Say Hi To Your Mom

Impeccable Blahs

(Euphobia/Rebel Group; 2006)

By Craig Eley | 6 October 2007

I first heard Say Hi To Your Mom in the spring of 2004; an ex-girlfriend of mine had put “Let’s Talk About Spaceships” on a mix for me. Which is only worth repeating since relationships are essentially negotiations of penetration. I know that word seems kind of dirty, or kind of clinical, but it is the most accurate descriptor of a process that involves invasion, aggression and submission, attack and retreat, give and take, in and out. And while I could argue that this penetration occurs on several levels (emotional and mental, for example) it is ultimately a physical act. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, marriage, the alleged ultimate relationship, is a process by which “two become one.” It is a penetration so thorough that the singularity of your being is destroyed. The process is intimate, destructive, disquieting, and, above all, only interesting for the people involved.

It is precisely these things that make Say Hi To You Mom’s 4th album in as many years as dynamic and self-serving as it is. Eric Elbogen’s album is certainly about penetration, most obviously in his endlessly (needlessly?) recurring vampire theme, but the album itself, the very music on the disc, is also a type of penetration. His bedroom recording technique and pointed lyrical style make the listening experience precise and intimate. But, like, the Mountain Goats do this, too, and unfortunately Elbogen lacks the ideas to make this attempt at penetration meaningful for anyone but himself and those people who think that his songs are about them. Which is not to suggest that “good” music needs to attain some universal human qualities, or whatever, but the pieces do need to fit together a little better than this. Xiu Xiu does intimacy that is terrifying, Adem does intimacy that is graceful and alluring, and Say Hi to Your Mom does intimacy that sounds something like…electronic Travis?

It’s all the more frustrating that there is, on occasion, some damn fine indie pop on this record, starting with opener “These Fangs.” When Elbogen sings, “Most days these fangs / Are inside someone,” he’s recycling the sex/vampire penetration trope that exists on the surface—erm, breaks the surface of the album. What gives the lines heft here (and what’s lacking elsewhere) are bubbly synthesizers of both the 8-bit and more modern variety, and simple drums and guitar forming the lovely undergirding.

But the second track is where we get into that hazy Travis territory, as the excruciatingly titled “Snowcones and Puppies” reaches a soaring chorus that consists of one word: “Sing.”  And it really sounds like that one Travis song—you know the one, “Sing,” I think it’s called.  But the next track makes sure that things don’t thematically slip away entirely, as “Blah Blah Blah” reminds us that Elbogen “will drink your blood.” The imagery here, as throughout the album, is meant to be evocative, yet rather than something alarming (like, say, the cover art to Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet), I always end up thinking about some kid whose red popsicle just melted all over his hands and fell off the stick before he could eat it. At first it’s kind of sad, you know, but then it’s just really, really, funny.

The album’s middle and end tell the same story in different forms. In a way it’s an admirable exercise—how many vampire songs can one guy write, you know?—and the music continues to sound sweet, and the bloodsucking sounds more and more like “blah blah blah,” reminders of both the 20 minutes we just heard and, eventually, Elbogen’s entire catalogue, which, if he’s not careful, will soon have about as much life as his favorite subject matter. More of a butcher than a chef, Elbogen’s attention to songcraft is an ultimately alienating practice; Impeccable Blahs leaves us peeping into the flesh wounds of daily life, which is a place that most listeners likely don’t want to go or have been too many times before. Rather than satisfying, or violating, or even inviting us, the album works with a cold precision that flies in the face of everything that debonair vampires, lovers, and penetrators the world over stand for.