11/24/2007

It's my only medication.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a Taking Back Sunday CD for the first time in a while, and I was sort of surprised to find that it wasn't hitting me the way that it did back when I first bought it. It was still good, but it didn't make me feel like I needed to throw myself around my room, screaming along and punching myself in the chest. It wasn't the huge emotional catharsis that it once had been. I couldn't help but wonder why that was. But then I thought about it for a minute and realized that a big part of the way that "Where You Want To Be" first impacted me had to do with what was going on in my life at the time. "Set Phasers To Stun" fit with the intense loneliness I was feeling in summer of 2004 when I lived with people I'd just met, some of whom didn't even like me. "Bonus Mosh Part II" and "A Decade Under The Influence" had sections in them that described the relationship I had during fall and winter of 2004/05, and specifically its awful emotional fallout, to a tee. "Number Five With A Bullet" described those spring months in 2005, right after the whole thing came apart, when I was a raw nerve and couldn't stop thinking for even a second about what I might have done wrong. It was a rough period in my life, and I needed things like the second Taking Back Sunday album so that I didn't go completely insane. Sometimes I needed it just to get through the day.

Things have gone really well for most of this year where my mental state is concerned. I have barely dated anyone the whole time, and I don't exactly like that, but I've been dealing with it pretty well, and getting plenty of happiness and contentment from almost every other facet of my life. But it felt sort of weird to listen to a Taking Back Sunday album and feel no real emotional connection to it. It felt wrong. I almost missed the days when it would resonate on a very deep level within me. I sort of felt like I'd lost something that, even if it was painful, was intense and real. Lately, despite a sort of general discontentment with the fact that I don't have a significant other, I don't really feel serious desire for anyone in particular. And the truth is, it makes things easier. I don't have to suffer the way I usually do when I have feelings for someone (since, let's face it, that shit NEVER works out for me).

Of course, less than a month after all of that went down, I had a really weird encounter with a girl, which mostly played itself out on the internet, despite her living in the same town as me. The details are honestly too embarrassing for me to get into here--it makes me look like an idiot. And where girls are concerned, I am well aware that I am kind of an idiot. But there's a difference between recognizing it and inviting everyone to point at you and laugh. Anyway, this encounter with this girl made me feel stupid and embarrassed and hurt on several different occasions. I managed to handle it so badly that I gave her multiple opportunities to set me up for a fall, and I fell every time. For all I know, she may yet still try to mess with me some more--don't worry, the plan at this point is to tell her to fuck off. But so yeah, within a month of thinking that I sort of missed that old "I need an emotional catharsis just to get through the day" headspace, it came back on me with a vengeance. It was only really rough for a few days, but I haven't been able to break out of it completely even now. And the longer it drags on, the more I've found myself falling back into stupid habits that I had previously abandoned for a long time.

Specifically, I'm turning toward the internet again. If there's one thing I've learned from my years on the internet, it's that there are plenty of other shy, lonely people online. Some of these people are much like me--reasonably cool, reasonably attractive, but plagued by shyness and insecurity and unable to handle going out into the world and seeking out the sort of romantic companionship that they desire. Instead, they only feel comfortable approaching people, flirting with people, when they have the internet to hide behind. I spent years being one of those people, and I've dealt with the double-edged sword of these sorts of interactions (ego-boosting in the short term, but ultimately only a further reinforcement of how alone and lonely you really are) all too many times. These days, I try my best to resist the temptation to fall back on these old, easy habits. I try to challenge myself, to make myself go be a part of the real world that's happening all around me, to meet the potentially cool and attractive people in my very own town that I haven't met yet.

When I'm feeling shitty like this, though, it's tough. So I do go back to the stupid habits. I've been hitting up internet dating websites that I've forced myself to stay away from for weeks and months at a time. I've been on AOL Instant Messenger a lot lately, after staying away from it for over a year. And don't get me wrong, this hasn't been all bad--I've talked to a few people I haven't been in touch with in a long time, people that I honestly do care about and have missed. But sometimes that only makes it worse. I know so many girls from completely different states or even different countries who seem on a personality level to be very compatible with me, and who feel the same way about me as I do about them. But I've done the long-distance thing too many times, and I just can't even entertain the concept anymore. So in some ways, the reminder that there are cool girls in completely different parts of the country who already know me and find me worthwhile only makes suffering through my current loneliness that much harder. It's a shitty feeling.

Comadre is a melodic hardcore band that I saw months ago. I hadn't heard them at all before I went to the show, and since the band they were touring with, Graf Orlock, was well known to me, I figured Comadre would play before Graf Orlock. Instead, they headlined the show, with Graf Orlock playing next to last. Now, on some nights, when I go to a show to see one band in particular, and they play before the last band, my inclination is to just leave and skip out on the last band. But for whatever reason, I didn't do that at this show, instead sticking around to see Comadre. Thank god, because they blew me away. Unlike Graf Orlock, a hectic grindcore band who base their songs around samples from 80s action and horror movies, Comadre played a driving form of melodic, emotional hardcore (no, not emo. Shut up). Not only were their songs really catchy and enjoyable, they really impressed me with their performance. In particular, I was struck by the last song they played, which ended with the entire band singing a few lines together, with no musical accompaniment, before the music came back in and they built it up to a stirring conclusion. The guys in the band looked like they were getting a real emotional catharsis from this, and a whole lot of people in the crowd, who were evidently familiar with this song, sang along at the top of their lungs. The set ended with a bunch of hugs between band members, friends, and random audience members. I was pretty blown away by it--it reminded me of things I used to see 10 years ago, back before this kind of emotional catharsis started to seem staged every time you saw it. Comadre seemed like they were for real.

After seeing the show, I went home and downloaded a bunch of records that I didn't already have by Graf Orlock. And while I was at it, I also downloaded two Comadre albums--last year's "Burn Your Bones", and the slightly older "More Songs About The Man", which is a CD version of their 7 inch EP "Songs About The Man", plus several bonus tracks. I burned myself a CD-R of those two albums, with "Burn Your Bones" first, and listened to it a few times. But in the end, it didn't keep my attention. It started out well, but by halfway through, the songs started to seem less interesting and more repetitive. As a result, I soon had filed the CD-R away. I'm constantly bringing new albums into my life, and if something can't hold my attention after a few listens, it'll almost certainly be bumped by newer and more interesting things.

But then, a week or so ago, I was in a record store, looking through their used LP bins. I've found myself in a position to need to come up with over a thousand dollars in the next two months, and as a result I've been thinking a lot about buying used albums for cheap and reselling them on Ebay for a profit. While looking through one of these LP bins, I discovered a copy of Comadre's "Burn Your Bones" album on limited edition picture disc. It was numbered 65 out of 200, and was priced at $5. I figured I could almost certainly get more than $5 for it on Ebay, and bought it. I hadn't even entertained the idea of keeping it--after all, I had a CD-R with the album burned onto it, and I didn't enjoy the album enough to really care about owning the actual vinyl version. Or so I thought, until I put the record on. It wasn't when I got home that I did so--it was actually a couple of days later, and I was really just listening to it to see if it would be worth it to dig up that CD-R and give it a few more listens. I liked what I heard when I put the needle down on side one, though it was a bit faster and angrier than I remembered, with a bit less melody. There was one song on the first side, "The Southern Comfort Smile", that featured an extended quiet melodic breakdown, and reminded me more of what I'd seen from Comadre live, but for the most part, side one was a straight-up hardcore record.

Side two, though, was a revelation. The first song on the side, "Blackland Dirt", begins with a long sample of a woman talking about being depressed and contemplating taking an entire bottle of sleeping pills because the thought of not waking up seemed almost comforting to her. As she speaks the words, "I'd sleep without dreaming, without waking... I'd be dead", her voice starts to break, and Comadre starts to play the song. The opening riff is undistorted and melodic, with only the singer's rough screams adding any sort of tension to the melody. After going through one verse and one chorus, the band kicks in the distortion and plays the same verse and chorus again, with much more drive and intensity. The first time I heard this, I was sitting on the floor of my room, and I looked up at the record player, surprised. "Oh shit," I remember whispering. "This is fucking GOOD." For some reason, even though I'd owned a burn of the album for months, and listened to it several times, I'd never noticed the powerful impact of this particular riff.

Often, when I hear a riff like this, one that imparts an intense emotion to me, I get curious about what the singer is singing. I want to see if the words live up to the emotion of the music. Sometimes they don't, and that's always really disappointing, but although Comadre's lyrics are pretty abstract most of the time, this particular song did have a powerful lyric. As best as I can tell, it's about feeling frustrated in the face of materialism's increasing grip on our culture, but also knowing that one is powerless to stop this from happening. "Level my utopia", the vocalist sings, "flood this perfect world with cover-up and hairspray, diet pills and vomit. Starve my siblings, then turn my child against herself." At that point in the song, the chorus has come around again; this time, the drummer and the singer play it almost completely by themselves. Then, rather than going straight back into the verse, the band chugs, stops, and chugs again. After another pause, they slam back into the verse riff for one last time, again doubling the intensity from the previous verse. Rather than playing the beat as he has for the rest of the song, the drummer goes nuts with rolls and fills, and the guitarists frantically strum the chords, feeding back between notes even as they manage to retain the melody of the song. At this point, only two minutes after the song began, it has gone from a catchy melody that the singer was more singing than screaming to a raging torrent of frantic intensity. The whole thing is threatening to shake apart as the final verse comes to an end, but just before it does, the band forgoes another chorus in favor of playing three descending chords and ending the whole thing in a wall of feedback, out from which emerges the sample of the woman who was speaking at the beginning of the song. She's still talking about suicide, about simultaneously desiring it and feeling guilty and crazy for having that desire. As the feedback fades out, her voice fades too.

The rest of side two continues with the more melodic, more emotional theme set by "Blackland Dirt". It has moments that are more straight-up hardcore, just as side one had more melodic, emotional moments, but, whether accidentally or on purpose, it seems that Comadre have sequenced "Burn Your Bones" in such a way as to make the feel of the two sides very different. And honestly, while I do like side one quite a bit, I like side two a good bit better.

This is especially true due to the last song, "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell", which turns out to be that big emotional song with the a capella section that they ended their live set with. It worked well live, but sometimes songs like that, which base a great deal of their power on being in the same room with the five band members singing into the air without any microphones, can lose their impact on a record. This one doesn't, and if anything, the recorded version helps me to notice the earlier parts of the song, which do a lot to set up the big ending. The opening verse of "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell" is both fast and melodic, with the same sort of feel as many of the best, most anthemic songs by Kid Dynamite (who they actually covered on "More Songs About The Man"). And when it hits the chorus, it becomes both faster and even more melodic. I love the contrast between a really catchy guitar part and screamed vocals, especially when the vocals have a lot of emotion to them. The chorus of this song has both of those qualities in perfect contrast, and it's almost disappointing when it ends so quickly. However, the a capella part it leads into is just as catchy in its own way. When I saw them play it live, the line "We are the doctors with all the prescriptions" stood out to me, and I wondered what the song was about. Now that I have the lyrics before me, I find that, again, it's one of those songs where the emotion of the lyrics hits home, and further underscores the emotion in the music. "I am everything miserable without you. Three thousand miles can hold so much. These miles of land are the separation. How much desperation in between? Like a phone call with no reception. Our heads are a couple of cases, and we're everything miserable without each other. Can't wait til we see the same sunset at the same time. Can't wait til a phone doesn't mean three thousand miles. Hit me up, boy, on your celly-cell." Jesus. It's like these guys are going through the same thing I am--that feeling that every time you meet someone who really gets you, they're too far away for it to do anything but to make it hurt more.

It's sorta sad, though, because I feel disconnected from the real message of this song. I think what they're trying to say with the big finish--"We are the doctors with all the prescriptions. Can't wait til our appointment comes. It's the only medication"--is that love will conquer all. That the pain of separation is worth it, that there will be a payoff to all of this. There was a time when I felt that way too, but I can't really see it anymore, and maybe that's the worst part of this loneliness and depression. Everyone I click with is far away. Everyone close to me seems to miss some crucial part of what I'm about. It doesn't seem like I'm ever going to find something that works. I'm not in my early 20s anymore, like these guys are, so what do I have to believe in? It's hard not to think that I've missed my window, that I'm going to be stuck in this position for the rest of my life.

But having said all that, just hearing a band put the same sort of things I'm feeling into a song, and take a much more positive attitude about them, helps a little bit. It's a catharsis, like the Taking Back Sunday record once was, but in a different way. I feel like the message of "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell" is that, no matter how shitty I feel right now, no matter how little hope I see for my future, I can't and shouldn't give up. And really, as hard as it is to imagine right now, I hope I don't. I hope there's something in my future to look forward to, even if right now I have no clue what it is or when it will be here.

Not every song on "Burn Your Bones" is equally good. Based on how much better it is than "More Songs About The Man", I think I can say with confidence that Comadre is improving. For all I know, their next album will be fucking flawless, and will knock everyone on their asses. But for my part, I don't know if they'll ever write a song that means as much to me as "Blackland Dirt" and "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell" do. For me, I think those two songs might just be the pinnacle of Comadre's career.

Needless to say, I won't be selling this record on Ebay.

Comadre - Blackland Dirt
Comadre - Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell

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