Very Good Adulthood

[Self-Released; 2019]

Styles: anti-folk, freak folk, jazz, beat
Others: Eyes of Love, Thelma, Joanna Newsom, Frank Zappa, Mega Bog, Sean Cronin

When I was 14, I had a girlfriend. It took us about two years to kiss, because I was so timid and absolutely confused. We kissed eventually, and then we kissed some more. Then, after a while, we broke up. Later on, I had another girlfriend and then another and another girlfriend, some of the sweetest people I know. Now, it seems I’m becoming my own girlfriend. I’m sure I won’t be the first to tell you that being a girlfriend isn’t so easy. It takes a lot of sitting and listening and nodding along. I’m working on it.

I’m also now getting used to being someone else’s girlfriend, and sometimes they’re polite and they play the girlfriend for me, and so we have each other to sit and listen and nod along.

Sometimes music asks you to sit and listen and nod along when it needs it. Sometimes it generates thoughts and feelings, and in those times, it implicates you. Sometimes it brings up feelings too hard to handle, causes welled-up water to burst forth. Sometimes music fails to read the room, drops in, does its thing, and doesn’t mind who’s around to hear it. It takes a good girlfriend to endure the latter.

I should note that I’m writing this automatically one morning, because I’ve had this review on the backburner for so long and I need to excise it. So, right now, I’m really not listening at all. Instead, I’m trying my best to be a good boyfriend, a role I’ve practiced so much more that I should be better at it by now, but truthfully, I’m not. I still haven’t learned when to lean in for the kiss.

So, more about me. There I was one afternoon, and I’m sitting at my desk job not minding much but not minding nothing, and in through the computer, there’s a band called Very Good and I like the music this publicist sends me so I give it a try. It starts slow and quiet and it stays that way for a while. I’m not checking my notes here, so correct me if I’m wrong, but the lyrics are about seasons. Tender as they might be, they have nothing to do with love. I don’t know if any of the lyrics across the album are about relationships in any sense of the word. They don’t seem to be. They seem to just be about stuff and things. There’s people there, and they speak, but not the way people do, more like the way books or an article of clothing might talk.

As I’m listening, the whole thing becomes a sort of folk-rock free-jazz beat-poet jubilee, and if that sounds awful, hey buddy, you’re not alone, but tbh this one really clicks. It threatens concept-album territory in arc and form and title, but it never quite gets there, which really piques my interest. Rebecca thought one song sounded like Wings or McCartney II-era McCartney, and I thought whoa I would have never but then I did. Very Good unpacks adulthood through free-associative thoughts and impersonal anecdotes and found a language that gives little within a sound that gives greatly, and in the end, I don’t feel I’ve gotten better at adulthood (the album is not a manual, to be sure), but maybe Very Good has gotten better at it, and that’s something nice to see.

To be honest, it’s tough for me to write about such cerebral yet psychosomatic music when my own psyche is beat, but, alas, I’m here, growing, trying, admitting defeat. Welcome to adulthood. It came to me in September and sat with me in a new familiar way, and by now I’m sure the publicist thought it was all for naught, but I guess I can truncate the time that it sat in my to-do — unspoken, unchecked — as such: it was hard to find the words to say or to find the space in time to say them. Sorry about that.

Personal anecdote: I got really into the anti-folk scene when I was in middle school. That was when Juno came out, a movie that led me to Kimya Dawson (god bless her) at an impressionable age, which then led me down a hole five years too late to Jeffrey Lewis, Adam Green, Diane Cluck, Regina Spektor, and Dufus. I guess my better judgement tells me that I shouldn’t say “five years too late,” because I’m pretty sure all of those artists listed are still working to this day, but these things come and go and are misremembered, reevaluated, forgotten, and hidden, and, as such, my best judgment tells me I shouldn’t mention that I ever cared for the anti-folk scene at all lest I relinquish critical authority (as if I haven’t done so already).

In my mind, much of that work still holds and feels to have laid the format for more recently popular modes of confessional, somewhat genre-ambivalent indie songsters (Big Thief, Frankie Cosmos, Car Seat Headrest, Mitski, Girlpool, and Sun Kill Moon all come to mind). But I’ll concede that much of the music from that era can come off as naïve for apparently subscribing to now-begotten notions of authenticity. One could also put forward that it offered ineffectual modes of resistance to capital, but I don’t think that’s all what they were getting at, and I don’t think that’s where they went. No, they all went to nicer studios and labels eventually. I think they were just basking in the music they made at that time to be honest. Everything in its time I think, and I have to appreciate the stuff that made me.

And of this critique that is posed against the anti-folk scene, this scarecrow, I think I’m the one making it. This is self-conscious and paranoid writing. I am the one saying it. I’m both holding and withholding such criticisms internally, precisely because of how much this music once meant to me and how it formed a good measure of my taste and critical foundation in the first place. An act of self-protection is fogging my critical headspace. Is it the adult thing for me to do to exorcise it, to relinquish this demon of bad taste? Or should I repress it until the critical landscape might come to reevaluate this sidelined music and give the now-forgotten work its day in the sun if/when material conditions realign to provide clarity in context to the early millennium subversive twee of anti-folk. It’s very possible and certainly acceptable that you, dear reader, don’t know of or care about this dead scene that I’m going on about. That’s okay.

Regardless, I’ve been trying to enter a critical framework where no music doesn’t hold in my ear, and now I think I’m getting there, which, in itself, is scary. Expanding taste is like diffusing taste is like having no taste at all. Alas, some music still doesn’t excite me, and I’d like to find who’s to blame. Or, I suppose, I could practice being the girlfriend. OK, now I’m listening.

From the start, it’s so soft and so, so pretty. Like, truly so, such that I’m stunned at the start of each listen. An edit: these lyrics certainly have to do with romance, unrequited, missed chances, growing pain, watching a ship “sail into the sun.” After all the listens I’d given, I suppose I had forgotten. I hear what I’d like sometimes, remember what I’d like sometimes. It gets nasty just a short moment later. “Sometimes people like that will just turn around and bite your arm.” Big snarl, freaky teeth, ice in a glass, clattering.

Dueling drum sets, sound design, guitar and voice, overdubbed, hardly animating. Some performances here are uncanny, as though the band is not living, breathing, and playing to tape but instead is trapped on the tape: automatons playing and replaying, constant production. It’s a fall coat, a little tattered but you can’t find the threads, somehow seamless.

I have another thought on production, but first a story. My friend Matty said that when they were young, they did not like to play their cassette of Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping.” They loved the song so much, but they hated to make the band perform it so many times. I haven’t heard this story in a while, so the details are fuzzy, and it may not have been Matty and maybe they did not feel that way, but I am somehow sure it was Chumbawumba and isn’t that funny.

Now, a thought on production: it’s crisp. It’s clean. Hard panning separates, everything breathes, and it’s all so warm, woody. It smells like oak. It complements and it tears apart at times. It’s all so arranged, and it’s all so sturdy. You’d think it’d subtract because this should be vulnerable, heart on the sleeve, but it doesn’t. It comes through two speakers, and it sounds as such. It meets in the middle vigilantly searching for two ears. It relays little but delivers regardless. It’s not a banjo but a recording of a banjo.

It becomes lush later (“Without You Around”) but still disconnected, resisting all gelling; it won’t congeal, it won’t relate, it’s simply talking, simply giving, won’t tell you what to take. Bric-a-brac songsmith, carefully arranged and I just keep reaching, pulling, liking the sound. Again, taking little. “Adulthood.” There’s people, grandmas, grandpas, kind-of-chums, those eating letters and pissing in the sink. That’s all there, sounds raucous, unruly. It’s the closest they get to painting a picture, almost too close for me, but I’ll take it.

I guess what I’ve been getting at is what we all already know: it’s not the music, but it’s what you hear in it (and sometimes it’s the music too). Look: Princess Bubblegum pulls a luminescent, golden orb out of a small chest: “Here it is, check it out.” Finn replies with wonder, “a magical globe?” “No, Finn. It’s what you can see through the globe.” Capisce? Listen.

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