Cymbals Eat Guitars

LOSE

(Barsuk; 2014)

By Robin Smith | 8 October 2014

“Sorry. You don’t know these people, so what could this mean to you?”

LOSE is such a fucking in-joke. It doesn’t even know it. It opens with one of indie rock’s most soaring moments in years, as if flicking through a page of Funeral ten years out, with keys that sparkle and guitars that screech—and then it turns its head, from a hundred thousand people to one: “You’re taking two Klonopin.” And then: “We’re riding through Jackson pines.” And again: “We’re right back in Manalapan.” Verses are road maps; choruses are destinations; bridges are the ones frontman Joseph D’Agostino has driven over, a hundred times, with that best friend he never sees anymore. In the midst of this big, universal sound, where the fuck are we?

Epic indie rock has been dead to me for a while now, and probably with good cause. As the term has started to gross everything, the music has become less insular, and so the world has been harder to make universal. But when I remember the big moments, it’s in the physical gestures they create: in Arcade Fire urging you to hold your mistake up (the word spat in your face), or Wolf Parade struggling and struggling to switch the tempo at the end of “I’ll Believe In Anything,” as if they’re pushing a terrible machine into place. The whole of LOSE retains that heaving and grimacing: it imposes its weight on you, squealing out solos and shivering at the sight of old enemies. Opener “Jackson” is the hardest slog of the year, the guitars clashing against one another, clamouring to a bridge that eventually reveals one of D’Agostino’s hardest fought lyrics: “I don’t wanna die!” It’s huge, but it’s a personal revelation.

LOSE is my favourite indie rock record in years, because it’s big and strong and makes me believe through volume and velocity. But I get so hideously lost in it, because it’s also as referential as a tome, an index of D’Agostino’s past life. I know I should to trace my way back in the place names and road maps and nouns he sings about—take myself back to Laramie via Silk Road and Stapleton. But when this record gets too much—when it feels like I’m swimming in D’Agostino’s best and worst moments, trying to retrace my steps ‘til I find someone that isn’t him—he shoots me back out with the elements. On “Laramie,” it’s in his scream. Half way through the song, he wails a lyric that may as well be wordless, indie rock’s version of being a daredevil screaming “GERONIMO” at a steep rock face—it’s just something to say at a great height. With this particular melodic crash, where the guitars wind back and forth at maximum velocity, D’Agostino draws a line between being a fan of LOSE and a citizen of it. LOSE is another experience.

Still, LOSE is captivating because it uses all the right tricks. It treats problems with physicality, thinking the only way to get over them is to destroy them. Opener “Jackson,” with its gulping guitar riffs, eventually stops on a heartbreaking line: “we wait on the weightlessness: a delirious kiss.” The lyric speaks to both the past and the vast emptiness of now—because doesn’t nostalgia just creep on you when you’re not making any more of it—but like the Wrens on The Meadowlands (2003), fueling emotional fire with guitar noise, D’Agostino shakes it off. He squeezes the word “kiss” of all its impact, kicking it into the air with a vocal spit and a sudden drum snap. I feel it, but I feel the rock action first: I think of D’Agostino’s foot triumphantly rising from the ground.

Oh, about the Wrens (we might as well talk about them while their new album buffers): D’Agostino loves that shit. He references their songs and shows extensively on LOSE, which is fitting, because for all its expansive jams and frontwards energy, this record sounds kinda like a solo version of The Meadowlands. The Wrens were nearly always singing about heartbreak, be it grinningly self-inflicted or crushingly out of the blue, but they harmonized on it. “I Guess We’re Done,” the song Cymbals Eat Guitars reference on “Laramie,” features Kev Wren and Charles Wren folding their voices over one another, creasing one’s sadness into another’s sweet lullabying. There’s another one called “Hopeless,” about a very singular type of pain—being used, abused, and getting over it—that features backing vocals that sound more tortured than the lead. How often were the Wrens in sync about this absolutely personal shit? Always. That’s a defence mechanism LOSE doesn’t have. D’Agostino can pine and cringe and hate, but goes without anyone singing the same lyric as him in a different, knowing pitch. They just hum.

LOSE doesn’t do all the same things as The Meadowlands with its feelings—the nostalgia, the hurt, the lost friends and the hurt lovers are all there, but Joseph D’Agostino does not have a Kev—but it still conjures the same kind of images in my head: the dreadful nostalgia, and the way indie rock can set it up in flames like putting pictures of your ex in a bin and lighting a match. It’s the same kind of physical record, one that bats away its vulnerabilities with caustic jams you can react to. Bring hand gestures and air kicks.

I’ve called LOSE referential, which is a problem, but only kinda—the solution lives within the record. D’Agostino is a knotty, warped writer, full of insular poetry I wouldn’t fucking understand if it were for a blog post rather than a record. His lyrics are best appreciated the way those on The Meadowlands are—they’re hard to take in on a first, second or third sitting, but the clinchers are those short gasps, those things he says against his will. The best parts of LOSE happen among the endless old stories and zapped metaphors, when D’Agostino clams up on an essential lyric. “Child Bride,” the record’s brief acoustic tune, takes on a motif at the end of each chorus, developing the riff and layering new sounds over it, but on the final take, everything comes out at once. D’Agostino faces an old friend for the first time in years and can’t finish the job: “Man I can’t / My heart would / My heart would explode,” he sings, barely getting that final word out before a layered vocal harmony jumps out below him. LOSE says so much, but there’s more in a sigh.

The strings, the keys, the huge guitars—they’re good company. And the city lights up, or fuck it, there’s always somewhere else to drive to. But LOSE wants a person to sing to it. Another voice comes occasionally, like on “2 Hip Soul,” where D’Agostino gets a friend like Kev gets Charles. For the most part, though, there’s that feeling of oneness, of doing things you should do together on your own: “I’m out in the cold ‘cuz I don’t know anyone.” The record’s calloused closer has two voices, but the real sympathy D’Agostino gets from it is in the guitar riffs, which start to trace his vocal melody with perfect accuracy. He built this whole world for himself, and if I can borrow from Epic Indie Rock’s book and call me We, one last time: we’ll never make sense of it. But LOSE is so compelling because he tears that past life down. He does it with indie rock.