Sunday, July 12, 2015

"You Should Stare Into My Eyes More"

Look me in the f*#king eye when I’m talking to you.

I’ve always thought of Mates of State songs as hitting someone over the head with an Escher drawing. You might not be exactly sure what the frick they’re proclaiming, but you know they really really mean it. And they make the confusion less aggravating by throwing in these one-line fortune cookie zingers that glue themselves to your cerebral cortex. Lines like:

Love loud, don’t lose loud.

Everything’s gonna get lighter, even if it never gets better.

I can’t wait to say all the things you can’t see, all the things that make you better.

Opening act Good Graeff came out for a rousing encore
with Mates of State at The High Watt in Nashville.
If there’s an obvious theme running through their new EP, You’re Going to Make It, it’s that when we lose eye contact, we lose everything. You don’t need a USB cable or Bluetooth to connect to important stuff. You need to be there, physically and preferably with another human being, in the f*#king moment. Look me in the eyes when we’re talking.

A number of critics seem to view MoS as a peppy, optimistic band that celebrates love and happiness, which is like saying Shel Silverstein wrote cute children’s books. MoS might be a “glass half full” kind of band, but they also know that the glass is only half full, and that the other half is full of regret, guilt, lost opportunities, roads not taken, and irreversible mistakes. In most cases, the MoS glass is focused on two, and only two, people. A relationship. Usually romantic. Maybe there are kids. Maybe there are additional romantic trysts or threats, but it’s all really about what is going on between two people.

In other words, there’s nothing unique about their subject matter. MoS is about the delivery, about hitting you over the head with an Escher drawing.

The oddball song in this EP is “Beautiful Kids,” the kind of love-it-or-hate-it song that sums up the MoS vibe, but the subject matter in this case is not introspection or the dissection of two people. Rather, it’s a cautionary insult.
Beautiful kids, did we kill the magazines?
Beautiful kids, you’re always staring into cracked screens.
Could this be the last time you will get to know me?
It’s the modern age
Why’d we kill the books now?
You should stare into my eyes more 
Beautiful kids, I can never know your struggle
Beautiful kids, predict your thoughts and sell your data
This will be the last time you will ever know me
in the modern age
So why’d we kill the books now?
You should stare into my eyes more 
We should turn the page back
Forget about the score
It’s never enough, we always want more
We go click click click click click….
click click click click
It’s eternal
Can we turn it off?
This song is either the beginning of the end for Mates of State or the beginning of a next stage, because this is the first song they’ve written where I think of them as parents more than as musicians. They’ve stood in front of increasingly younger audiences for almost 20 years, and they’re increasingly standing in front of an audience more concerned with capturing the moment on a phone, or replying to a text between songs, than they are with connecting to the band they paid to enjoy. And, in this song, I can’t help but think they started from the question of, “Is this what our kids are going to grow up to become?”

It’s a strange thing to be a liberally-minded person lamenting over cracked screens and eye contact. Our sort believes in progress and moving boldly into the future… but we also wonder what kind of screwed-up future would be more interested in, as Louis C.K. has observed, viewing the concert by watching the tiny screen in front of us rather than seeing the much higher-resolution reality beyond that screen.

I think most liberally-minded middle-aged adults hope it’s a fad and fear it’s a trend. I think we hope we’re not shouting Version 2.0 of GET OFF MY LAWN!

But if grumpy old people can hold onto the glass that’s half-full, as Mates of State so clearly can, then there’s always half a glass of possibility. And you get the full-on sugary celebration of the beauty of a half-full glass on “Gonna Get It”:
Could it be that
I can see an empire
It might be nothing
Maybe it’s ours to take
We’re gonna get it
Now we’re gonna get it
Now we’re gonna get it now 
They gave you the right
To believe that you might
Those last two lines. That's the sound of the wise parent.

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