On “Fwee,” the semi-sardonic miniature of diminished frolic-in-the-flowers psychedelia that closes Happy Together, Mega Bog leader Erin Birgy reminds the listener of a certain kind of freedom: “You’re free to bruise and you do.” This truism is as much of a theme as allowed by Happy Together, a dizzying album full of hooks and character but never enough space to get footing. This sits at its core and works to its advantage.
Happy Together is a balancing act between the theatrical and the cool: careening, turning the confessional on its side, and muddling the surrounding water with affects of the surreal. It’s an album that deals with love and dependency as related to pain and abuse, using the confusion and abstraction already surrounding these modes of relation. With a cool mastery of the contralto voice once coarsely navigated by Nico and the speak-sing delivery of Laurie Anderson, Birgy sings of the male subject of “She’s History”: “He told me I should study up on him, but there’s nothing I could learn.” Subject evaluated and demeaned, Birgy continues, opening up and letting wounds out to air: “Well he is history/ And that silence does not speak to me/ Still he means so much to me.” Meaning and dissonance rub, and nothing is made clearer through it.
This sentiment is echoed in the red-alert acknowledgements offered to the namesake of “Marianne,” mistreated and abused, regretfully understanding that “there’s too much to love in a dirty napkin.” As buoyant as her song is, Marianne comes up on the losing end when she must be told that “against [her] pride” she is being worn “like a filthy necklace.” Birgy doesn’t mean to insult, she consoles, “Don’t get me wrong I’m never really joking/ You are the song, but no one’s really listening.” This tough-love romp comes to terms with victimhood with an outsider’s directness often alien to the ballad. The humor available is that of a tragedy, coarse reality tickles here.
Mega Bog seems in many ways to be about the web of complexities that make up life and its emotions. The kitsch of noir sax solos throughout give way to dense production that meets its empty peak on the electronic instrumental “Modern Companion” as it juxtaposedly follows (my favorite standalone track) the bouncing, jubilant seance “192014.” All of this ground is covered without losing any cohesion. Imagine how one life is lived in many places, one person finds personas morphing alongside relationships. On Happy Together, narrative is consumed then regurgitated across many different rooms of a house, never telling a story but providing a moving picture nonetheless.
It would be irresponsible to not mention an excellent, nuanced, strong, and short interview with Erin Birgy conducted by Laura Snapes for Bandcamp Daily. In it, Snapes admits that the narrative content of Happy Together — that of “rape and community accountability” — only arrived in later listens (as it did for myself). Birgy replies:
Whether or not the explicit messages are something a listener wants to learn from, the fact that it has been heard or has exposed a process is crucial to universal health and welfare. Most invoking and incredible music, to me, feels loaded with intention, with messages, with codes, with a public processing that, of course, is sometimes written off as music for sex, music for jogging… limitations to a limitless world. […] I want to be out in the wild world as fully as possible, and sometimes you get kicked in the head. Sometimes I may give too much time and power to the pain of being kicked, expecting it to move me, but sometimes I just attach every terrible thing to physiological trauma or anxiety and go nowhere. So, I think what has changed is subjects, concepts, and an attempt to fairly document the positive I’m either gifted with or create.
Mega Bog succeeds in bringing about that positive and focusing on the joy that must be sought and has been found within communities that have also kicked and done much worse. Consider that this process of “creating” positivity is really about transforming energy already present.
Happy Together is both at its coolest and most vulnerable with “Worst Way.” The track unceasingly reminds me of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing,” a sparse, post-nuclear singalong about “wild” and “brand-new dances like the nuclear bomb.” When Birgy delivers a cool “yeah” as punctuation to the declaration that “it’s the worst pain, it’s gotta be the worst pain,” there is a real sense of transformation that’s more valuable than the transcription of atomic warfare blasts to the dance-floor maneuver that Iggy sings of. It’s the transformation of pain and its reflection into assuredness and experience. This transformational quality is where Mega Bog thrives.