We Are Augustines are simple and they’re not.
This is a song of Centrifugal Force (the tension of pushing away that keeps something in orbit. That’s the thing about Planets and Blog Rock [songs that are easy to enjoy and are as fun to pass along as Upper Deck Double-Thick Championship Cards] and Love- people assume orbiting is automatic, that making something hover just happens. They forget that it involves standing in-between two forces, each unyielding as the big bang and, between all that pressure, making something work). It’s the pressure that makes the song easy to hold but impossible to get to stay still (That drum beat starts a full-body thresher, but halves itself to auto-stapler speed when the keyboards come in. You don’t expect a compelling song to halve its tempo.). So the song is Centrifugal Force and a Grasshopper in your hands. Now we need to take a step back and explain.
Billy McCarthy is the man singing and playing guitar on this song. Billy had a brother, James. James was schizophrenic. So was Billy’s mother. In the time when this album was being recording, James, serving prison time, killed himself after a 5-year stint in Administrative Segregation. Administrative Segregation, at least in Michigan, where I worked with inmates housed there, meant being in a cell about two bodylengths wide by two bodylengths long for 23 hours a day. You spoke to people through plastic almost exclusively. If a person was already mental ill, this made it worse. If they were not, it made them. Years before his brother had killed himself, Billy’s mother had killed herself. These are the facts that, according to McCarthy were the backdrop, the vocabulary for this album. This is as straightforward a way I can think to say this. There is nothing artful that I can say, that anyone can say about such events. The art comes in the reaction. You close your eyes so until something appears.
Does that lend the song’s coda “Tear up the photograph/’cause it’s a bright blue sky” an imprint it might not have without the story? Sure. Is it an interesting line on it’s own, being the last line in the song, being as open ended as it is- you tear up the photography, it’s phony, it’s almost caustic in its insistence on optimism, but then, the question is, what do you look at if not the photograph? I’d say yes.
“Chapel Song” is Centrifugal Force, a Grasshopper in your hands, your Eyes Closed so much that they hurt, and it’s something else. This has been a hard month, and this song, its weirdly sung words, the unfurling horns, that slapping tambourine, has been the kind of base that, at least, is a start. It’s not not a full on cheering squad, but it’s something a bit more than restless leg syndrome. On days as bewildering spare as these have been, having something pushing you forward helps.
I’ve got news about my 3rd favorite Dischord band coming up soon. maybe tomorrow.