Reviews

The Convenience of Indecision

Author: Matt Cibula
10/23/2001 | Unpop.com | www.unpop.com | Album Review
So let's all say it together: "Emo does not exist." How can a genre exist when nobody will admit to being part of it? Well, it can't, but you can't really blame the bands that used to be thought of as "emo" or "emo-core" or whatever for not wanting to be associated with such a stupid name. In fact, I think Matt Tomich from Omaha band Sorry About Dresden put it best in an interview: "Emo to me is a hardcore band that's decided to start singing about girls." Obviously, Tomich doesn't want to be "emo" any more than the next singer/songwriter -- but his band kind of fit the suit, don't you think? Let us count the ways.

First of all, take another look at the band's initials; I mean, come on. Secondly, think about the fact that they're on Saddle Creek, which has been known to host a Nebraskan/North Carolinian emo-ish band or two (Cursive; Son, Ambulance; Bright Eyes). Third, check out the album cover: no colors at all. Just black and white and grey. Good lord, someone call the metaphor police. And did you catch these song titles? "The Happy Couple," "A Reunion of Sorts," "A Losing Season," "Deadship, Darkship." Wow.

So you've got them pegged before you even take the wrapper off the CD.Which is a mistake, as it always is. SAD isn't really all that concerned with categories and weak tea like that -- they just want to make good rock and roll music. And this album, with only a couple of exceptions, actually does in fact rock. Sometimes it's kind of a punk-pop sort of thing; I think they steal the riff for "One Version of Events" from the old MTV theme: "deh deh-deh deh-deh deh-de-de-deh." Sometimes it's an acoustically based sort of alt.country throb, like in "It's Morning Again in America." They even veer sharply into britpop territory with "On Contradiction" and "A Brilliant Ally." But they always sound like the same band -- singer Matt Oberst's agonized voice over his and Eric Roehrig's guitars, Tomich's booming bass thud, and James Hepler's straightahead drum kit.

And it's a good sound and an honest sound, but it wouldn't really be all that evocative without Oberst singing like he meant every phoneme. He sings quietly most of the time, as if reminiscing over something beautiful that happened a couple of months ago and will never ever happen again. But he can open up a bit; he is positively Mick Jaggerian on "Hosanna in the Highest" when he starts belting out stuff like "My collapse is complete / Nothing touches me at all." And even though there's really no way to know what he's talking about in the chorus "This is the last distorted air I'll ever breathe / Tonight," it still sounds great. They may not be emo, but they are emotional -- and why the hell not? That's what it was all based on before everyone started trying to be Stephen Malkmus, and that's where it's been going since Pavement peaked in 1993.

Again and again, Oberst rips the skin off his chest to show us his big red beating heart. The shittily titled "Deadship, Darkship" is actually a really accurate portrait of a romantically ruined dude who can't express himself except in whispers and screams: Oberst repeats "What's the worst part / What's the worst part / In your eyes? / In your eyes" so often that you start wondering if it's all a question or a question and answer. By the time they get to the late thumping part and Oberst shreds his vocal cords going, "Shut up / I'm tired of you talkin' / So much now / I just wanna hear you cry / Cry cry cry / I just wanna hear you cry," you know he doesn't mean it, but he can't help saying it anyway. That's why you form a band.

They do this whole lyrically ambiguous thing all over the place. The narrator of "One Version of Events" can't decide what to do: "I'll never go back to sleep tonight / I wanna go back to sleep tonight," but we don't get annoyed with him because he sounds like he's fronting The Knack in flannel shirts. And the tension in the next song, "A Brilliant Ally," is almost unbearable: "I know where my sympathy lies / Under you" might be my favorite couplet of the year.

So I guess I pretty much love this album. Its 40 minutes seem epic but don't drag until the last song, an abysmal over-the-top folkie orchestral pop number "A Reunion of Sorts." It's maudlin and yucky and easy (a "sorry your brother killed himself" story) and it should have been left in the coffee-stained notebook. But for 11 out of 12 tracks, SAD makes sadness real and normal and cool. And very rock and roll.


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