Archive for May, 2018

On Beneath the Pines, The Creeps complete the transition from early ‘00s, Lillingtons-esque, horror pop-punk band to self-reflective, mid-tempo pop-punk band having an existential crisis. On 2008’s Lakeside Cabin, The Creeps had a kind-of schtick about a stalker/serial killer dude roaming his way around the city. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; Lakeside Cabin is a fucking cool and memorable pop-punk record, but it is escapist in a way that Beneath the Pines is not. To be fair, the personal anxieties and crises present on the newer Creeps stuff was always there: these just tended to be more hidden behind layers of horror-based narratives. The Creeps were never a silly or one-note pop-punk and I think it is that has allowed them to naturally grow and move beyond a horror schtick.

I read an interview with singer and songwriter Skottie Lobotomy recently in which he downplayed the value of melodies outside of vocal melodies. The Creeps have always evidenced strong vocal melodies, but, more than ever, that can be heard on Beneath the Pines. Some of the choruses on the record stick in your head for days and just beg to be sung along: “Staring Me Down”, “Bottom of Things” and “Scared” serve up some fine, hook-filled treats, just for starters. The earworm-y melodies form part of a gloomy and almost gothic feel, in kind of a similar way to the new Lillingtons LP does. It is pop-punk, but not as we know it, son: it suggests a songwriter who has been brought upon The Cure and downcast ‘90s indie as much as The Ramones. Compared to previous efforts, The Creeps’ musical returns are more spacious, reverb-y and slowed-down, allowing the space necessary for Skottie’s memorable vocals to breathe and come to the fore. “Scared” is a great example of that twisted, gloomy version of pop-punk, nipping along at a breezy, mid-tempo pace and placing emphasis on Skottie’s vocals (“Just lately, I’ve been thinking about death”) that requires full sing-a-long. Some of the tracks pick up the pace somewhat, but this is no Ramonescore.

Beyond the Pines builds upon 2014’s Eulogies and, in some ways, picks up where it left off, with its recollections of mental torturing and anxieties, but while Eulogies retained a ‘psychological horror’ element to it, acting as an alternative, pop-punk soundtrack to The Shining or something, Beneath the Pines is as honest and ‘real’ as The Creeps have been. They have peeled back the layers, with Skottie suffering from a full-on existential crisis. He is getting busy at the ‘bottom of things’. Though never explicitly saying so, the lyrics suggest anxiety, depression, addiction and a general downtrodden mental state. Exhibit A is this gem from “Bottom of Things”: “Eye contact- I practice everything/Except sleeping and I don’t do that much these days” or Exhibit B on “Low”: “Quiet, lonely, yeah/I wouldn’t have it any other way”. While the old stuff was great, the lyrics on Beneath the Pines are a million times more relatable, as Skottie’s ‘voice’ comes to the surface.

More than a tale of mental anguish and distress though, Skottie questions everything about himself, why he thinks the way he does and more broadly the human condition. This is a somewhat high-concept album that gets to grips with the ‘point of it all’ and what will become of us all. The existential stuff comes to the fore towards the end of the album, I guess. On “Bodies”, Skottie sings about humans being “such beautiful acts of betrayal”. In this song, while the other person is checking their phone and ‘worried about girls’, Skottie is fixated upon the bigger questions, like the fragility of everything. It’s a fascinating song that produces these memorable lines:

“It’s not the tightest ship/In fact there are soles/ You said “you’re bleeding from the lip”/ I thought, “it’s spilling from my soul”.

If there is a line of thinking that seems frequently present on Beneath the Pines, it’s a fear, not of death, but the degradation of the human mind and soul: “if there is something to fear, it’s that I’ll silently fade away”. It’s a somewhat different angle, but as on Eulogies, the fear of losing one’s mind, spirit and thoughts is prominent on the record. Literally and thematically, the album culminates with the fantastic “Fall”. Here, Skottie brings it together to suggest that we are all on a continual decline and are left with only our memories in the end. This is where the ‘pines’ come in, representing Skottie’s childhood memories:

“I fear we’re all just fated to these capsules of time/Like memories of pure bliss beneath these sky tall pines/And either that’s all that’s left or even those leave our minds/And then we all fall down/And then we all fall”.

The ’pines’ represent Skottie’s childhood, but these anchor the bigger conceptual ideas to something grounded to which we can all relate. What are your pines? I hate to describe a record as ‘introspective’ because it makes me think of some shitty singer-songwriter or something, but Beneath the Pines really does represent some fascinating navel-gazing and self-reflection on life, death and everything in between, backed by some of the highest-quality melodic punk I have heard in a while.

Check it out here: https://thecreeps.bandcamp.com/album/beneath-the-pines

DB

Advertisements

Related image

I was unsure which Lagwagon album I should go with. I knew that it would either be Double Plaidinum or Let’s Talk about Feelings. I decided to go with the latter, as I think it’s a stronger album, even if they’re both good albums. In fact, I prefer the acoustic versions of the DP songs. Hoss is also of course a pretty good album. And there are a couple songs on Trashed that I love a lot too. I saw them in the 02 in Islington, London in 2012 and I realized I didn’t know many of their songs. I also realized that the songs I knew the best were those from LTaF, so I guess that’s another reason for writing about that particular album. I also realize that writing about this album also might be a challenge as I’m not even that familiar with this one, and that I’m starting to run out of albums to write about. Another good reason is that it’s twenty years since the release.

Lagwagon started in 1988, so a year before I was born. This means another anniversary. Happy 30th, dudes! The name stems from the car that Joey Cape (singer and songwriter) and his brother’s mother picked them up with in school. She was apparently always late, so they named the car “the Lagwagon” and that’s how Joey got his band name. The Big Bitch, Chris Flippin, was another founding member of the band. Lagwagon, along with No Use For a Name, Propagandhi and obviously NOFX have helped to develop the infamous “Fat Wreck sound”. They, however, started as a more of a thrash metal inspired band. They got signed to Fat and released their debut album Duh in 1992, it was produced by Fat Mike himself. The thrash influence is heavy here, but also the melodies that they would later get known for. In 1994, they went from thrash to trash. Trashed continued some of the heavier stuff as on Duh, as well as a reference to their last album in the song “Lazy” (does the word “duh mean anything to you?”, which I think is also a Buffy reference). Trashed is a step up and has many great songs, like “Know It All”, “Whipping Boy”, “Going South” and the Dischord tribute “Dis’ Chords”, and let’s not forget the Van Morrison cover “Brown Eyed Girl”. A year later, they would release Hoss, which gave us an album cover with Hoss from Bonanza and the Lagwagon staple “Violins”. With Double Plaidinum in 1997, they took a more pop punk turn and with songs like “Alien 8” and “Confession”, I think Joey Cape developed as a songwriter. I also really love the album cover. DP was also the first album without founding drummer Derrick Plourde after he left the band. I believe he wrote the song “Coffee and Cigarettes” (and the music to many of the songs on Trashed). In 2003, he and Joey Cape would start a side-project called Bad Astronaut, but in 2005, Plourde committed suicide. Fat Mike wrote the opening verse of “Doornails” about Plourde (“These two shots are for Derrick/ For rifle not the handgun”, “Rifle” is another song Derrick wrote, and he shot himself with a handgun) and Lagwagon made the music video “Heartbreaking Music” as a tribute to him. Gimme Gimmes drummer Dave Raun has been playing drums in Lagwagon since Derrick left. After Blaze in 2003, they went in an even poppier direction, but sometimes we hear that same thrash influence there. They continue to make albums, Hang being the latest one. They also released a box set called Putting Music in Its Place.

Let’s Talk about Feelings was released on Fat Wreck Chords November 24 1998. The album cover is a girl with glasses smiling awkwardly with braces and saying “Let’s talk about feelings”. The artwork was made by Mark DeSalvo. The album was produced by Joey Cape and Ryan Greene and recorded in Motor Studios. It was mastered by Ramón Betón and mixed by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of the Blasting Room. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate is Joey Cape’s lyrics, so I think those will be a focus when I look into these tracks more closely. It also seems that his lyrics are sometimes a bit hard to understand, so I hope I don’t totally misinterpret them.

1. “After You My Friend”: From my readings of this song, it seems to be a combination of “Alien 8” and “Whipping Boy”. A story of a break-up and a man, or a pitiful pin-up boy, that’s left pretending that he doesn’t care about his own feelings and tries to alienate himself from his friends and his feeling. He’s trying to embrace being lonely instead of embracing his relationship. His friends pity him for his loneliness, but he doesn’t care. He tries to escape from his emotions, but deep inside he knows he can’t. It would hurt his pride to show emotion. When in doubt about lyrical meanings, I head to the intellectual punk rock breeding ground of songmeanings.com. Some users seemed to share my point of view about loneliness and trying to hide it and your friends offering their pity. Some also thought of the female in the song as someone who has died. The most common theory is that he has killed her and is now on death row. One user even claimed Mr. Cape had said it was about a murderer on death row himself. I think the most interesting theory was a combination. That the murderer on death row is an analogy for the guy who has been dumped and is trying to find his place in loneliness even if no one understands him. Let’s not forget the bossa nova thing in the bridge!

2. “Gun in Your Hand”: It seems to me that these lyrics are about mental illness. And it gets hard not to think about what I’ve written about earlier in the article. I don’t, however, think this song is about suicide. I think the gun in the song is more about something that ruins your life, it could be depression or drug abuse. This isn’t a gun that will kill you right away, but you’ll survive the first thousand shots, meaning it’s something that will gradually kill you. I think the lines “It only breaks you until you get off/ I’m not gonna watch you kill yourself to live” also somehow indicate these sentiments. Again, it seems that this analysis also is very present on Songmeanings.com. Though one user claimed that the gun was something positive, a power to control your life and drives you to do the things you want to do, by pulling the trigger. Another user claimed the gun was the search for success, but by trying to be successful you kill your mental health and yourself in the process, it could be compared to NOFX’s “The Death of John Smith” or “All His Suits Are Torn”, which again are reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. I’m guessing it could also be based on the movie Swimming with Sharks, which it has a sample from.

3. “Leave the Light on”: At first glance, this seemed like another break-up number. The protagonist wants to see the person that broke up with them again, if not to rebuild their relationship, but to get closure. “I’d do anything to bring you back to say goodbye”. Re-reading it, I think it’s obvious that it’s about someone close who has died and I still think my interpretation is right when it comes to closure. Everyone wants to bring the person back to life, but the protagonist wants a chance to say goodbye. Songmeanings.com agreed with both these interpretation. The song is dedicated to someone called Sasha and Dennis in the booklet. The song has two samples, one from the movie Jacob’s Ladder and the other from Welcome to the Dollhouse.

4. “Change Despair”: Reading these lyrics, I can’t really understand what they are about at all. My guess is that they are about going to prison or rehab or a mental institution to reinvent yourself. “A costume you can’t take off” could be a prison uniform or a straightjacket. There’s some kind of consensus on Songmeanings.com that the song is about reinventing yourself somehow and hoping your peers will accept the new you. There’s something really bleak about the lyrics. Like the person is fading into a place of indifference and apathy. About getting into routines and leaving the life that used to be fun behind. After reading both mine and the punk rock meaning panel’s interpretation, I think it’s about depression.

5. “Train”: This is clearly a song about a relationship gone wrong. We get to hear the side of the story of someone running away. Realizing that they have been fucking their significant other’s life up and brought them down. I think the train that the person jumped and sits on could be meant literally, as in the train they are on to leave or be a symbol of the distance between the two. The other person has apparently missed this metaphorical train, but our protagonist is on it, far away from the person they left behind. Songmeanings.com is again helpful with making my interpretation feel dumb as hell. One user claims it’s about using another person, and that the train is a metaphor for the person that is being used. Others think it’s about creativity and selling out or turning back on former band members. The train is a metaphor for a journey, possibly the band’s journey, maybe also a journey between two lovers, where one of them misses the train.

6. “Hurry up and Wait”: Short lyrics, for once. This song is definitely about being a band on tour and not getting to do your daily routines, because you have to play a show, and then you have to wait again. Being in a band sounds rough! Songmeanings.com agrees! It’s also a lot faster and more fun than the rest of the album. It’s like the little glimpse of positivity on an otherwise downer record, even if the lyrics aren’t all sunshine and rainbows either.

7. “Everything Turns Grey”: This song is written by Mike Palm and originally by the classic surf-punk band Agent Orange. Definitely one of their greatest songs. Lagwagon is pretty true to the original, but maybe with less surf elements. I think the lyrics fit the album very good thematically. It’s another song about depression. No matter what happens, everything turns grey. I guess the choice of color here is interesting. If they went with “dark” or “black”, it would meaning that everything bad and sad, but grey is almost worse as it means that everything turns dull. Grey is a symbolized as dull or uninteresting or conservative in color psychology, black is depressing, illegal or powerful. Orange is cheerful and enthusiastic though, so Agent Orange playing this song is interesting, thinking of colors.

8. “Love Story”: This song is nothing like the NOFX song of the same name. Except that it’s sort of depressing, I guess, but I’ve learned to expect that from Lagwagon now, even with a title like “Love Story”. Definitely one of my favorite Lagwagon songs. At first, it felt like it was sort of the opposite of “Train”, sung by the person in the relationship that feels like the other person brought them down, but I feel like this is a person singing to themselves, so they are both the “you” person and the “I” person. Using “You” could make the listener relate, whereas in the later verses when “I” is used, we get to hear the protagonist’s point of view. This person hates their friends and wants to be alone and escape from a broken relationship. I feel like the ending is clearly about two people “I’ll just swallow all my thoughts/Maybe someday you’ll stop”. I think it could also be about having someone who cares about you, but also hoping that they stop, so you can be miserable alone. This is probably the song where our friends at Songmeanings.com are most divided and uncertain about the meaning. Some say it’s about popularity and high school. Some say it’s about being the person go to for answers, even if you don’t even know what to do with your own life or relationship. Some say it’s about cheating and not really feeling bad about it, since the feelings are gone and the cheater loves the person they are having an affair with (in that case, it’s maybe more similar to the NOFX song than I thought, it’d be cool if it was the same story, but seen from the woman’s point of view). I think there’s a heavy use of acoustic guitars in this song.

9. “Messengers”: Another of my favorite Lagwagon songs. When they played this song when I saw them I, and pretty much everyone there, went nuts and sang along. It was a great moment. Lyrically, I think it’s about telling friends your troubles and trying to weed the garden in your head, or clean up the mess like Joey says. Maybe when you tell your friends these problems, you feel like you’re burdening them or using them. “When we confide in those friends they’re just messengers” could mean exactly that or it could mean you’re afraid that your secrets now will be spread around. I guess there’s an allusion to “Everything Turns Grey”, as in the blue skies turning grey, but this could also be too much of a cliché to have anything to do with the cover at all. Songmeanings.com seems to think it’s about drugs though, more specifically meth! Crystal meth! An interesting theory is that this song and “Love Story” are supposed to be connected. “Love Song” is about cheating on someone and “Messengers” is about telling your friends about it, but the rumor is being spread and the person you’re cheating on finds out. The melody is great, so great that they basically recycled it for “E Dagger” on Blaze.

10. “The Kids Are All Wrong”: It seems like Joey Cape got the idea to bastardize the title of the famous Who song “The Kids Are Alright” and make it about the kids not being all right. Too bad the Offspring did the same thing, the same year, and it became a huge hit. Oh well. Americana was released a week before too. The song is rather short and slow. Todd Capps plays piano it, he also plays on “After You My Friend”.

11. “May 16”: So, we’ve come to the most famous Lagwagon song and the song this article is basically written in the occasion of. I remember it from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. I didn’t even know the song was by Lagwagon, but I loved it. That’s probably where most people found this song and why it has 7 million plays on Spotify. I also think this song has a special meaning to me. May 17th is Independence Day in Norway and what I think of when I hear the song is that it’s the day before that. And thinking of whether that day actually means something, so the lines “take a step to freedom” and singing about liberating yourself reminds me of Norway, while “It’s just another Saturday” reminds me that it’s just a normal day. May 16th is also the day that most teenagers in Norway get drunk, possibly for the first time. Now, as adults, we get drunk on May 17th instead.

To be honest, I read about the actual meaning of the song on Songmeanings.com a very long time ago. And from my memories, it’s about someone you are in love with getting married to a friend of yours and attending their wedding even if it hurts. Just reading the lyrics now, I feel like they are also about liberating yourself. If we take this into the context of the album, it fits the theme of depressed, drug addicted people who try to liberate themselves from hell, or their current situation. Now reading on songmeanings.com, many interpret it as a song about graduation or death. May 16th has now been named by many punks as Lagwagon day (sort of like August 8th is NOFX day). In an article about the song Dyingscene wrote that it turned out that May 16th marked the wedding date of a friend of Lagwagon front man Joey Cape. His friend did not (contrary to my earlier interpretation) because he had fallen out with his friend’s fiancé, “but he was at a different friend’s house on that day and overheard the wedding celebration. May 16th should have been a special day, but turned in to “just another Saturday.”’. Some spell the song “May 16th”, but the official title is “May 16”. It’s also on the Fat comp Life in the Fat Lane.

12. “Owen Meaney”: The title of this song is a reference to John Irving’s classic novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of Irving’s great “coming of age and living life” novels. The book rides the line between superstition and reality. The narrator does not draw these lines either, we are not sure if he really believe everything that happens in the book, but he has learned to accept it. The book is about Owen, who from an early age get visions from God about his own death. The book, unlike many of Irving’s works that take place in the course of the narrator’s life, mostly takes place in the sixties, and we get to see how the spirit of the times (Vietnam, student rebellion and so on) correspond with the characters’ lives. I’m not sure if the title of the song is supposed to be a pun or if it’s written differently than the book on purpose. I don’t know if there’s supposed to be a connection between the book and the song either, but it seems to be written from the narrator of the book’s point of view or sharing his atheist leanings and trying to understand what can’t really be understood out of supernatural thinking. It doesn’t have to be related directly to the book, but I think it’s about trying to understand other people’s faith and the unknown. At first, the song actually seems like an instrumental because Joey doesn’t start singing until right before the two minute mark.

Bonus track: “A Feedbag of Truck Stop Poetry”: Except for “May 16”, the first song by Lagwagon I voluntarily heard was this one. I found it on the Fat website back in 2004. It was the title track of that EP, but it also appeared as a bonus track on the newer Let’s Talk about Feelings issues. A feedbag seems to be bag for food for animals. The song seems pretty straightforward compared to the other songs. Someone longs for another person, someone they used to love, but they know that their wishes will never come true. But there are also still some parts that don’t add up to that interpretation, like the suicide mentioned in the song. I think, like so many of the other songs, the suicide here is symbolical. But with like most of these lyrics, I could be wrong.

So enjoy this May 16th, and enjoy the next one. Think of Lagwagon, think of Norway, think of your friends! And think about your feelings, talk about your feelings! The next album will be New Day Rising by Hüsker Dü.