Out Hud

Let Us Never Speak of it Again

(Kranky; 2005)

By Christopher Alexander | 21 October 2007

Somewhere it’s written that every record review (or at least the longish ones) must begin with a history lesson. It handily announces the pretensions of the critic immediately, authoritatively placing where the artist(s) came from, the work’s place in both their oeuvre and the overall pantheon, and its relation to this modern life in general. This is an especially cogent topic in Out Hud’s case, yet I can’t help but find both it and the prospect of writing about it hopelessly boring. “New York City! Dance-punk! S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D! Members of !!!! Don’t you realize how important this is?!” Already I can hear the sound of six thousand mouse buttons simultaneous clicking “back.”

Fortunately, the band seems to have anticipated my nascent antipathy towards formula, and have given me something else to begin talking about: what is easily the most garish cover art in recent memory. Admittedly, an album’s artwork should not really be taken into account in any serious critique (my promotional copy didn’t even contain it, an understandable save on expenses that I ordinarily still find a mild inconvenience). Still, look at this thing: it looks like someone taped Sesame Street letters over a pair of blue Zeebaz pants that were fashionable in 1990. It unfavorably compares to the MS Paint concoctions we're using for our design contest. Come to think of it, it unfavorably compares to my four-year-old cousin’s finger paintings.

You’re right to notice I’m putting off talking about this album; like an old man in need of medical attention, I cling to the unreasonable belief that if I put it off for long enough, it’ll miraculously get better. Initially, I belied the creeping suspicion that I really didn’t like this record at all by playing its lagging, meandering penultimate track to everyone in earshot. “Dude, listen to this!” I said to my roommate. “This song is called, ‘Dear Mr. Bush, There are over 100 words for shit and only 1 for music [sic]. Fuck You, Out Hud!’ This is hilarious.”

“This is long,” he corrected, “and I don’t get it.”

“What do you mean, you don’t get it?” I declaimed, and launched into the history lesson: “New York City! Dance-punk! S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D! Members of !!!! Don’t you realize how important this is?! Come on, man, just … come on!”

My roommate wouldn’t even look up from doing the dishes. “Tell me again why this is better than Fischerspooner?”

“This sounds like something I would hear at the gym,” my then-partner chimed in, “only not as interesting.”

So it’s not for lack of effort, you understand, but eventually I saw the irrefutable rightness of the plebeians’ claim: Let Us Never Speak of it Again is bor-ing. While, truth be told, “Dear Mr. Bush …” isn’t nearly as foul as the peanut gallery insists, it also doesn’t come close to “The L Train is a Swell Train and I Don’t Want to Hear You Indies Complain,” its obvious antecedent found on S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. So a comparison is in order: the most obvious being that there’s an undeniable viciousness to “L Train” entirely absent on “Mr. Bush.” The fault for this seems easy to surmise: Justin Vandervolgen began work for the album in spring 2003, and we’re only just now seeing the finished product in spring 2005. If I were an especially mean person, I would say that seems to be just enough time to scrub any personality from the music whatsoever. But I’m not: the record is, like my roommate’s pasta, simply overcooked.

It’s been drained of so much flavor, in fact, that the other salient difference in the record --- the singing --- is, for all intents and purposes, unnoticeable. Not unnoticeable in the songs themselves: certainly “One Life to Leave,” and “It’s For You” are arranged for the nominal vocal hooks, eschewing comparable unpredictability of a song like, say, “Dad, There’s a Little Phrase Called Too Much Information.” (This has been judged in some circles as an embracing the conventional pop format. I would counter that these “pop songs” are neither very melodic nor really popular at all.) What’s unnoticeable about the singing is how low and lifeless they are in the mix, totally washed out in the stale house of “It’s For You’s” chorus or the laboriously paced “Old Nude,” which develops vocal amnesia after two minutes.

To be fair to the vocalists, the music doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, either. “One Life to Leave’s” loping bassline is a noble effort in a lost cause, but I’m hard pressed to tell you the difference between that and “It’s For You.” (Though I can tell you it at least the latter doesn’t bear a passing resemblance to a Real McCoy single.) “Mr. Bush …” is at least four minutes too long, but at least it’s a damn sight better than “2005: A Face Odyssey,” which drags so much its sounds like it’s trying to cross the English Channel after a six pack of Guinness. Only “The Song So Good They Named it Thrice,” recalls the heights of S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., and even then it sounds more like a streamlined retread than any expansion of ideas.

I like this record’s title because it alludes to my favorite bit of dialogue in Waiting for Godot. “Let us not speak ill of our generation,” the pretentious Pozzo says, giving his slaves a rest, “but let us not speak well of it either. In fact, let us not speak of it at all.” Let Us Never Speak of it Again makes no such claims of generational importance, thank God, but it is, as one of their songs might have been titled, “The Joke so Obvious it Wrote Itself.” This record is doomed to the most impermanent of cultural memories.