As I write this, it’s overcast and about 87 degrees out, so humid I almost feel like I’m swimming. It’s also only 9 am. Oh, summer! How I longed for you, and now you do me like this? I can complain endlessly about the Southern summer, but the truth is, I love it when it’s like this in the mornings. [This is hardly even the South. Srly.–Mimi] If I could, I would sit on the porch, drinking iced coffee and watching the world go by for hours until the sun burned away the clouds, and it finally got too hot to sit outside. The swampy heat slows me down in a way that’s oddly pleasurable. Sure it sucks to stand up and realize you’re sweaty, even behind your knees, but if you’re lucky a breeze will kick up and make it all worth it. Plus, I’m not exactly cold-blooded, but I do want to wallow in the wet heat a little, as it makes me feel warm through to my bones, which is always excellent (expect perhaps when I’m trying to sleep–but who needs sleep, I’ll sleep when I’m old).
I was going somewhere with that previous paragraph. A comparison of The New Tragedies recent EP and swampy summer heat, perfect mornings, bone-deep warmth and being slowed down by the very atmosphere. And I can’t quite seem to thread it together in the way I want, so I’ll stop while I’m ahead and just talk about the music. Specifically, the before and after of The New Tragedies’ 2006 release of VanityVanity. Aaron Weidner, his gorgeous wife, Bev, and handful of their fellow musicians have just released a follow-up EP, Souveniers. And hey, we’ve never discussed their first release in 2004, the self-titled EP. So today it’s double the EP joy.
Before writing this, I spent some time poking through other reviews online, which I don’t usually do until after I’ve written my own review, but procrastination can make you do strange things. I did learn something from poking around, though. [Non sequitur approaching in next sentence, kids, watch for the drop off!–Mimi] I often try and sell my friends on The New Tragedies. I’ve listened to VanityVanity probably more than any other album in the last year. It’s the understatement of the century to say that I love this band, and yet I’m at a loss when I’m trying to sell my friends on this musical crush. [Maybe because it’s indy rock and your brain is confused since you don’t listen to that much anymore?–Mimi] So, I go read these reviews and every review compares them to a bunch of other bands. Pretty much the same bands in each review and you know what? I’m not familiar with any of these bands (okay, well Nick Drake obviously, but not any of the others). So clearly there’s a bunch of music out there that I’m missing while I’m over here futzing around with all this alt-country stuff. Which is cool. I mean, I’m happy with what I’ve got, I’m just always a little surprised when I’m reminded how many musical spheres exist outside my own and only barely overlap. [I’m fairly certain you know who The Shins are. However, why the reviewer compared this group to them, I’m not exactly sure of. They sound nothing like The Shins. I think what those lazy reviewers were attempting to impart is that The New Tragedies have that low-fi, jangly folk-infused rock sound that is very popular with the kids today. It’s stripped down emo.–Mimi]
Anyway, on to this new music, Souvenirs is a five song EP, just released for my listening pleasure and hopefully yours too. The opening song “New & Improved” happily rings clearly with the sound and lyrics I expect from The New Tragedies. You can immediately hear the newness of it. There’s a quality to it, aged like wine perhaps, that distinguishes it from their last full length album. If the sound hadn’t sold me right away, the lyrics surely would have: “Give me a jukebox in the corner / And a drink to make my memory opaque.”
“Chandelier” echoes the other end of my earlier metaphor about summer. The lyrics play through, comparing summer turning to fall and pitting love against reason. The sound is definitely less folky than Bev and Aaron’s past release–it falls more towards, um, something I currently find indefinable, but surely some good music that exists outside the sphere of what I listen to. [Emo.–Mimi] [Definitely emo. — Daisy] And yet it twangs and brings me joy.
The acoustic folk sound returns on “Simple Things,” and appropriately so. “There’s something to be said for the simple things / and the moments worth remembering as simple human beings.” The music excellently reflects the same simplicity. Oh, no, I’m having a very hard time not making bad puns here about simplicity. *sigh* In any case, this is one of the strongest songs on Souvenirs, and that’s saying a lot because there isn’t anything here I don’t like (or am even ambivalent towards).
A friend and fellow lover of The New Tragedies mentioned that she didn’t really dig “Onward Christian Soldier” on her first listening. It made me think a bit on how different we all perceive things, especially music, as this song is the one that really jumped out at me on my first play of the EP. It’s a war protest song of sorts. Although I wouldn’t have described it that way until I heard someone else say it. It plays for me more as story, one with a moral, though you’ll have to trouble out the moral for yourself. The song makes me thinks of soldiers I know who have been/are/will be in Iraq. It makes me think of what it means to be good person, Christian or otherwise. It makes me think, which is really the most important thing when talking about war, no? Draw your own conclusions, think what ever you will, based on your background, your place in life, but think on it yourself. Don’t let anyone else do the thinking for you. Yeah, deep I guess, the song is powerful enough to send me spiraling into some philosophical stuff about war, so whether it’s a protest song or not, it surely succeeds in provoking a thoughtful response.
Currently “90 Proof” is my very favorite track on the EP. That could change after 50 or 100 plays, but now, having listened to the EP 30 or 40 times I’m still in love with this song. It feels like a giddy new relationship. Something too intense and too fast, but it’s still so new that you’re too immersed in it to care that it will surely end in flames. Hmm, rereading those last two sentences, I’m not sure if I’m describing my reaction to the song or what I hear in the lyrics. Excellent! I’m nearly ready to quote the entire song, but I’ll leave you with only a few lines, in no particular order:
“Tonight the truth goes down clear and 90 proof”
“Tiptoe past the tip of your tongue and bottom lip”
“Sing to me, something in a minor key, and we’ll sift through the debris that’s left of each of us”
The song very much appeals to the romantic in me, which regular readers will recognize is like 90% of me. [What’s the point of me being here if you mock yourself?–Mimi]
[As much as it appears I’m slagging this record off because of Cric’s refusal to realize she loves emo, that’s not the case—well, I am slagging her, but I’m not mocking the music itself. I’m a little surprised this group isn’t more well known because they have a sound, on this EP, that’s very hot right now in the “indy” scene. It’s part Ryan Adams—“90 Proof,” part Garden State Soundtrack—“New and Improved,” and part very original lyrics. My favorite track is “Onward Christian Soldier,” but I’ll probably give this one quite a few more listens. The duet style isn’t something I particularly care for, so I would never have listened to this if not for Cricket, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you enjoy music for the lyrics. Also, according to the reviews I read—because of Cricket not knowing the bands in them—both of these people are apparently super hot. I guess that’d be a reason to catch them live if you’re not impressed with music and stuff.–Mimi] [I, for one, am a fan of super-hotness. — Daisy]
What? That’s all? Five songs. Goddamn EPs! I’m so glad to have them, new songs and all, but they are never quite enough. Oh! Wait! What’s this? The New Tragedies released a self-titled EP back in 2004 that I just now got my hands on? Why it’s four more songs. It’s almost like having a whole album after all. Let’s step back in time a look at these songs too, shall we?
Where you can hear Souvenirs as a natural outgrowth of VanityVanity you can also hear how VanityVanity grew from this self-titled EP. It’s a glorious continuum of music. Or perhaps more like the light spectrum, with songs yet to be heard, yet to be recorded, are for now outside the limits of the range of human sight.
“Her Majesty” opens the track list here. This song resonates with me. I don’t just mean that it simply plays well as something I like. Rather it actually vibrates through my body, alters the rhythm of my heart, changes me every time I listen to it. Aaron and Bev’s harmonizing here feels totally complete. I find I have a hard time focusing on the lyrics to write about it. I just want to sink into it. It’s a deep purple velvet chaise lounge of a song. It rocks and twangs and bumps along like floating down a shady river on a hot summer’s day. [Purple velvet chaise? Are we vacationing at Prince’s villa on Lake Minnetonka?–Mimi]
Overall this entire EP is more stripped down, simpler, acoustic, folky version of the later New Tragedies sound. “Cannonball” owes more to rock n’ roll for its influences than most their songs, but it works to good effect here. “I’m a wishing well, trying to wish you well / it all goes to hell in such a hurry.” There’s so much about relationships in all these songs, but not the traditional loved-and-lost kind of themes. It’s all the tiny complications of sharing your life with another person as you both try and find your way in the world. “Cannonball” sharpens the focus on these details, and that makes all their songs sound so genuinely meaningful.
“Overboard” also appears on VanityVanity and is presently one of my favorite songs. The version here is slightly less refined though doesn’t suffer at all. The lyrics are ethereal and wistful. As the song draws to its end, the music builds up, coming over your head, like you’re underwater, and it finishes leaving you not panicked about drowning, but rather glad to be submerged and yet still floating.
We end with “Drinking and Decadence” which could perhaps be the alternate name of this blog. Or maybe the motto hanging above the door at HCT HQ. “I’m all for drinking and decadence tonight / I’ll hang all my problems with the pictures on the wall.” What? Whiskey and avoidance? Yes, we do subscribe to that idea here. This song is the most stripped down, clean, simple, slightly twangy of the bunch, it’s like they’ve taken out the undercurrent of all the songs and brought it forward.
Yeah, this is all even more over the top than my ramblings about Lucinda Williams, but the music does it to me. I’m a teenage girl with her first perfect pop album all over again. I cannot get enough of this band. I can’t say enough insane, flowery, overdramatic things about them. I love them. And hey, I love you guys, because without you there is no HCT, it’s just me and Mimi nattering on in our living room. And without HCT, I never would have stumbled on to the New Tragedies. So it’s love all around, people. Now if only I had a hot boy to rub my feet while I ate peach ice cream and watched endless re-runs of Dirty Jobs, the world would be perfect. Why doesn’t Matt Damon return my calls? Or Mike Rowe for that matter? [You’re s.o.l. since the cable’s still broken.–Mimi] [And Matt Damon requires cable before he’ll return your calls. As if he can’t afford his own damn cable. — Daisy]
Both EPs (and their full length album) can be bought on CD or in digital format from New Scratch. Go on and get you some. You can hold me responsible if you don’t like it. It’s okay, I won’t pay attention if you have complaints, I’ll be too busy enjoying these songs over and over and over.