A Lackthereof Retrospective, Or, I Was A Christian Emo Twentysomething 1998 - 2008 Comp

(Barsuk; 2009)

By Colin McGowan | 6 November 2009

It might ostensibly work to compare Danny Seim’s collection of solitary pop to the pressing of one’s ear to a cocoon, but a close listen or two to Menomena proves that he hasn’t truly cracked that shell of insularity. This compilation’s namesake suggests self-awareness, sure, and Seim probably gets an embarrassed chuckle out of titles like “Pimping is Never an Easy Task!,” but relationship woes and loneliness are still themes that permeate the gangly drummer’s solo work. I Was a Christian is most interesting perhaps as a document, illuminating Seim’s starting point and revealing how he invites others into his workspace. So, maybe: matryoshka dolls. Menomena’s work certainly feels bigger, if not dissimilar in spirit from the saccharine tunes in this retrospective. While “bedroom pop” has become a cliché which many describers of music apply to music involving any dude with a laptop, on this document, one can occasionally hear the bedsprings creaking in the background.

Moving away from the context of Menomena’s oeuvre, we’re left with a smattering of affecting pop songs couched in Seim’s penchant for interesting uses of sound. “Tongues O Fire” wants to be more idiosyncratic than it is; all blips and muted baby sounds, the song is, at its core, a rumination of religious practices. In fact, much of Seim’s earlier work is rather Christianity-obsessed, providing some insight into precisely what it is to be a Christian emo twentysomething. Whether that piques your interest is purely subjective, but as someone who grew up, more or less, outside of the church, Seim (incidentally or otherwise) supplies me some intimate details of growing up with Bible study and Sunday mornings spent aching in pews.

“Abstinent Dry Sex” is the heartbreakingly great centerpiece of this collection. Regardless of my upbringing, I know as well as anyone the frustration with dry-humping. I also know that high school romances are almost always as trivial as a hangnail, so for Seim to transform the subject into something genuinely poignant is an accomplishment. The whole song plays out like whisperings into a girlfriend’s ear without being cloying or foolish. There’s an honesty about Seim’s intoning things like, “Our zippers are secure / We’re sticking to the plan” while admitting his own afflictions over desires to escalate matters.

I Was a Christian is rife with this sort of candor that creates a rather vivid idea, at least in my mind, as to how the general confusion of one’s teens and early twenties amalgamates with the strife of being a spiritual person. I’m sure this isn’t entirely intentional—and I don’t intend to portray Seim’s anthology as something of a storefront for us to gawk at like some sane version of Jesus Camp—but it is perhaps more interesting for it and achieves the idiosyncrasy Seim strives so hard to create with vocal effects and jokey song titles.

I should mention the music is, independent of content, varied and fresh. Seim is excellent at hiding the simplicity of his songs with percussion change-ups and looped instrumentation. There seems to never be more than a handful of instruments present in his compositions, but they constantly seem to be shifting, or at the very least in a constant kinetic state. This approach of injecting vivaciousness into every arrangement, combined with an ineffable charm and penchant for unblinking sincerity, serve to create Lackthereof’s appeal. This retrospective would seem to be a thorough explanation of what’s been eating Danny Seim for the past ten years, and precisely what makes his music so damn endearing.