“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”
— William Faulkner, to Jean Stein of the Paris Review, 1956
If the lyrics to the new Gold-Bears album Dalliance are fiction, then Jeremy Underwood is a genius, because halfway through I wanted to marry him just so I could leave his ass. This is an album — the Atlanta band’s second — of small town petty vengeances and gripes, shitty warfare waged by twee malcontents. There are sweet songs too, but even these come off as gestures to sweetness, that vague “I like the way you comb your hair”-ness of Jawbreaker lyrics; “I love you” signposts by and for people who’d really love to love but should probably stick to mash notes. None of this shit will last. These poor overeducated fools are doomed.
Oh yeah, the album… I’m pretty into it. I want to be clear about that. If I thought it was a bad album, I wouldn’t write about it. Dalliance (apparently the name itself is a jab at the ex) is a fine collection of jangle and bash about current and future exes driving around and lying; the groundwork of rock & roll. Dalliance is on Slumberland Records, which has a real “nice person” reputation (though, now that I think about it… I don’t know if “nice” is the right word for Frankie Rose or Wax Idols… but the dude bands on the label all seem pretty docile…) so I imagine everyone in the band is a swell and a half… if you’re not their ex-wife.
Maybe Underwood’s ex-wife is a monster, but I’ve known some monsters and every last one of them was just half of the monster that was “us.” Maybe I’m entirely misunderstanding, and the characters in these songs are supposed to be charming, droll and acrid in all the right ways (what do I know about people?), but it’s important, when listening to lyrics like “I heard you’re upset because I sold your ring/It was just a reminder that you never did anything for me” (“For You”) that there’s human on the end of it.
The history of “Specific Grievance with the Ex” albums is long and complicated and I’m not going to attempt to document it here. Let’s just say, in the spectrum of what is tolerable (that is: excluding albums that wish death or harm on the ex in question) there is, on one end, Bob Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks (mean, petty, possibly his best album) and, on the other end is, as perfectly discussed in Jessica Hopper’s famous Punk Planet essay “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t,” pretty much all the emo bands from 2000 to, hmmm, let’s say…. now (defensive, trite, “female as faceless victim/victimizer,” vicious, boring as shit). Dalliance is closer to the Blood on the Tracks end of the spectrum, mainly because it doesn’t suck. And, more importantly, it seems like the characters in the songs are actual, breathing human beings. Whether said human beings would thank him for such indulgence is best determined at 2:00 AM in a bar in Atlanta. I imagine it will eventually come up.
Not knowing much about music either, outside of making it and listening to it, I read a few other reviews of this record to see if I’m crazy. Apparently, I am. All the reviewers, while agreeing with me about the overall quality of the songs (high) talk about the glee and joy of this record. I guess because it sounds like albums (the band’s stated influences include indie-pop bands like Boyracer, Rocketship, the Aislers Set, etc.) that listeners assigned long ago in their heads as “sweet.” Do people only trust signifiers at this point? But twee and indie in the K records/Unrest sense always seemed to me to be the province of a class of people who took passive-aggression and a barely suppressed contempt for the shit and toil of human existence to heights not seen since Victorian times. So I’m very comfortable with the notion of these besweatered, button-down beauties as simmering cauldrons of Caulfield-esque rage. Anyway, to call this a joyful album does a disservice to both Gold-Bears, who made a very solid break-up, fuck-you record, and the notion of “joy.” This album is dark, and mean, and small… and good. It’s the Wedding Present if the Wedding Present were a basement punk band, which is exactly what’s needed to make both the Wedding Present and most basement punk listenable.
Fuck. I’m being a prick again. I like Wedding Present and basement punks bands just fine. Referring back to the Faulkner quote above, the Wedding Present and basement punks were my mother and that sentence was my great art.
I enjoyed Dalliance by Gold-Bears. I plan on purchasing it. You should too if you enjoy twee or noise-pop or indie-rock music. Maybe you can listen to it and relate when you remember something cruel you did. Or maybe it will help you romantically justify something cruel you plan on doing in the future. And what is music for, if not the settling of scores? Let Dalliance be the soundtrack to robbing your own mother.