I don’t like change. It makes me feel weird. It is part of why 2013 has been such a rough year for me. It is not just the bad things that have happened (and bad things have happened), it is that even the really good things have resulted in my life being completely different than what it was and that throws me in a tailspin, too. Its like I can’t handle change and I can’t accept the way things are. My brain is awesome.
Laziness is a big reason why I have kept much of my life stagnant for so long, but it is also just a desire for normalcy. It is that normalcy that let’s me know, even if things aren’t good, at least to know what to expect. That fear of the unknown, of somehow things getting worse, forced me to keep things into a gross and unacceptable normalcy; one that sucked the life completely out of me and made my life worse for my family. After much procrastination, I left the career I had simply accepted yet loathed and finally moved on to something different. It has been hard. I didn’t expect the learning curve to be so sharp. I think I have been more stressed with learning something new than I ever was by being in a miserable job that I knew I could do well, but, you know, hated.
Fear of change might also be why I fought having kids. Being responsible for two lives, making sure they’re fed and they’re clothed and bathed and kept warm, is instinctual and primal. It is also really fucking hard. Not just the physical and emotional drain loving these two beautiful idiots puts on you. I have to make big changes in my ways to make sure their lives are as easy as I can possibly make it. I have to put away all of the selfish stuff about myself aside and, dammit, I thrived on selfish stuff. I lived for it. I have a hard time turning that off. It is that acceptance that life is a different from what it in April, what it was in January, what it was in 2008, and what it was in 2003 that seems to elude me sometimes. These little people needing me more than I need myself is a lesson that I have to remember.
Also, we got a puppy and I hate her, I think. She won’t poop outside and is constantly trying to make out with my baby. She is currently scratching at my arm with her sharp claws and dropping her slobbery toy on my keyboard. She is super annoying.
It seems fitting with my year of change, of new lives, of new tasks and of untimely passings, that the last two albums I will likely review in 2013 are both steeped in introspection and a startling change in tone and in presentation from what we expect. Two Iowa artists either not afraid of change, or at minimum accepting that change and doing something with it.
Mumford’s and Patrick Tape Fleming of Gloom Balloon have a long history together. They share Ames roots, and they share a record label. What they also share is an understanding that doing the same thing over and over again can be rewarding, but eventually things change. You can do two things with that change: you can ignore it and try to keep doing the same things even if you want to do something else, or you don’t love those things, or that those things aren’t available to you anymore or you can make things better.
For Mumford’s that change is in presentation, in perception and in tone. Their most well-known songs have always had something to say hidden under the rapid fire lyrics and the quick guitar and horns. But their new album almost ditches the Mumford’s we all know and love. Instead of the quick beats and manic vocals, Mumford’s is a more reflective, mature and, well, not more interesting, but a different sort of interesting. Lead singer Nate Logsdon’s time as a solo artist, both under his own name and as the androgynous Beef Cake, has helped Mumford’s become this unflinching, sentient pop machine full of reflective prose and hum-able melodies.
Stylistically divided with soulful singalongs, outlaw-country tinged ballads and introspective, slightly rambling acapella stories, Immediate Family takes on many of this generations problems and how past generations can shape the solutions to the problems, and be the cause of them. “Caster” bravely and melodically shows an acceptance and celebration of transgender people in maybe one of the most endearing and just plain wonderful singles of the year. It could’ve turned into a song where they try to show just how progressive they are, but they don’t. It’s not pandering; it’s poetry. Another track, “Family Circle”, takes a close look at how your family can shape you and each generation of your family, fractured or no, bedded by a beautiful piano riff and a sneaky violin.
This is Mumford’s most incredible work to date. Mumford’s built its name on its sweaty live shows, so to make an album this deep and poignant had better work well, and luckily for them, it works in spades.
For Gloom Balloon, it took a near-complete breakdown to make something this deep. Patrick Tape Fleming is best known as singer, guitarist and complete ball of energy in the Poison Control Center. Exuding that much energy and emotion for the better part of decade can lead a man to continually seek that endorphin high that only performing can give. When PCC decided to take a break, Tape Fleming lost that outlet and slipped into a depression. His suicidal thoughts, unhealthy malaise and loss of his hero (Olivia Tremor Control’s Bill Doss) caused him to re-examine his artistic output. This lead to Gloom Balloon, a very different project than PCC, and yet still rooted in what makes that band work.
Raw and emotional, You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine Pts. 1-7 (An Ode To Bill Doss) doesn’t entirely leave the PCC aesthetic behind. Most of the tracks fit into that less-than-or-equal-to 3 minute pop ditty. The presentation is so much different than the four piece, guitar-heavy PCC we all know and love. Gone are the pop rock guitars and sometimes shouty vocals. In its place are electronics and samples and saxophones and violins and a severe downturn in tempo. “Fix The Sunshine” has that same sort of PCC vibe, but the vocals and presentation changes the vibe entirely.
Take, for example, PCC’s well known oft-concert ender “Magic Circle Symphony”. The chorus is “Love. Love is the answer. Until you get cancer. Then you’re lying, dying, dead.” Somehow the music makes that repeated affirmation somewhat joyous and acceptable. Similarly, “Fix The Sunshine” has a chorus that goes “All the children in the world are one day gonna die and so will you and I” and it still feels okay, and yet I was much more reminded of mortality rather than joy. Where “Magic Circle” gives you optimism “Sunshine” seems to slap you with reality.
This has to do with the presentation of the album as a whole. Each track is deliberate and somewhat manipulative. If you pay close attention to the lyrics, you could feel one thing. If you pay attention to the instrumentals, you could feel another. Yet,you somehow understand both the instrumentals and the lyrics better because of their intricacies and occasional dichotomies. You get the joy and sadness of both mixed beautifully.
What both of these albums succeed with is an understanding that life is change. Life is maturing, growing up, letting friends move away, letting family pass on. And if you can accept that change, your life will be better for it. You will likely not be the same person you were, but you will, surely, be so much more.
I can see that change paying off. I can see it for Mumford’s, I can see it for Patrick Tape Fleming and I can see it for myself. Now rounding out of the steep learning curve, I question why I waited so long to make a change. I am still learning, improving, getting better, but I enjoy waking up in the morning more. I enjoy going to work and doing what I do. Gone, for the most part, is that anxiety of where my life is heading and how it will end. Parenting will always be a challenge, but I understand, now, that I can no longer just give a shit only about my hobbies, my activities and my social desires. Those two come first and I come after.
Hell, even the puppy is now resting comfortably at my feet instead of tongue kissing a baby or jumping on my head. Change is hard, change is scary but change is sometimes what is needed to truly succeed.