Tancred – Out of the Garden
So I saw this band open for somebody and I honestly almost missed them completely; I only caught the tail end of their set, but they sounded pretty good and I got a good feeling about them (“Pretty Girls” made an immediate impression; it’s a song that’s just weird and silly enough to work). So it’s a good thing I ended up checking them out, because this is a really excellent album. Seriously; I just relistened to it and I was blown away all over again. This was pure luck on my part, but I guess you could take it as kind of a lesson. You have to pay attention and follow up on shit. You can’t just show up, eat your complimentary shrimp cocktail and leave.
Sound-wise this isn’t a revolution or anything, in large part it’s your basic wordy head-case rock band (that’s actually the joke in the first track name), but the songwriting here is extremely killer. It’s constructed out of the basic ingredients of thrashy guitars and monologuey vocal lines, but there are a lot of smart flourishes and invigorating touches – the comedown at the end of “Bed Case,” the superconductive transition between “Hang Me” and “Sell My Head,” the dip before the chorus on “Poise,” the fake ending on “Control Me” – that give it an insistent personality and also make it an exciting, forward-sounding listen. Also on display here is an extreme facility for sharp endings.
It’s an album that takes you on a journey, but it’s one of those journeys where you get lost at every turn. “The dark can take you for a ride. Fair warning.” “Bed Case” is a disorienting intro based on a deep emotional ambiguity, and “Pretty Girls” is definitely not a calm or satisfying ending. It gets dark and introspective pretty frequently (“Not Likely,” “Pens,” “Sell My Head”), but it’s just as quick to lash out (“Rabid like a dog, I could take you out. Don’t test me”); actually, it tends to do both at once. It stomps and storms as often as it shrinks and shivers, and it synthesizes both of those affective styles into one maelstrom. It spins wildly through angst, black humor (“I would kill but a girl’s got poise”), horror, and viciousness, all while being deeply at odds with itself (“It’s crazy how stable I am”), and there’s a disturbing emphasis throughout on casual self-annihilation (“Write my name, cross it out in shame, burn it up, blow away.”).
As the title implies, this album is about living after the fall, but it’s not trying to fix anything or even trying to figure anything out. It’s just about what it’s like to exist in this situation, and the results aren’t pretty. The opener asks itself, “Do I want to save the world, or just cut out its insides?”, and as things go on it becomes pretty clear what the answer is. It’s not depressing in terms of tone, but a lot of the lyrical content is really deeply resigned, while also making frequent use of violent metaphors (“kill” seems to be the singer’s favorite word). Nothing here makes a grab for positivity or even hope, and all that self-annihilation stuff, while not appearing to directly indicate suicidality, takes its toll nonetheless. The songs don’t take the angles you expect them to take, and in not doing so they unearth disturbing emotions as familiar as they are weird (the album art is oriented wrong and it only has a fragment of a person on it). “Bed Case” establishes that it takes place not in between heaven and hell, but in the space where they overlap. “Poise” doesn’t try to make a feminist statement; it just admits that “I would kill to be one of the boys,” and then puts the emphasis on “kill.” “Control Me” inverts the usual positive spin on its subject matter, “Hang Me” is a self-directed witch hunt, and “Pretty Girls” is pretty harsh statement of defeat.
But what all of this actually means is that this is an album of productive irony. If you actually heard someone say, “Kill me just like all your other puppet girls; make me want you,” and you thought they meant it, that would be pretty fucking horrifying, but of course a) if you’re actually saying that, it means you understand what’s going on, and b) even more of course, this is a song, so what it’s actually expressing is the fact that the truth of the situation is being faced and dealt with rather than papered over and ignored. Meaning that this actually is the response to this situation. The gap between the album’s hopeless negativity and its badass rock intensity isn’t a gap; “Pretty Girls” actually is a big rock ending. As dark as this album is, what it has is better than brightness. It has vitality. It’s the farthest thing from a final solution, but, y’know, a lot of the time that’s a good thing. It’s the complete inverse of insisting on one correct politics of response (which is good, because we all know by now how bad that sucks): it’s an insistence on honesty and engagement, no matter how fucked up you have to get in order to do that. “I’m dead into the things you want me to shout”; “I’d feel better in a crypt than up there with you”; “Inside your claws, a million snakes”; “Show me all your teeth.” Maybe none of this is any good, maybe it’s even worse than nothing, but it is where we are right now, and no one is going anywhere until we understand that. “This is how we learn to be happy: the hard way.”