Light and Heavy


Light and Heavy


            Another song detailing the deep inner pain of the singer comes up on shuffle. Another quivering voice metes messages out for my ear by belt and whisper. Music, and really any art form, carries some crazy burdens. Folks cannot go wandering around screaming half mad about anger issues, social tissues eschewed apart, and every heavy hang up. Yet every inch of perplexing shit piles up bit by bit until the break in the middle of the back hits. Cathartic expression’s a good way to keep depression away.

In the mix of shuffling it all up, all of the on the cusp emotionally rough trod singers come bubbling up with their baggage in hand. Within all that blight something like Flight of The Conchords and Weird Al will stick out sore as the one thumb that a hammer flight of the concordsnever hit. Humor hits like a brick through a small town store window in a landscape formed up far and wide in emotional anthems. Still, when my patterns withstand I return to that endless hectic mesh of messy emotional land. For maybe a month I flirt with The Lonely Island, but in no time the light of the raw fleshed out fury of Modest Mouse, Florence + The Machine, and Cold War Kids pull my moth self right back into old ways. I cannot say a word on the way you feel. My tiny bubble in the big blue sea tells me most folk don’t stick to songs formed of pure parody. The pieces may fall into a difference puzzle for others.

Satire taken straight does not always stick but playing endless on problems weighing tons turns un-fun. When a band lets everything go and manages at a mix of heavy and light, that’s what gets me. Interest pins me flat when the tune carries a bit of contrast. That humor has a draw that pulls back and a press that does not lay me out against sea beds.

Man Man made themselves a favorite of mine with an endless interplay of dark and goofy. Tracks told stories outright absurd and wretched but carried with a playful wit. Haute Tropique chimes open a spread of plodding xylophone strokes. The slow trumpets blare in with the bouncy piano beat. The singer, Honus Honus, twists the half demented half happy tune into the tale of a creative cannibal. The song oozes the angst of the mad man, as Honus Honus clambers out a shaky chorus. “I comb my hair! I brush my teeth! I eat my peas like a good boy’s supposed to”. Each odd act comes laced with layers of dark humor. “The fireman’s an ashtray The DJ spins as fan blades”. Dark humor serves a nice departure from some of the over-dramas.



It is not always about twisting humor and horror together. Mother Mother plots playful lyrics out on waves of feeling backed by cute indie dance beats. A song called The Stand reads like a day at the therapist’s office mixed with the chatty gossip of a grade school playground. Sickeningly sweet high pitched female vocalists ring questions in on echoes. The protagonist smooths out each answer with odd blends of sophistry, faux philosophy, and anxiety. “Tell me your fears” the voices casually ask. The guitar strings out a simple progression and the drum pats out a light rhythm in the background. “Okay, it’s everyone here” the man responds, “Yeah, and all of their peers, and all of their pets, and their chandeliers, and their cigarettes. I haven’t smoked in years!” All the while the drums build with each question until a pleasant mesh of synthesized songs explodes out into a chorus endemic with anxiety.

“I can hardly stand the sight of it all,

I can hardly stand the sound of it all,

I can hardly stand the taste of it all,

I can hardly stand the smell of it all”

Yet it sounds fun, playful, light and brimming with inane humor the whole way through. The songs sound like such a treat. I am constantly pounding deep media into the banks of my brain. When I take a trip to see something silly it floats so light I hardly want to take hold of it. Something feels reassuring about ending up in the middle where humor and heartache intersect.

~Austin R Ryan


The Opening Act


The eclectic and violently energetic Man Man chose to tour with a much more toned down and rhythmic Murder By Death. The Black Cat packed to capacity and not a person had more than an inch of air between them and the next fan. While gradually accepting every time I inhaled I would suck in a sour mixture of foreign breath and various cindery smogs. The bands did no share too many features. Man Man distorts the sound of a 1950’s dance hall into a bizarre cavalcade of toxic talk and jilted gibberish. Murder By Death cleanly constructs cinematic climaxes, weaving a western folk tune in with a web of modern stories. A soft rock and a punk rock band were not playing together, but they were different enough that everyone there either seemed eager for Man Man or Murder By Death, not both. It got me wondering what made them tour together, and how much it means to tour with another band.

A live show can tell you a lot about a band’s health, lifespan, direction, influences, and so on, but one show provides just one isolated incident. To get an honest idea of what “live” means in the context of one band requires devotion, time, and money. But it takes a few clicks and a search to find out who tours with whom, and in many ways that simple fact provides more answers than how the band behaves on stage.

It turns out you cannot underestimate how much it means when bands build a bond. Man Man toured with Modest Mouse (a similarly strange band inflated with violent volta centered vocals) back in 2007 and now members of each band formed Mister Heavenly. Two bands can tour then rapidly forget about it. Kiss and Rush toured back when Neil Peart just joined Rush, and neither band become integral to the other, but when two bands strike a chord on tour it can jumpstart careers and change genres. My Morning Jacket brought Dr. Dog into a new world of popularity and success by selecting the burgeoning band as their opener. The Mars Volta got their start setting the stage for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, despite The Mars Volta sounding quite unlike any other band out there, let alone The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Mars Volta’s guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez occasionally played guitar for The Chili Peppers, perhaps leading the two bands to tour together.

Every instance above gives a glance into a part of a musical artist perhaps completely invisible otherwise. Omar’s involvement with The Red Hot Chili peppers and The Mars Volta demonstrates his prolific and splayed nature as a musician. Perhaps Man Man’s tour with Murder by Death demonstrates the conviction to tone both bands share. When a band like My Morning Jacket brings a band out of obscurity, perhaps it foreshadows forays into publishing and labels. And when Coheed and Cambria chose to tour with Between the Buried and Me and Russian Circles it might have gone a long way towards defining progressive metal as a genre, by amalgamating acts too weird for metal and too harsh for progressive rock. The next time your favorite band plays, be sure to get there early. The opener might mean more than the show.


~Austin R Ryan