Cymbals Eat Guitars LOSE

[Barsuk/Tough Love; 2014]

Styles: loss, memory, lyric, guitars
Others: The Wrens

Where the prose poem has potential for lateral referentiality and expansive density, the oft-lineated lyric has the gift of self-constellating, downward-moving poetic waves. Neither is more intrinsically worthy of praise, but the urge to love or to know both forms, including their numberless variations, is necessary to understand either (despite this being a false dichotomy, of course). In poetry, the personal is a funny, mutable thing, and Cymbals Eat Guitars’ music — despite attempts to classify it as 90s indie rock revival — is the work of a very serious and very talented musician/poet.

Where Lenses Alien treated life as a well from which to source mythology, LOSE treats life itself as an always-more-entire mythology; that which mythology or fiction can only try to explain or to prepare. As Joe Hemmerling mentions in his review of Lenses Alien, the lyric sheet is a block. It was a prose poem of such density that I felt myself able to read it without its brilliant musical presentation as an album, to appreciate Joseph D’Agostino’s lyrics as decidedly narrative, though certainly challenging, prose-lyricism. These songs brought to mind the seriousness we love in contemporary poetry, but the lyrics sans music revealed, behind the gravitas, a wit and a penchant to play with language. Why There Are Mountains was a similar experience, and the semi-canonization of that album, vis-à-vis the sort of commercial flop (if such an event is possible in supposedly independent music) that characterized Lenses Alien, has always confused me. But I think it may have to do with the personal and its complexities: Lenses sounds and reads like an intentional (and successful) perversion and complication of Mountains’ Jersey-specific angsts, both of which are set alight on LOSE.

Now, how do you talk about loss in poems? In songs? You just sing it? Without sounding like a preacher. Without kicking dirt into a grave. You write around it? How long can we write around it? You write it into yourself. LOSE writes from the same geographies, the same counties, the same roads and “rich kids’ basements” that we know from albums one and two. But the wordy breadth of yesterday is here honed to a lean nostalgic poetics. D’Agostino, like anyone using language, can’t know if you’ll understand his references (I feel lucky to recognize some of the proper nouns, but that may have to do with the similarities in taste and geolocation between us). As in any effective American poetry, these songs are carried forward by a spirited charisma where their specificity might otherwise confuse: in “LifeNet,” he even sings “I’m sorry / You don’t know these people so / What could this mean to you?” But it does mean something to me. D’Agostino knows how to fold perception and emotion into neat packets of life, and these people and places feel eternal, are eternal.

Each of the nine songs here (this album, unlike Why There Are Mountains or Lenses Alien, feels less like a suite and more like a collection of individual songs working together toward a theme) merits extensive and attentive lyrical consideration, though such an analysis deserves a treatment not feasible in a standard-length review. Tenderness and faith curl into and alongside the deepest communicable pockets of anguish; at a certain point, one must turn away from the abyss and the gore of life and seek hope in the sky or on the earth. But their face, the face of the dead, is everywhere, dreamt “in color,” as D’Agostino sings on “Jackson.” Where do we turn, then? On “Place Names,” sand turned to glass in a flash of light, “screen memories” and whispers “from outside time” evoke, inside the song’s core of human loss, the faint presence of past alien abduction, a shared experience now inaccessible in its entirety: the essence of loss, the fear of memories disappearing, the pain of no new time, agency stranded somewhere gone.

The death of a loved one can never be a simple absence, just like how the loss of serotonin or love or passion can never affect but one facet of life — loss, to lose, snakes into the very smallest, most fragile veins of the everyday, until everything is more full of the missing than when they were around. On “XR,” a song sung on the edge of screaming, weeping, nothing fades away: “Keepsake tinnitus shrieks me to sleep/ Each frequency’s a memory of some/ Show we attended.” Memory shrinks out of your head and into the environment, irradiating everything, waiting to be rediscovered. LOSE is lyric poetry struggling with representing loss; it’s the music of seeing your youth drain out of you, of trying to reconcile the differences between you now and you then, between death and life and the twirling, familiar grey area of dreams. As a ghost whispers on “Place Names,” “There’s no word for what I became.

Links: Cymbals Eat Guitars - Barsuk/Tough Love

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