Not many people need to write songs anymore. Most of us (humans) just need some kind of validation of the self, and everyone knows that being in an entertaining band is a short road to a lot of attention. The ones to look out for are the people who would write music if the music industry didn’t exist. Carey Mercer, the main song and press release writer for Frog Eyes, is one of these.
In the notes for Carey’s Cold Spring Mercer tells us that the record was three years in the making, that it’s “deeply fearful, almost paranoid,” that his father died, that “a few words of loss pop up here and there,” that the last song is 10 years old and it finally found its way onto this record after he sang it to his father in hospice, and finally, just after the record’s completion, that he was diagnosed with throat cancer.
You don’t need to be told, then, what the emotional bent of the record is, so let’s look instead at what happens when somebody like Carey Mercer, who needs to write songs, writes about those things.
In “Claxxon’s Lament,” the album’s last song, we are sung a dozen lines of verse. Guitars fade in with a signature sound. They are beautiful and a little sad, even just as a series of strummed chords. Carey’s voice, intent and desperate and the first thing you’ll always remember about any Carey Mercer album, comes in on a very straight beat. Verses are quiet, choruses are loud, nothing is fancy. There are a lot of layers but it’s easy to figure out what’s going on. It’s the best kind of simple. And even while listening deliberately, it does something that’s hard to account for: the song is almost five minutes long, but it seems to slip past in less than two.
After the first listen, the only lyric to “Claxxon’s Lament” that stuck in my mind was “Nobody shall die.” This is the calling card of the chorus and the song’s most repeated line. Sometime in the silence between this and the next go-round of the record, it occurred to me that the thing you hope for most when you listen to music had happened: I didn’t know most of the lyrics and yet this song had already made a connection to a part of me that is also not easily rendered into words.
Going back through the lyrics, they’re very good and they beg repeated reading, but it’s how they “paint” feeling — how they’re sung in such a way as to draw out just the right shade of emotion — that makes them brilliant. It’s why his lyrics translate emotion in a way that others don’t.
When you listen to music that doesn’t contribute a single thread to the insidious commercial tapestry that backdrops your life, music that doesn’t distract you from reality by preying on your attention and soliciting your consumption — when it’s music made by people who write it with the express purpose of sharing reality with you — this is music that makes a bridge between you, the people who made it, and everyone else who likes it. This kind of music, let’s call it foreground music, is made by people whose lives are for sharing intense emotions with you. Music is the medium most suited to the conveyance of raw emotion. It’s why reviews are so hard to write and often so poorly written — if a reviewer could transcribe what the record conveys, why would we need the records?
But we do need the records. We need them because people like Carey Mercer can chronicle pain. Carey Mercer can take heartache and the terror of being alive and record them so that, listening back, you’re made to know that it’s not all for shit out there. In an era when most music is an attempt by the industry to replicate the attributes of being a fucking person without the necessity of actually being one, here are nine songs to remind you that you, at least, are alive.