastermind Taylor Muse is one of the best and most consistent songwriters I’ve encountered in years and years, and he hasn’t let me down yet. There isn’t a bad QuietCo album. You literally cannot go wrong with them.
Lately, though, I will admit that they’re tougher for me to listen to. My favorite of Muse’s records, We Are All Where We Belong, is a complete journey from anguish to hope, rejecting fundamentalist faith in favor of love, and though parts of it are difficult, the resolution it offers is cleansing. I adore that album not just because it’s hard, but because all of that pain leads somewhere more beautiful.
No such resolution awaits in their more recent material. The songs are still amazing, but they make me worry about their author. None of their records has filled me with empathy like On Corners and Shapes, QuietCo’s new five-song EP. I’ve had this music for a couple years now – Muse sent it to me back when it was supposed to be his first solo effort – and even then, it made me pause. It also made me wish I knew Muse well enough to ask him if he’s OK.
On Corners and Shapes is harsh, vicious stuff. The fact that it’s two years old actually helps me listen to it now – it feels more retrospective, like looking back on a particularly rough time. These songs are the antithesis of the brightly colored romantic music on QuietCo’s early records, and they’re about the same person: almost all of these tunes deal with his then-fresh divorce.
Muse has never written with more self-loathing than he does on “Red Right Hand,” the scariest of these tunes. It opens with “I hope you don’t think I give a fuck,” and gets darker and darker. “The Alone, Together” is a dissection of his relationship, and it hurts: “She was a song in my memory that I forgot how to sing when I wrote it down, now its every lyric escapes me and I don’t think it’ll ever come back to me now…” “All Things New” is his plea for renewal, in which he describes himself as unworthy of pursuit: “Whatever you’re hoping to find, It’s a big fucking waste of your time….”
And Muse has never written a sadder song than “Aloha,” the EP’s finale. “Somewhere in our future we are coping with our past,” he sings, and given we’re looking back on these songs from two years’ distance, the line is even more fitting. “I am smarter than I am acting, I am stronger than I feel, but I will wonder what I was lacking, and how I let you down, until they lay me down…” You can’t see me, but I am making the knife-in-the-heart motion right now, just listening to it. This is the resolution, nothing but regret and sadness and an inability to say goodbye.
Amidst all this, I should say that these songs are incredible. They’re melodic monsters, all of them, among the very best Muse has written. “Aloha” especially is fantastic, its simple piano figure giving way to an orchestrated stunner that any songwriter would be proud to have written. The horns on “Red Right Hand” are swell, the chorus of “All Things New” is a massive winner. These songs are wonderful.
They are also grueling, painful crawls through the mud. Muse appears on the cover matted with dirt, his eye bruised and bloody, and his words match the image. I’ve never had a harder time loving music this good. But make no mistake, it is very, very good. I’m just invested in Muse’s happiness at this point, and I hope one day I get to hear him make songs full of joy again.
You can (and should) listen to and buy On Corners and Shapes here.
* * * * *
Well, that wasn’t short. Big fail. Let’s see if I can bring this one home with a couple quick bites.
Start with Swervedriver, a band I honestly never thought I’d get to write about in a new music column. They were right in the thick of it at the start of the shoegaze movement, and after four very good records, they folded up shop in 1999. But they burst back onto the scene in 2015 with the excellent I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, and now they have cemented their return with their new one, Future Ruins.
And it sounds like Swervedriver. It feels like literally no time has passed. This record is as fuzzed-out and dreamy as anything they’ve made, and Adam Franklin’s voice is exactly as you remember it. You may or may not have needed ten more Swervedriver songs in your life, especially ten more that sound exactly like the band’s heyday, but that’s what you’ll get here. I needed them. I can always use more of this sound in my life.
Sticking with the S theme, we have Switchfoot, a band who probably could have used a hiatus somewhere in the last decade. I’m very happy to report that Native Tongue, their eleventh album, is their strongest in more than ten years. There are certainly a couple over-produced Imagine Dragons-esque numbers, but the majority of this record is raw, well-composed rock, like the opener “Let It Happen.” The highlight for me is the Abbey Road-esque “Dig New Streams,” but the whole thing sounds revitalized to me.
Speaking of revitalized, there is Bob Mould, who is an astonishing 58 years old. You would never know it from even a cursory listen to his snarling 12th solo album, Sunshine Rock, which came out last week. This thing is a monster, Mould ripping through one thick, fast riff after another, slowing down only near the end for a couple wistful numbers. This is 36 minutes of focused, roaring rock from a master of the form. There’s a song here called “The Final Years,” but Mould sounds nowhere near his own final years here.
Also out this week is the debut from All Hail the Silence, and I may write more about this one at some point, since I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. AHTS is BT’s ‘80s project with singer Christian Burns, and their first full-length, Daggers, is 86 minutes of synth-driven goodness. I was initially surprised at how little of BT’s complex stutter-production personality ended up on here, but he’s committed to the form: this is Depeche Mode meets Yazoo, but on an epic scale. The first disc is good, but the second is fantastic, particularly “English Town.” I’ve been waiting for this for ages – I think I first heard “Looking Glass,” still an album highlight, four years ago – and it didn’t disappoint.
I’m gonna call it a week right there. Next week, we have new ones from Copeland and Peter Mulvey, and I will again try my very best not to write so many words. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.