MUSIC FOR NEIGHBORS
by Jared Stanley
What Kind of Thing Is This?
Mac Tusk (Warner Bros.)
fact that our knowledge of gain is suffused with our knowledge
of loss may account in part the anxious circumspection and
endemic nostalgia that inform our sense of time and our sense
of time’s effect on place.
I’ve been trying to come to terms with the overwhelming
twin powers of sentimentality and nostalgia, perhaps the best
firebreak against a dirty bomb. In Hejinian’s essays, she
tries to deal with these things as they’re manifest in art
of the Western U.S., a crazy fucking overcrowded place, and, of
course, repository of some of the most dearly held fantasies the
country could muster.
particularly interests me about Tusk (besides the fact
that it wasn’t made recently), is that it is an album which
continues in the California mythology vein first mined by the
Beach Boys, while simultaneously being crushed on all sides by
the weight of anxieties of place and time and drugs and all that
other stuff. It’s tense and nervous, but relaxing.
anxious/mellow thing is not so much a split as it is manageably
schizophrenic. The lyrics, for example, rarely stray past territory
that we might’ve expected, sugarcoated dirt clods mostly.
But the production of individual songs is so uneven as to often
sound like the work of different bands. One the one hand, you’ve
got the usual late-period Mac exercises in extreme melodicism
and concision, top-loaded with the gauzy sounds of L.A.: vaguely
Eagles/Neil Young-ish country-rock, extreme use of Fender Rhodes
like later Beach Boys. The group also uses the BB5’s vocal
harmonies, though on this record they tend to favor the darker
tones of “Til I Die.” On the other hand, you get these
skittery, coked-up new wave genre exercises courtesy of Lindsey
think I was six or something when this record came out, and though
I do remember it well, I feel like it’s not really appropriate
to listen to. It belongs to a less self-conscious period in music
-- the angsty songs sound pretty detached in a way -- and this
band hasn’t really had a full fledged revival like, I suppose,
the Gang of Four, who’ve been resurrected more times than
a professional corpse at a revival.
the booger sugar, money, bad clothes and general excess make it
kind of hard to focus on the tunes sometimes. It can be kind of
embarrassing and romantic, but the band looked good on the dust
sleeves. Mick is wearing a terrycloth fishing cap. John’s
got a Fila running jacket, Christine has this godawful elastic
gold belt, and Stevie’s rocking a serious crimp job. But
the most telling thing is that Lindsey has short hair. I’m
not really accustomed to thinking about music based on the photos
of the band, but something went weird when Lindsey gave up on
the J. Lynne ‘fro. What? Well, Tusk is kind of
like a really disjointed amalgam of the aforementioned Beach Boys
melancholia and these weird, badly recorded Elvis Costello/Nick
Lowe imitations. Somehow it all kind of works, but I’m not
sure why. Maybe it’s because it was made in California;
somehow, even more than the Beach Boys, this is THE California
record. There ain’t no Christian Death in this 1980.
thing starts off with one of Christine’s sappy numbers,
but hot on it’s heels we get “The Ledge,” which
sounds like My Aim is True or something. You can almost
hear the sniffing on this one. Combining that otherworldly ear
for a tune that all of the songwriter’s had really fine
tuned, speeding it up and recording it badly must have hampered
the record’s hit potential…plus that weird snarling
and yelping that L. B. is doing…creepy.
guess it’s the push/pull. In the past, having three songwriters
wasn’t a problem, those earlier records are pretty cohesive,
but for some reason, Lindsey was fucking with the program on this
one. Christine and Stevo are kind of treading water here (albeit
marvelously) for the most part writing songs that are similar
to their earlier successes…but fucking LINDSEY!
wasting all this time talking about Lindsey I guess I should say
that the best songs are both written by the ladies, and both somehow
benefit from whatever tile cleaner he was snorting in the production
booth. “Sarah” and “Sisters of the Moon”
are both by Snicks. “Sarah” begins with this great,
rolling double-tracked tack piano that suggests maybe somebody
had been listening to “Surf’s Up” and quickly
moves into this aimless light rock shuffle, all glued together
by this two-note bass line. Who knows what the fuck the lyrics
are about, but the tenor of Nicks’ voice has that weird
decadent L.A. thing that usually drives me up a wall, but she
sounds very powerful and tired throughout. “Sisters of the
Moon” is noteworthy for it’s near metal melodramatics,
but that’s kind of her thing. The lyrics are as wiccan as
the title suggests.
Eyes,” by Christine, takes another element of Beach Boys
melancholia and constructs a tune which, if similar in effect
to “Sarah,” reaches the same heights through the use
of completely haunting vocal harmonies that kind of swoop and
dive etc. It suggest the kind of thing Wilson could’ve done
if he’d worked with female singers. There is a quality of
light that happens in Southern California that occurs nowhere
else in the country. It has something to do with the smog and
the desert I guess. It is what people used to call sublime, mixed
with something lurid and gross (but not like N. West). “Brown
Eyes” is the only thing I know that gets close to the feeling
of an L.A. afternoon in August.
yeah, nostalgia. Van Halen and nostalgia never get put together.
It must be the mushiness of the Mac, the essential baby boom,
dated quality to the whole thing. To me this record seems like
an essential source for much subsequent music. Take The Shins.
It’s more palatable than F. Mac because they’re new-ish,
they’re essentially an indie band, and they don’t
have embarrassing cover art. But, it’s just nostalgia on
nostalgia at this point, since the Shins take their cues from
Fleetwood Mac and bands like them, minus all the nasty habits,
conventional love lyrics or, grandiose failures, of which Tusk
may be the grandest.
next: more writing about music