Hospital Ships Lonely Twin

[Graveface; 2011]

Styles: “midwestern existential fuzz-pop”
Others: Shearwater, Minus Story, Flaming Lips, Appleseed Cast

Some of the best rock music reads like a funhouse mirror of the prevailing culture. It’s a dialectic that’s been part of the American literary tradition since Whitman first admitted his evilness, a feeling that coursed through Link Wray’s straining amp in 1957 as he churned out the first hard rock power chords, parodying a cloying radio hit. Enter Jordan Geiger and his Hospital Ships, with what the press release informs me is an album of “midwestern existential fuzz-pop,” which doesn’t so much reflect or criticize as take on a completely alternate architecture.

In contrast to Minus Story, one of Geiger’s other projects (he is also a former member of Shearwater), Lonely Twin is a unified creation, concerned from start to finish with existential idée fixes like death and despair, and how humanity deals with those universals. But Geiger explores them in that delicate space between listener and artist, rather than grand, fearful catalogings of the world as-is. The lyrical voice is exhortative — the first line asks the listener to “Open up the door and let me in” — and at the end of the song, he lays out the schism of existence in terms familiar to blues singers and Kierkegaard alike: “If it isn’t love or death, then what is it?” Here, as elsewhere, Geiger employs a forceful mix of commands and piercing questions.

But in general, Lonely Twin is no dark night of the soul; in fact. it’s a lot of fun. The punky “Reprise” hints at some undefined solidarity before dissolving into squalling guitars and tortured spoken word samples, containing just two lines, group-sung: “Hold this hope in your heart/ Oh what ghost haunts this heart?” Raucous moments like that keep Lonely Twin from feeling too much like a rock psychodrama. Ditto for the tragic “Phantom Limb,” which laments missed opportunities, but not for long — “You were mine to want and mine to overlook, ha, ha.”

The structure of most of the songs and the overall sound of the album definitely hew closer to Minus Story’s noisy acid-pop sensibilities than Shearwater’s obscure classicism. But Lonely Twin does share Shearwater’s sense of something barely restrained; songs like the slow-burning single “Carry On,” for all the fuzzed-over ebullience of the last verse, still feel very composed. “Galaxies,” one of Lonely Twin’s standouts, mixes mannered clarinet runs, Geiger’s fragile tenor, and lines about cracking ribs. Written after two deaths in Geiger’s family, the sanguine melody belies the grief underneath: “And your thoughts grow dark/ Like the deepest of caves/ Attendant to the end/ Of some awful thing/ At the bottom of the world/ Silent, still, and strange/ Like your body when you’re dead.”

When asked in an interview how to make a career out of music, Geiger bluntly replied, “Don’t try to make a career out of it. Don’t ever focus on goals, only processes.” So he’s a realist, too, though the sheer amount of new music people are making and its seemingly unlimited accessibility is almost an existential dilemma in itself: What do you do when every song’s been written? But ultimately those egocentric questions lead nowhere, and the final track casts them aside to instead sketch the infinite hypostasis of love, the nirvana of helplessness. “New Life (Mountain Void)” asks, “Will you hold on to all of your love?/ There’s not enough time to give it all up […] Say hello to the waste and the cold night and all the fascist states/ They have survived and, like seas, rise.” It’s the only reflection of a world outside relationships on the entire album, and when it finally arrives, it isn’t something to be feared, just moved past; “Goodbye blue light/ Hello new life.”

A 23-year old Albert Camus arrived at the lonely ruins of Djemila in Algeria in 1936 at the end of a long journey, surrounded on all sides by desert. Those environs might bring out the most morbid thoughts in anyone, and Camus was no exception. “Creating conscious deaths,” he wrote, “is to diminish the distance that separates us from the world and to accept a consummation without joy, alert to rapturous images of a world forever lost.” It’s high praise to say Lonely Twin dies the most spirited of deaths.

Links: Hospital Ships - Graveface

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