In Our Bedroom After the War, Stars Tuesday, May 20 2008 

Listening to Stars can be a very humanizing experience; it’s pop that will make you a little uncomfortable when you realize how much you like it. I’m not trying to say that they function like anything close to a guilty pleasure, but the jaune jeunesse put a lot of effort into avoiding conventional expression these days. Too often sincerity is roughly correlated to gaucherie, but Stars doesn’t care. Barricade, for example , is violence in a slow-motion of minor piano chords and phrases like “the love died, but the hate can’t fade.” Familiar yes, but never wincing because Torquil Campbell’s ardent uncertainty creates a satisfying tension. A tension that exists between the artifice we use to set ourselves apart and the common feelings that draw us together. The album is filled with characters trying to make themselves bigger, more important in one-hundred different ways: drugs, revenge, confessions, games, mutual parisitism, but the stronger trope is how an undercurrent of loneliness drives all of this.

In Our Bedroom After the War offers a refreshing form of musical atheism where songs take place in the confines of the real. We are not on dusty train tracks with semi-mystical geriatrics that populate alt-country, nor the hyper-cities consisting solely of cocktail parties, art openings, and alienation of most other Rock. Mostly we are in the space where life’s trivial props take on meanings just as large as escapist vistas: the space between lovers.Take Me To The Riot describes the anxiety of drug-fueled locomotion, but the buoy on a sea of cash and pills is still a human connection implied by the imperative title. Personal is a masterful duet between Campbell and Millan that is a back and forth straight from Craigslist: when a “wanted: single F, under 33” is found and then stood up the listener is just as lost as she is to say what happened. The story examines what happens when connections miss in a context that is eminently repeatable, but with an intelligence that keeps it out of the realm of novelty by begging the question, “is it you or me?” In the end it doesn’t matter because one outcome means we are as bad as our insecurities tell us we are, or that another’s will keep them from appreciating us.

This strikes at the drama of what is common and the futility of trying to transcend it. There is too much telling us that what we feel is not good enough, not sophisticated, and pop songs like those found on In Our Bedroom After the War are the perfect riposte. As a form they are supposed to be disposable. yet as a subject they make up what is perhaps most important. The best example is the opus Window Bird with its sinister bass hook that mimics a departing lover’s steps, and a late-game instrumental fist fight that reminds us who we’re dealing with, all set in contrast to Millan’s vulnerable whisper.

There’s an attractive self-awareness about the whole project. It might be a little embarrassing to like or get caught singing in the car, but there isn’t really a choice because it’s so compelling. An ethos that is captured in the band’s merchandise, specifically a badge proclaiming “stars is for fags.” A number among which this author is proud to be counted.

Toast Monday, May 19 2008 

Love has a lot to do with toast. Toast is generally had in the morning and it is in the morning that a person usually is usually at their “worst”. There is the poofy, hideous bed hair that the individual hates but the public assures him or her is fine, there are the drab un-snowmanned plaid pyjama pants, the T-shirts unfit for public consumption, there is the eye goo and, finally, the bad breath. It is in such a state that we commune with lovers over toast.

We reveal what amounts to very intimate details; intimate because they are so mundane no one but those most devoted to seeking out every detail of your character and habit would ever seek such knowledge or hold it sacred once having found it. There are of course situations where someone might gain access to our toast-y world without the same implications of love. Artificial living situations, for example, you might eat breakfast with a roommate or in a dining hall and there will be you and your toast for all to see, but not deliberately and as an expression of unity with another soul. The same sort of submitting privacy to circumstances is evident in family situations and restauramt dining. The diner has not given their dining companion access to their private inner world of particularities in any of these cases; merely, the diner has accepted the surroundings in which they are forced to act out this inner world by society. Everyone else in the same boat; this anonymity is bad, it engenders no attention and no appreciation.

So when we make the decision to put emphasis on sharing something that everyone can see but no one appreciates is when the act is intimate, loving. “This is how crunchy I like my toast.” We say and preferred hues of gold with our partner. We look with wide and tender eyes at our love across that kitchen table. “This is what I like to put on my toast; this is how much.” There is more comparison, more sharing. Perhaps, if are truly lucky their lover turns them on to a new topping. Something which you could not have conceived of being so wonderful. And this new knowledge, this blending of two personalities for a grander view of life is mystifying in the volume of the joys bestowed upon its principles. In such union every time toast is consumed with the adopted style your mind will fill with thoughts of your lover and they will nourish you as bread does.

If you are fated for incalculable ecstasy you will spy an errant crumb on the edge of a full and rosy lower lip, then with a careful pinkie you will reach across the gap of space between and remove it perhaps consuming it for yourself. All your anxieties leave you in favor of the Dynosiacal mania that comes in touching such a lip. This is sensuality unrestrained. Your face fills with blood and your whole body rumbles internally with pleasure in a way that is unbecoming to discuss in polite society. No part of you moves or makes a sign.

It is in these manners that toast and love are related.

Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais Monday, May 19 2008 

On http://www.okkervilriver.com/ I found a download of live songs by Okkervil River one of which includes a cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s famous Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais. It’s translated into the English and yet somehow remains a rather capable version. The hook is there and one’s body begins to sway but unlike in Serge’s masterpiece we don’t stop. I’ve got some problems with this much of the struggle of the original is lost in gauche American playfulness.

The North American hipster comes to say he’s leaving for the sensitive man street-cred and the song he can sing about it to the next drunk girl who thinks she’s going to open a boutique of her homemade bags. The way Will Sheff translates and belts out the most conflicted lines makes them seem almost sarcastic, agressive. Also the addition of the “too many teardrops for one heart to be cryin'” trope from ? and the Mysterians 69 Tears feeds into the revised: “I’m leaving you and you’re broken up about it? Lame.” theme of the song acting as a pedestrian contrast to the Verlaine allusions from the original.

With Serge (given that we’ve kept up with our high school French) we weren’t sure who he was trying to convince when he said our tears can change nothing. But here, now, we’re not Serge Gainsbourg are we? We’re some douche who’s gonna go thumb through LP’s and stare at pretty girls on BART. And she’s not going to cry or suffocate, she’s just not going to return our calls.

It’s fucking bullshit but here we are on the bad wind, but rather than Verlaine’s “vent mauvaise” we are on the bad electric wind that connects our computers and our cellphones that we’ve left on silent while we plot out how not to care about one another. In our inbox there’s a text that says: “I txt 2 say im goin yr tears can chng nothn.”

I’m asking: Is that the best we can hope for? and I think Will Sheff is too.