Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rocktober: Hope Amidst Ashes

The music is what matters. Period.

The artist’s real name, or the band’s behind-the-scenes drama, or the reason the lead singer formed a band, or whether the drummer is sleeping with college-age girls… or boys, or whether the singer is messing around with the backup singer, gets divorced, marries the backup singer, then begins a string of affairs with other women. (Which, by the way, would make a great sitcom titled "Who's The Boss?")

If we were to judge music on the personalities and backstories of the people making said music, most of what we love, artistically, would wither and die swiftly, replaced by a vastly different kind of music. And that music would be known as "Lawrence Welk Music."

So it’s dangerous to let a band's story influence liking them. Which is why I’m sort of glad I fell in love with Augustines before I found out why they’re Augustines.

Their 2014 self-titled release caught my notice when their video for “Nothing to Lose But Your Head” landed somehow in my Twitter feed. Totally random. A sampling of their album on eMusic led to a quick purchase. It was love at first listen. It is without question a top candidate for Album of the Year.

My immediate description of the Augustines’ music: Frightened Rabbit, ‘Merca-style. Not surprisingly (or coincidentally?), they opened up for Frightened Rabbit for a while. I wish to holy henna I’d been able to witness such a combination, but alas. Maybe my heart couldn’t have handled it.

Only recently, in researching the Augstines’ first album, the 2011 Rise Ye Sunken Ships, did I discover that its genesis was inspired by the suicides of the lead singer’s brother and mother. The kids never knew their father.

Some could argue that the Augustines' brand of rock is sentimental. Melodramatic.

Like the FRabbits, Augustines play a brand of rock music where the heart is duct taped onto the sleeve, where the world is a harsh and heartbreaking place full of disappointment and disillusionment, and where the only way we continue driving down our road is because we hold out hope beyond reason, that those fleeting orgiastic moments of joy we seek are enough to keep us warm in the cold dark night.

Perhaps it’s nothing spectacular or unusual, for someone to suffer the loss of a loved one, to suffer excruciating pain, to suffer from the loss of self or purpose, and to find a way out of it. People do it every day, right? We all fall down, ashes to ashes, and many of us find a reason to get back up and keep going.

I will never grow weary of such stories. Nothing, and I mean nothing in the universe, so singularly calls me to celebrate and dance in the midst of our imperfect humanity like these stories. Of redemption. Of recovery. Of following the light at the end of that long tunnel.

It is the story of childbirth.
It is the aftermath of natural disasters and most human ones.
It is, believe it or not, the reason for “The Walking Dead.” For most great TV dramas, I'd argue.

As their probably inspiration St. Augustine wrote, "God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist."

That search, that message, infuses everything the Augustines have recorded. Sometimes, in a song like “Kid You’re On Your Own,” when he growls lines like, “Here everyone you love slips through your hands like sand,” and “Everyone feels so far away,” his growling vocals and the aggressive punch of the music buffer the desperate words, as if they simply can't accept the words being uttered.

Sometimes, like in “Walkabout,” the song I consider to be the cornerstone of their album and maybe of the band, it’s blatant. The hope -- the sentimentality, if you’re jaded -- is screaming at you through your earphones.

(Side Note: A fun challenge with Augustines is trying to figure out WTF he’s singing. Their songs are, admittedly, begging to be misunderstood. The only more unintelligible singer I can think of at present is Sia.)

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