“Days of Lamech” – The Fashion Focus

We begin this song with the scratchy feedback noise that closed out “Too Much Fun”. That scratchy feedback will carry us through the closing of this album. It’s a little bit annoying, like a repeating narrative in your head that you want to go away but yet it persists. The drums beat out a sparse, slow tempo and then we land in all this reverb. You really need a slow song like this to work through the afterglow of “Too Much Fun”. You need to lie in the embrace of all this reverb for awhile just to come back to earth.

But it’s not all just warm, fuzzy afterglow. There’s some creepy stuff in here too. Let’s start with the organ. It’s a cross between a churchy vibe and a Vincent Price horror soundtrack. We have a few church bell chimes in the background (but for whom does the bell toll?). The lead guitar and the vocals bend for notes, trying so hard to find that place where all is in tune, in time and in harmony (and don’t you find those same bends in your own life?). The vocals in the verses are not overdubbed. In the chorus, we get a separate backing vocal that is either run through a delay pedal or is intentionally sung a half beat behind. It throws you off because it is too quiet to be heard and appreciated as its own entity but loud enough for you to recognize that something is not quite right. It is like a person speaking with two tongues.

At a first listen, it seems too low key to be an appropriate album closer. But listen to what is underneath and you can hear how the themes of all the previous songs roll into this one.

These could be days
Like Lamech, Methuselah

Doesn’t it sound like the singer wants it to be like the days of Lamech and Methuselah? Doesn’t he want to get some Old Testament fear and retribution going on now? When I think of the Old Testament, I think of a people with an excessive concern for ritual purity – at least when it was convenient for them to be concerned with it. The Old Testament laws and rituals were primarily concerned with maintaining or regaining purity. Some preachers around here get really worked up about preaching the Old Testament. They speak of it as the fairy tale land we should all want to return to; where God will smite you for the slightest offence and we can ostracize and criticize anyone we don’t think is following the law in our eyes. Really? This is a time we want to go back to? (Side note, these same preachers usually end up getting revealed for carrying on affairs, misusing church funds or having some addiction or another.)

But let’s take a closer look at Lamech and his father, Methuselah. Lamech was the first Biblical polygamist. He killed a man and was exiled from the community. His wives refused to have sex with him as punishment. Methuselah lived until his grandson, Noah, built the Ark, but died before the flood so that he would not be killed with the unrighteous. If these times were so great and the people followed the law and kept their purity, why did they have to be wiped out with a flood?

Boys after girls
And the girls after the boys

Here we go. Another song chiding boys and girls for having sex. About half the songs on this album focus on this very thing. JM must have been very concerned about this at this time and he wants you to know you will face consequences if you walk this path.

So excited
But you wrote it down

I admit it; I’m not really sure what this part means. But it has to mean something because JM wrote it down.

Let’s take a moment to talk about themes and interpretations. It seems like the best place to do it. I’ve talked about how the theme of this album is judgement and projection. Do I think that JM intended to write an entire album with the alternating themes of condemning others for their sins while abdicating responsibility for your own space in the world? No, I don’t. That sounds way too artsy and uncool for someone like JM to attempt. But we are not always in total control when we write. In fact, if you are writing well, your writing will become a conduit for ideas and concepts that are greater than what you intend or maybe even realize at the time. I think JM wrote about what bothered him at the time: the malaise of his own life and boys and girls dancing with evil and having sex. What makes my interpretation of the album different is that I see these two realities as connected to each other.

One in the farms
Or in the hills or a wedding day

More sex. A roll in the hay. Jack and Jill roll down the hill. The inevitable event of your wedding day. Sex. Sex. Sex.

So excited
But you wrote it down

There’s something unresolved about all of this. If it was resolved, JM wouldn’t need to write about it. We write about what we can’t reconcile.

Let me tell you a story from this past week. I came upon some evidence that someone I know is engaging in some insurance fraud. This person treated me in a bad way, in a way that was never resolved or reconciled. The people she is defrauding don’t take kindly to such things and if it was found out, she would face some consequences – perhaps not Old Testament consequences but close enough. I pondered this over the course of an evening and decided I would report it the next day during business hours.

I thought it would be justice. It would be the right thing to do. It would be fair. After writing about judgement and projection so often on this album, I saw my own judgement rattling around in my head. I stopped myself and thought about what was going on in my own life that I would not want to be revealed. Oh…….. Ok. So I did not follow through with reporting the insurance fraud. I still think it is wrong, but that doesn’t mean I need to insert myself in the process. As much as I might say it is about doing what is right and just, it is really about retribution. And who seeks retribution for others the most? The one who knows he deserves some punishment of his own.

I go back to the church bell chime in this song and the question of for whom the bell tolls. It is really fitting that is here to close out this album. The Donne poem that quote comes from begins by saying that no man is an island. The singer is not separate from those he judges and condemns. The one who judges is closer to the judged than he would care to admit. It will all be revealed eventually anyway; it always is. The judge may have his days of feigned superiority, but those days will end. “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. “

“Too Much Fun” – The Fashion Focus

I’ve fallen in love with this song again. It’s not that I ever really forgot this song, but The Fashion Focus has been off my radar for a good 15 years. When I picked this album up again to write about it, “Too Much Fun” grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Half the days that I’ve skipped writing about this album have been because I’ve been too busy listening to this song. I also was not ready to let this song go so I have delayed.

I’m doing something different with this review. I feel like the music often gets short shrift in my reviews as I tend to focus more on the lyrics. So this review is going to be all music. The lyrics are just another song about judging boys and girls for doing what they are prone to do together and how they will face the consequences of their lack of imagination. We’ve heard that story before. This review will get the same treatment that anything I am in love with gets – I will over analyze it, take it apart and study how the individual pieces make up the whole. I want to know this song as a lover knows the hills and valleys of the body of her beloved.

It is hard for me to describe how this song impacts me physically. It is almost sexual. This song touches me where I need to be touched and pounds when it needs to. It knows exactly where to go to fit my body and my brain. It knows when to tease, when to hold and when to move. My breath hitches at unexpected moments. Before I know it, my eyes water and tears drip down my face. As the song ends, my whole body feels satisfied and spent but not exhausted. But just like that line in Brittney Howard’s song “Stay High” (one of my new musical obsessions): “I already feel like doing it again, honey”. I hit rewind and go at it again. The song still finds ways to surprise me, no matter how many times we get together.

This crying business surprises me. I’m not a person who cries at just anything. What is it about this song that hits me this way? My mentor did her dissertation on the experience of crying and she says that we cry when the body and the spirit are overwhelmed. It could be sadness. It could be laughter. Whatever it is, it is more than our bodies are attuned to handle. In other words, we encounter something that is just too much. And this song is definitely too much. When I run the song through this app I have that shows how much sound there is in a song, this song maxes out the spectrum for the entire display. It is too much even for the app to handle. Consequently, this review of the song may be too much as well; if it’s not, then I’m not doing the song justice.

Let’s start off talking about the time signature. Early on, I was convinced that this was in a weird time signature because things hit when you don’t expect them to. But I counted it out. It’s a normal 4/4 with a couple of half measures thrown in a few places. Those unexpected hits are because of the variation, measure by measure, of where the strong beats and accents are. Just to give you a sample of this, here are 12 measures with the strong beats/accents marked in bold.

0:30 – 0:43
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

0:43 – 0:56
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

0:56 – 1:10
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Do you see how it is never the same? It goes on this way for the entire song. If I am to answer why the song continues to surprise me, I have to start here. It is in the very foundation of the rhythm of the song.

Now, let’s move on to the rest of the music. I will break it down into sections of 4 measures, each section lasting about 15 seconds. In each section, I’ll tell you everything I hear (this may end up being my dissertation by the time I’m done with it).

We’ll break it down into these parts:
1. Rhythm 1 – The tone is distorted and heavy, sounds like a chainsaw. At least one of these guitars is using a chorus pedal. It usually follows the bass. This is actually probably about four guitars playing the same part.
2. Lead 1 – This is the easiest part to identify in the mix. The best way I can describe the tone on this guitar is that it sounds like wind whistling through a metal pipe attached to an airplane.
3. Rhythm/Lead 2 – This has a cleaner tone and usually stays in the mid-range.
4. Bass – Umm, it’s the bass.
5. Percussion – It’s the drums with a few surprises thrown in.
6. Vocals – Yep, there’s a few surprises here too.
7. Keys – Yes, there are keyboards on this song.

And here we go.
0:00 – 0:16
1. We start with a muted rhythm guitar scratching out the tempo. Notice how JM hits the half note of the 4th beat? Pay attention to that. That half note on the 4th beat is important. The rhythm sets up the descending chord progression that is is the heart of the song, ending in that pounding riff in the fourth measure.
2. Where the rhythm descends, the lead ascends. Step by step, it gets higher. It rides on the same note through the fourth measure riff until it slides up the string on the fourth beat of the last measure.
3. Rhythm 2 plays jangly full chords in the mid-range.
4. The bass jumps in on the fourth beat of the riff and hits the half note too.
5. The drums don’t pick up until the fourth measure riff, hitting strong on the half notes.

0:16 – 0:30
1. The riff leads right into a crushing Emin chord. Can’t you just feel that low E string buzz right in your soul? The rhythm follows the standard descending chord progression.
2. The lead goes up an octave from the rhythm in the first measure. It descends to mid-range before doing some string slide pyrotechnics in the fourth measure riff.
3. Rhythm 2 is still playing jangly chords.
4. The bass follows the descending line of of the main rhythm guitar.
5. The drums settle in to the song in this song. Accents on the half note of the fourth beat of each measure keep you on your toes; they hit before you expect them to hit. The cymbals hit on every note and half note until the riff where they hit on the first beat and the half note of the second beat.

0:30 – 0:43
1. Rhythm 1 follows the standard chord progression.
2. Lead 1 starts on a high note but with even more expression as it descends and rides some feedback over the riff.
3. Rhythm 2 still playing jangly chords.
4. The bass follows Rhythm 1 until it goes up an octave in the fourth beat of the riff.
5. The accents on the half note of the fourth beat of every measure are stronger now.

0:43 – 0:56
1. Still cranking out the chord progression.
2. Lead 1 gets even more expressive. It holds on to the same note for almost two measures, jumps up, then goes down for a harmonic notes. More string slides on the riff with a “wah wah wah” that sounds like a motorcycle revving up.
3. Still hitting jangly chords.
4. The bass follows the descending chord progression until throwing in a surprise by going up an octave on the fourth beat of the riff. It is a good counter to the descending line in Rhythm 1.
5. Drums are still varying the strong beats and accents. Sometimes they hit later than you expect, sometimes earlier.

0:56 – 1:10
Big girls like telling boys that always shove

1.The volume comes down to make room for the verse. Rhythm 1 plays a slow succession of notes instead of full chords. It joins in with the bass for the riff in the fourth measure but doesn’t hit as hard as it did during the intro.
2. Lead 1 rides some feedback in the first measure, then fades out.
3. Rhythm 2 switches up to jangly arpeggios.
4. The bass carries the chord progression during the verses. It jumps up an octave on the fourth beat of the riff.
5. The drums go simple during the verse. Strong beats remain consistent. It hits on the half note of the third beat now, instead of the fourth. During the riff, the drums wait to hit hard until the third and fourth beats.
6. The vocals are doubled. JM didn’t have as much control over his pitch at this point. The variations in pitch make everything sound a bit eerie.

1:10 – 1:23
Fact is, is nothing more than too much fun / and they….

1.Rhythm 1 plays a slow arpeggio before ending in a chord in the first measure and repeats this in the second measure. It switches to a chord in the third measure. It hits the notes on the low E string hard during the riff, building up the tension.
2. Lead 1 retreats during the verse.
3. Rhythm 2 plays arpeggios and has a bit of feedback on the third and fourth beats of each measure. The feedback creates a slow pulse in the background, helping to build up the intensity.
4. The bass carries the chord progression. It starts to hit harder during the riff. It jumps up an octave on the fourth beat of the riff.
5. The drums keep up the simple pattern of the verses but hits every beat and half note of the riff, getting louder with each beat.
6. The pitch of the double-tracked vocals really wavers on “fact is”. They don’t hit syllables at exactly the same time on “too much fun”. One of the vocal tracks is just a millisecond off. Eerie yet again. The vocals pick up the “And they” from the next lyric on the fourth and half note beats of the riff.
7. A keyboard chord swells in the background during the fourth measure.

1:23 – 1:31
Fade / They fade out

An interesting thing happens with the rhythm during the break. It starts with one four count measure, adds a two count half measure, then back to a four count measure. There may have been sf59 songs that used timing variations like this before, but it never hit me the way the break in this song does.

1.Full on, heavy distortion on an Emin chord. Just layers and layers of it for six beats. Moving that up a half step on the half note of the second beat of the half measure is just creepy as hell. It’s not on the beat where you expect to hear a chord change. Once it changes, it’s not the chord you are expecting. Like, who just moves up a half step in a chord progression? I can swear that I hear a spinning speaker effect in here somewhere.
2. The lead blends in with the rhythm here.
3. Jangly guitars hitting on the second and fourth beats of the measures.
4.The bass hits hard right along with Rhythm 1.
5. The drums play a standard beat during the first measure. There’s a strong beat during the half measure just to throw you off. Back to normal for the first two beats of the third measure, then we get a bit of a drum fill on the third and fourth beats.
6. By picking up the “And they” in the previous section, all the emphasis can go on “fade” in the first measure of this section. In case you didn’t get it the first time, “fade” is repeated again in the half measure with a jump mid-word to a higher pitch. JM really wants you to know these boys and girls will fade. One of the vocal tracks goes a bit flat during the first “fade”. I don’t know if this was intentional or not. It could be that JM couldn’t control the pitch. It could also be that he wanted it to sound just slightly off so that you would know that this fading business is no good.

1:31 – 1:45
They fade out

1.The fourth chord in this progression moves down a half step from the previous chord. After holding this chord for a measure, it goes back up a half step. This mirrors the half step move at the beginning of the break section and doubles down on it. Oh, you think that half step move sounds creepy? Well, here’s two more. How you like that, huh?
2. The lead steps out with a mid-range note that it holds for most of this section. There’s a couple of string slides before hitting a high note that cuts through all the other sound at 1:45.
3. Rhythm 2 follows 1 in the chord progression, but I think it’s using a spinning speaker effect here.
4. The bass does a nice string slide at 1:44.
5. The cymbals are used well here to ride above all the sound from the guitars. There are strong hits on 1:35 – 1:38 which accentuate the changes in the chord progression.
6. JM really wants you to know these kids are going to fade out. The vocals are smoother and in pitch here with just a slight waver on the last syllable of “out”.

1:45 – 1:58
1. Rhythm 1 sounds even more powerful now, especially during the riff. Is it possible that even more guitars were added in for this part at this point?
2. Lead 1 really jumps into the forefront here and shows you what the rest of this song is really about – crazy adventures in feedback. What even is that wobbly noise that Lead 1 is making over the riff section?
3. Rhythm 2 is making a lot of jangly noise in between beats. It’s a small thing really, but it’s those harmonics thrown in when there’s so much else going on that gets to me.
4. The bass follows along with Rhythm 1 here.
5. The drums make a point of hitting the half note of the fourth beat in the first three measures. Rhythm 1 and the bass are also hitting the half note. This is one of those tricks that ninja surprise you about this song. While you are paying attention to that scorching lead, the rhythm section is jumping in early before each measure. It builds the tension. During the riff, the drums pound on alternating, low pitch drumheads.

1:58 – 2:12
1. Rhythm 1 and the rest of the rhythm section continue to hit on the half note of the fourth beat of the first three measures.
2. Lead 1 rolls into a little bit of feedback at 2:03. Then it goes into some vibrato. The lead almost sounds like it is groaning on the last two notes of this section.
3.Those jangly guitars are still taking up space between the beats and, God, I love it.
4.The bass goes up an octave on the last beat of the riff.
5. The drums switch things up from the previous section by alternating between drum and cymbal hits during the riff.

2;12 – 2:25
Big boys like dead end girls that always shove

1.Rhythm 1 retreats to make room for the vocals. It joins in with the bass for the riff.
2. Lead 1 rolls into some feedback after the end of the last section. It holds the feedback until 2:18.
3. Rhythm 2 plays some jangly arpeggios.
4. The bass goes up an octave in the riff.
5. The drums go back to a steady beat. They wait until the third and fourth beats of the riff to hit hard.
6. The pitch on the overdubbed vocals is off a little bit. You can hear it most on “boys” and “shove”.
7. Do you hear that pulsing sound that hits on every beat? That, my friends, is a keyboard. As we get deeper into the song, more textures get added. I’m convinced that there are keyboards earlier in the song, but I can’t hear it well enough to describe it to you. The pulsing is clear enough here to hear it and it just one more thing to add to the tension, like the ticking of a time bomb telling you something is about to happen.

2:25 – 2:38
Fact is, it’s nothing more than too much fun / And they

1.Rhythm 1 stays in the background but gets stronger in the riff.
2. Lead 1 retreats to make space for the vocals.
3. Rhythm 2 still doing those jangly arpeggios.
4. The bass follows Rhythm 1.
5. The drums hit every beat and half note in the riff, getting louder with each beat.
6. Again, by adding “And they” to the fourth beat of the riff of this section, it sets up the emotional impact of the next break section.
7. The keyboard pulses are stronger here.

2:38 – 2:46
Fade / They fade out

1.Rhythm 1 comes back strong with lots of distortion.
2. I can’t hear the lead part here. It may be mixed in with the rhythm guitar.
3. Rhythm 2 is doing jangly chords but on beat instead of in between beats. The strumming pattern goes double time on the third and fourth beats of the last measure.
4. The bass follows Rhythm 1.
5. The drum takes the forefront during the half measure.
6. You can hear the pitch variance with the overdubs most on the first “fade”.
7. The keyboards switch from pulses to playing the notes that Lead 1 played in the first break section.

2:46 – 3:00
They fade out

1.Rhythm 1 still filling out sound with all that distortion.
2. Lead 1 hits a few accent notes, then rides some feedback. There’s two string slides at the end of the section.
3. Rhythm 2 mostly follows the Rhythm 1 but the strumming speed increases at the end of the section.
4. The bass slides down the string at 2:59.
5. The drum and cymbal hits accentuate the chord changes in the rhythm guitars and bass.
6. There’s still some pitch variance in the overdubs here but it is not as bad. Mostly, the vocals sound tired at this point. I guess it’s all this fading out.

3:00 – 3:14
1. Now we are getting to what this song is really about – just walls of guitar sound. Rhythm 1 is playing stronger now and this is how it will remain for most of the rest of the song. It moves up an octave at the end of the riff.
2. At this point in the song I begin to lack the words to describe how expressive the lead is. It wails. It groans. It protests.
3. The strumming on Rhythm 2 intensifies. It plays on the beats and the space between beats too.
4. The bass goes up an octave at the end of the riff.
5. The drums start hitting on the half note of the fourth beat of each measure. Again, while you are distracted by the lead, the rhythm section builds tension by hitting earlier than you expect. Total ninja stuff here.

3:14 – 3:26
1. Rhythm 1 slowly builds the intensity in the background.
2. Lead 1 does 6 different string slides during the riff. Six!
3. Rhythm 2 also continues to build intensity.
4. The bass goes up an octave during the riff.
5. The drums continue to hit on the half note of the fourth beat.

3:26 – 3:40
Dead boys

1.Continues building intensity.
2. Lead 1 screams, shakes and wavers.
3. Rhythm1 becomes Lead 1 at the feedback coming in at 3:36. I don’t know if the guitars actually switched the parts or if it is just that I can’t hear the jangly guitars anymore after that second lead comes in. Maybe it’s that this post already has too many numbered lists even for me and I’m only halfway through the song. I need to downsize. This is too much.
4. The bass follows Rhythm 1.
5. We are starting to get some drum fills now.
6. “Dead boys”. Wait, what? Yep, he sings “dead boys” here. It’s deep in the mix but you can hear it between 2:27 – 2:29. Listen for the “s” at the end of “boys” to find it. Once you hear it, you can’t ever unhear it again. This may have been a marker for a third verse that just never made it into this world. I think that was the case since it doesn’t seem to be overdubbed.

3:40 – 3:53
Dead girls

1.Continues building.
2. Lead 1 wavers on the first note, then repeats the same notes we’ve heard the lead play in previous sections. What is different this time is that the lead holds on to those notes a little longer than before. There’s three string slides over the riff but instead of sliding up to a high note, it lands on a gravely low note.
3. I can’t hear a second lead part here but I still hear the jangly notes.
4. The bass goes up an octave at the end of the riff.
5. The drums are still hitting on the half note of the fourth beat.
6. You can hear “dead girls” from 3:40 – 3:43. Listen for the “s” in “girls” to find it. This is the last vocal part on the song. Vocals are now retired.
7. I hear a single keyboard note repeating during the riff.

3:53 – 4:06
1. It goes on and on.
2. Lead 1 stays low but plays the same note intervals as previous sections. It rolls up to to some mid-range accented notes over the riff.
3. Lead 2 is coming back, I swear.
4. The bass goes up an octave during the riff.
5. The drumming pattern is altered during the riff. You hear cymbals when you expect drums and drums when you expect cymbals.
6. I hear a keyboard, mainly in the left speaker, but not well enough to describe it.

4:06 – 4:20 (*snicker*)
Are you ready to fly yet? Everything is ramping up.

1.It’s going on for now but it’s about to change.
2. Lead 1 sounds almost tortured in the first three notes. It keeps ascending until it alternates back and forth, faster and faster.
3. The jangly guitars are hitting punctuated chords that counter the flow of the rhythm.
4. The bass goes up an octave during the riff.
5. The drumming in the riff is powerful with lots of space in between the beats.
6. The keyboard is still there hitting pulses along with the jangly guitars.

4:20 (*more snickering*) – 4:34
Fake out. It’s time to get mellow, y’all. You wanted to keep going for it, didn’t you? But, see, this is the key to great music and great sex. You don’t go for that high as soon as you can. You don’t even go for it when you think it’s reasonably appropriate. Four minutes in seems appropriate, doesn’t it? This is the difference between a musician who taps out after a 3 minute radio edit and one who does a 7 minute opus and still leaves you wanting more. And as Missy Elliot says, “I don’t need no minute man.”

1.The rhythm backs off and melds with the bass. It has just enough edge during riff to remind you it’s still there.
2. Lead 1 has the wind through a pipe sound again. It’s moving slow and holding on to each note. The notes seem to get more intense the longer they are held.
3. The jangly guitar does some slow arpeggios.
4. The bass really shines here because you realize how much it’s doing to hold everything together. It stays low in the riff.
5. The drums here are so mellow they almost sound like the drums off of “Monterey (Lounge Version).
6. You can hear the keyboards most during this part of the song. Everything else recedes enough that the keyboard notes pierce through.

4:34 – 4:47
You don’t realize how much you needed this reprieve right now in the song. It gives you just enough time to catch your breath. You can feel everything that’s happened in the song so far catching up with you.

1.The rhythm follows along with the jangly guitar now, only joining the bass on the riff.
2. Lead 1 repeats the same notes as the previous section, but it is softer now.
3. The jangly guitar is still doing slow arpeggios.
4. The bass is still holding everything together and stays low in the riff.
5. The drums stay quiet. Those cymbal hits are a nice touch and add a little spice to this section.
6. The keyboards are still hitting some high notes just around the edges of the song.

4:47 – 5:00
It should be noted that even though this is the quiet part of the song, my song analyzer still shows this full sound across the spectrum.

1.Don’t you just hear that low E string of the Emin in the beginning just buzz deep in your soul? The rhythm picks up the intensity just a little bit in this section, becoming more prominent during the riff. It begins to alternate things subtly in the background. On the first measure, it hits a note on the fourth beat. The next measure, it hits on the half note. It’s trying to get you off balance again.
2. Now we hear the counterpoint to what the lead played in the previous 2 sections. It rides feedback over the riff and slides down the string on the half note of the fourth beat of the measure.
3. The jangly guitar goes along with the rhythm and is becoming more prominent in the mix. It’s starting to ramp up.
4. The bass stays low in the riff.
5. The drums start mixing up a little, adding 8th note accents.
6. The keyboard is still doing high notes, now at times blending in with Lead 1.

5:00 – 5:13
The intensity is building back up. Because we’ve had this brief reprieve, you are now ready to hear what this song is about to do to you next.

1.The rhythm moves in and out with the jangly guitar. It lets itself be heard during the riff.
2. Lead 1 goes back to the same riff it has done multiple times already. This time there is a longing to the way the notes are played. Something is ending here. Can I just take a moment to say how wonderful those stray notes are during the riff on the first beat and the half note of the third beat? It is the perfect transition to what comes next.
3. Lead 2 hits on the on half notes to counter Lead 1 and the bass. There’s a couple of scratch chords at 5:03. It hits some high feedback at 5:05, briefly melding with Lead 1. It rides some low feedback during the riff.
4. The bass goes up an octave during the riff. The reprieve is ending.
5. The drums hit alternating accents on the beats and on half notes during the riff.
6. The keyboard keeps hitting high notes, adding to what Lead 1 is doing.

5:13 – 5:27
The reprieve is done. We are back at it again.

1.The rhythm section keeps hitting on the half note of the fourth beat of each measure. Again we see this trick of hitting the half note before the next measure as a way to build up intensity and keep you off balance while you are distracted by the lead.
2. High and low and higher and low. It’s not the notes you are expecting to hear from a lead part. There’s dissonance. There’s some quick, alternating notes during the first 3 beats of the riff. On the fourth beat, there’s a short slide down followed by a slide up.
3. Lead 2 plays some mid-range notes, hitting on the half note of the fourth beat with the rhythm section.
4. You know now that the bass is going up an octave during the riff, right?
5. There’s a cymbal crash on the half note of the fourth beat for the first 3 measures. During the riff, there’s cymbal crashes and the beats and half notes through the third beat, then drums only on the fourth beat.
6. The keyboards actually play the notes that Lead 1 normally plays. It’s interesting that it does this since Lead 1 is doing something unique during this section.

5:27 – 5:40
Are you ready now? You better be.

1.Rhythm 1 is back in all it’s distorted glory and it holds the chord progression here. It is still hitting on the half note of the fourth beat of each measure.
2. Lead 1 starts playing the riff you expect but with some changes. It holds that that first note for a long time. It adds extra notes during the second measure. It does 6 string slides over the rhythm riff ending in 16th notes on the fourth beat.
3. Lead 2 is hitting chords in this section.
4. The bass gets unpredictable here. Everything seems like normal in the first measure. It runs up the fret board in the second measure. During the riff, it plays the first 2 beats like normal but does string slides over the end of the riff. The bass’ slides begin where Lead 1’s slides end.
5. The drums do a fill in the second measure and alternates the pattern during the riff.
6. The keyboard plays the line that Lead 1 usually plays but with some changes. It goes sharp during the second measure and flat during the riff.

5:40 – 5:53
Because this song is ready for you.

1.Rhythm 1 hold the chord progression.
2. Lead 1 goes all over the place during the first 2 measures. There’s actually this cool blues moment in the second measure. You don’t hear anything you would expect to hear from the lead until the third measure, but it doesn’t stay here long. It hits the same note over the rhythm riff.
3. Lead 2 follows the chord progress of Rhythm 1 but with a string slide at the end of each measure.
4. The bass moves up the fret board during the second measure. It stays low during the riff.
5. The drums back off a bit during the first 3 measures to make room for the string slides of Lead 2. It comes back with strength during the riff.
6. Honestly, I’m not sure what the keyboards are doing anymore. They may be making pulses.

5:53 – 6:07
1. Rhythm 1 holds the chord progression. The rhythm section is still hitting on the half note of the fourth beat of each measure.
2. Lead 1 rides into this section playing the same note it was holding in the last section. It goes to a higher note in the second measure and keeps hitting that note for the rest of this section.
3. Lead 2 finally jumps into the limelight. It does those crazy “wah wah wah wah” noises during the second and third measures. It holds the same note through half of the rhythm riff (which is a dissonant note compared to Lead 1), then does some string slides before hitting some 16th notes on the fourth beat.
4. The bass goes up an octave during the riff.
5. The drums aren’t too flashy here so as to make room for the dueling leads. There are some nice cymbal accents though.
6. Where there ever keyboards on this song? I can’t remember because of all this guitar.

6:07 – 6:20
1. Rhythm 1 still hold the chord progression. It hits each note of the riff even harder than it has before.
2. Lead 1 just keeps hitting that high note over and over for this whole section. Do you hear it buzzing in your head?
3. Lead 2 goes all over the place. You hear a variation of the lead riff in the third measure, but with a string slide and a feedback swell, it’s gone before you can grasp it.
4. The bass follows Rhythm 1 and stays low in the riff.

6;20 – 6:34
The third measure of this song is the part that really gets me, the part where all the divergent parts meet on the same chord. I mean it really gets me.

1.Rhythm 1 is holds the chord progression but it’s louder still. It buzzes like a army of chainsaws during the riff.
2. Lead 1 hold the high note through the second measure. There’s a couple of scratch chords then it joins Rhythm 1 in the third measure.
3. Lead 2 plays a variation of the lead riff in the second measure. It joins the chord progression with everyone else in the third measure. It plays a lower harmony note to complement Lead 1. At the end of the rhythm riff, Lead 2 plays those 2 random transition notes that Lead 1 played in the end of the reprieve section. That’s a queue that things are about to get even more intense. My God, how is it even possible?
4. The bass goes up an octave in the riff.
5. Do you hear the tambourine? Yes, there is a tambourine now. They just keep adding more and more.
6. I think the keyboard is hitting pulses in the background.

6:34 – 6:47
It’s time to get high.

1.Rhythm 1 alone is more sound than most songs get.
2. Lead 1 moves up a note each measure and holds each note until it launches into outer space over the rhythm riff. It comes back to Earth with some string slides in the fourth beat of the riff.
3. Lead 2 hold the same mid-range note for the first three measures. It goes down a note just as Lead 1 launches in to space. It does some string slides with Lead 1 at the end of the rhythm riff.
4. The bass stays low during the riff.
5. We still have tambourines. We get a drum fill in the second measure.
6. I’m pretty sure the keyboard plays a discordant note to the two guitar leads during the rhythm, then drops down to play some lower notes during the string slides.

6:47 – 7:00
1. Rhythm 1 seems to be hitting even harder during the riff.
2. Lead 1 returns to play a variation of the lead riff but with lots of wavering notes. There’s two string slides at the end of the rhythm riff.
3. Lead 2 has retired from the dueling lead business and is back to jangly chords. Some of the chords hit on half notes.
4. The bass goes up an octave during the riff.
5. Tambourines and cymbals, man.

7:00 – 7:15
The tempo slows on the last riff of the song.

1.Rhythm 1 holds the chord progression one last time.
2. Lead 1 plays what almost sounds like some blues riffs until it moves up to one last, tortured high note over the riff.
3. Jangly chords fill the space between the beats.
4. The bass stays low during the riff.
5. Tambourines right to the end. The drums are particularly powerful during this last, slowed down riff.

7:15 – 7:42
Everything converges on this last Emin chord. Feedback swells from every direction. It isn’t until about 7:22 that the amount of sound starts to decrease to a normal level. At 7:33, we get that weird, scratchy feedback that will lead us into the next day’s song.

And there we have it. I wanted to do this review this way because I feel that I don’t describe the music or the sound well enough in these reviews. So I picked the SF59 with the most sound of any of them to do this. It’s kinda like if you are the new kid in school and you want the bullies to leave you alone, you take on the toughest bully of them all. And this song is the toughest of all the SF59 songs because it is too much.

But I don’t want to end this by describing this song as a bully because the other reason I did this is because I love this song. And like any lover whose worth it, it made me work for it. I’ve been at this for days now.

I want to close out by saying something about being too much. This song is gratuitous. It’s overblown. And that is exactly why I love it. Last week I was sharing a cigarette with a homeless guy named Michael outside the venue before a Pedro the Lion show. He looks at me and says, “I’m gonna tell you something my mama always used to tell me. You don’t have 5 talents. You don’t even have 10 talents. You have 80 talents and don’t you ever forget it.”

This song has 80 talents and I’m an 80 talent girl. Why would I waste my energy on 10 talent songs? I thought a lot about this 80 talent business as I was writing this. Doubt has a way of creeping in when you are being too much. Am I using the right musical terminology? What if that keyboard isn’t really a keyboard but some weird guitar effect? Why would anyone want to read all of this? Am I even pointing out anything new to anyone? I mean, shit, sf59 fans listen to this stuff on high end stereos and vinyl. I’m over here streaming my mid-quality mp3 over Bluetooth into my hearing impaired ears. All this is probably old news to everybody.

That fear is the side effect of being too much. It happens when you know that you’re extra in a world that is satisfied with the mundane. But there’s always an audience out there for those willing to be too much. Just like this gloriously excessive song has a home in my heart, so too will all your glorious excesses of character find a home somewhere. Just put it out there and watch where it goes.

So, am I ready to let go of this song yet? Hmmmm. I already feel like doing it again, honey.

“The Fashion Focus (song)” – The Fashion Focus

“The Fashion Focus” is a breath of fresh air. It’s just so pleasant. It has the shuffle of a 3/4 song even though I think it is in 4/4. The piano and the guitar weave in and out of each other like people doing a Maypole. This song is a dance. Whether it’s the jumping from high to low notes and back again, those cute waterfall descending lines or the cheeky key punctuations during “You’re the one who played the keys”, this song is playful and happy. Strange for a song that mentions the world getting you down so much.

So what
So I think you know
That you
Were the first to go

Through lonely towns with one way streets
Met the ones I’d love to meet
By driving cars, deliveries
You’re the one who played the keys

I was thinking about this song in reference to one of my ex’s (the one who liked to play White Trash Monopoly) a couple of months ago when she called to tell me about a troubling health diagnosis. Oddly enough, I came to know her through work which involved me driving down a one way street to deliver cleaning and medical supplies to a mental health residence I managed. We knew each other for three years before we ever got together. The getting together business was a bit of a dance, jumping from high to low and full of unexpected descending lines. She didn’t play the keys but she had a lot of keys [insert joke about about lesbians and key rings here].

She was, in ways, a hard woman. She’d had a hard life with no family support. She made her way through life with a sarcastic wit, unbreakable discipline and a level of emotional discernment that could pierce through anything or anyone she encountered. I felt like she never even had a chance in this life. If she didn’t have bad luck, she would have had no luck at all. I felt like if she could just get away from all the influences in her life that fed off of her and if she could live an environment where she was loved just as she was, she could finally know what it means to live (ah, the foolishness of my 20’s). I set about making that environment a reality.

It’s odd
How you always notice when the world gets you down
I find it odd
How you always notice when the world gets you down

The relationship had it’s promising first years. Then things started to happen, frightening things. Life or death medical problems. Freak accidents. Life became a matter of conquering whatever the new crisis of the week was. And there was always a crisis; we couldn’t go two days without something happening. Whatever the new crisis was, I would set about solving it by force of will. My motto was the line from the Billie Holiday song, “The difficult I’ll do right now/ the impossible might take a little while”. I even set about using my brain power to factor probabilities of what might happen in the future and taking steps to prevent the inevitable. For example, I would take daily tours for the house looking for anything in the floor that she could possibly trip on and putting it away before she cracked her ankle again.

Finally, I got to the point of asking why it was that I needed to do this for another grown ass adult who should know damn well how to walk across the living room floor without sustaining a crippling injury. She always noticed when the world got her down; in fact, it was her preferred state of existence. If there was nothing in particular to be down about, wait 48 hours and something new would come up. I’m not saying she made these things up or exaggerated them; she did endure very real, difficult situations. I think that is more that she drew these things to her because it is what she wanted.

Why would anyone want to be down, sick and crippled all the time? Well, if it’s all you’ve known all your life, then there is a sort of comfort in staying in what you know. If you are held down by circumstance, you never have to deal with the existential angst of reaching for or fulfilling your potential. It’s odd, I know, but that is the way it was. For those who want such a life, they will never miss an opportunity to notice when the world gets them down.

It’s odd…

You know what else is odd? That it is a sf59 song making this point. After all, Silver and Gold were pretty much all about JM noticing when the world got him down. Americana was about being angry about the world getting him down (which first requires noticing that it has happened). The Fashion Focus is something different altogether. It is a turning point, not only in musical style and skill, but in lyrical intent. It is almost like JM could be looking at his previous three albums and saying, “The fuck, dude?”

One thing that I’ve found to be true in my writing life is that you usually end up writing what you need to hear. I think that’s what this song is. It’s getting some distance from that voice that used to sing such mopey tunes and singing a new way of living into being. If you look at the entire sf59 catalogue, this song, more so than any other, is a fulcrum point. The balance of the musical and lyrical composition will never be the same as it was in the beginning. Just because you have been depressed doesn’t mean it has to stay that way for all time. Your perspective can change and you can look back at your previous life with a whimsical “It’s odd” and move on. And what a glorious thing it is!

“Shut Your Mouth” – The Fashion Focus

I’m back after a week long break. Some of you might have thought that I finally shut my mouth, but, alas, it is not so. I’ve known what I was going to write for this song the whole time but it was hard to get it on the page.

“Shut Your Mouth” continues the trend on this album of sounding like it is straight out of the ’60s. We are talking a ’67 Monterey Pop Festival vibe here. This such a song to listen to as you are taking mind altering substances while sitting in a bean bag chair and complaining about the president and the war to your fellow stoners. This is The Doors, The Mamas and Papas and Big Brother and the Holding Company all rolled in together.

This trip into psychedelia is plotted by the plodding determined drum beat. The lead and the organ compete for attention hitting dual, clashing accents in the verses. The lead drops out in the chorus and lets the organ carry the solo. In the background, we have one rhythm guitar with a clean tone playing simple arpeggios with some variations. Another rhythm guitar is underneath playing chords in what I think is a heavy tremolo. The bass moves around the fretboard more than usual for a sf59 song and gives a feeling of cool detachment. Some vibes are hovering somewhere between the bass line and the clean rhythm guitar adding to this “too cool for school” stance the song takes.

Now, let’s talk about these background vocals. There is a double to the main vocal sung in a falsetto in the chorus. This is a new thing. We haven’t heard this in any of the songs we’ve reviewed up to this point. This album is a sort of showcase for testing out new production tricks. But I think this is more than a production trick. It is a sign that the singer is speaking with a forked tongue. You’ll see what I mean when we dig into the lyrics.

Let’s not forget the ominous “Ahhhhh” in between the chorus and the verses. They sound kind of churchy, don’t they? I haven’t plotted out the notes on these vocals, so I could be wrong about this, but I believe they are missing the 5th note of the chord structure. This type of hollowed out chord structure was common in pre-Renaissance church music, like Gregorian chants. It’s a sound that is ancient and haunting, something that came hundreds of years before Vatican II which gave us all the permission to chill the fuck out and stopping judging so much. This is completely appropriate because this song is about judging or, to be more precise, it is a song about projecting your judgement onto someone else. It’s an important distinction to make.

After all
You really stink it up
And the lies that you tell
I really think that you know

When I first sat down to right this, the lyrics made me think of one person only – Donald Trump. I’ve always thought he was an odious man, but I could ignore him before. Now he’s stinking up the presidency with his lies and I can’t get away from him. This is not intended to be a political post; I’m talking about what I think of him as a man and I will try not to tarry there long as it makes me feel icky.

I ran across this article once titled something like “Let Donald Trump be Your Spiritual Teacher”. I clicked on it thinking it would be good for a laugh. The article was quite sincere. It talked about how all of Trump’s characteristics that you hate so much are really things that you dislike about yourself. Are you a white person who’s angry about his racist pandering? Well, maybe you are a little too comfortable with your own privilege, but, hey, you’re not as bad as him, right? Are you disgusted by his womanizing? Maybe you haven’t yet taken account of the ways you will objectify a woman’s body. The thing about Trump is that he takes all the characteristics we hide, even from ourselves, and he just does them out in the open. See Trump as the mirror of unacceptable aspects of yourself. The article was not the barrel of laughs I was expecting. Shit got real.

Left your girl and you left your family too
Things that you’re never sure about
Just know that there’s one thing I’ll get through

You’ve got it all worked out
I wish you’d shut your mouth

He’s left multiple wives and children. He thinks he’s got it all worked out (and he’s the only one in the world who does). And, God, I wish he would shut his mouth and shut down his Twitter. How does this mirror me? I’ve left my girl before too and some family members when I wasn’t sure how things would go. As for having it all worked out, I live in that philosopher’s realm where you can spout theories about anything but still yet cannot say for certain if chairs exist. This no man’s land allows me to be both superior in all that I know and can debate about but without the potential nasty consequences of taking a committed stand on anything. See, I’ve got it all worked out.

After all
You really like just to never tell
We really think that you’ll burn in hell
I really think that you know

I think it is that the singer likes to never tell – at least about himself. It’s so much safer to point out how someone else is going to hell, isn’t it? Trump is a master at projection too. You never hear him say a negative word about himself; it’s all superlatives, all the time. If he things that anyone or anyplace isn’t for him, they get all the nasty descriptions or nicknames that he can think of. And all of it revolves around him and the image he has of himself. He cannot even spare attention for anything that is not about him.

It’s this classic narcissism that probably gets on my nerves the most about him. So that has to say something about me. I’m not saying I am a narcissist. I’ve actually given considerable thought as to whether I fit the diagnostic criteria for NPD and that is something a narcissist would never do. That being said, I sure to like to talk about myself. Notice how each of these song reviews end up being something about me? People don’t do music reviews this way. I can think that I’m doing something bold and new. But maybe the truth of it is that this project wouldn’t hold my interest for very long if I wasn’t writing about myself so much.

You’ve got it all worked out
I wish you’d shut your mouth

I made a comment a few posts ago about how I thought the theme of this album was judgement. I want to amend that. I think the theme of this album is about projection. We’ve already seen several songs where the singer had it all worked out when pointing out the evil doings of others (“Sundown”, “The Birthrite”). When the singer focuses on himself, the songs are about being stuck or about abdicating all responsibility (“I Drive A Lot”, “We’re the Ordinary”, “All The Time”). It’s all this abdication that makes the projection so necessary. Hey, maybe I don’t have it all worked out in my own life but I’m better than this fucker over here and I’m going to tell him so. The abdication and projection go hand in hand.

And, with that being said, I’m going to shut my mouth.

“Card Games and Old Friends” – The Fashion Focus

I’m getting into the drum intro on this one. It’s a simple beat but it sets up a syncopation on this song that you don’t hear often on these earlier albums. The guitar is minimal but playful. Is that a tremolo pedal or a vibrato? I can’t tell. The real spice in this song in the synths. It sounds like it has some kind of effect on it but, again, I can’t tell. The synth hits pulse points that are just a little bit off from what you anticipate. The whole thing carries the illusion of being simple and minimal but there’s little pieces of it that don’t play to expectations. Maybe the song is constructed this way to match the story of the lyrics.

Say goodbye
It’s no life
We never realized
Where we’ve been
Sad ends
We never realized

This song always reminds me of a time about 10 years ago when me, my partner at the time and friends of ours who were also a couple would get together on Friday nights and play card games. We would cook out and blare the ’90s college radio channel on the cable TV. I’m a ruthless Uno player. Eyeing player with one card left, I’d slap a Plus 4 card down while Hole blared in the background. I would join Courtney Love’s guttural drawl singing, “Was she asking for it? Was she asking nice?”

Card games and old friends
Always no sad ends
Card games and old friends
You mess it up

Monopoly also made an appearance often. We played our own variant named “White Trash Monopoly” where we rename all the housing blocks after gutter-butt trailer parks in town. The Chance cards were things like “Pay $150 at the methadone clinic” or “Get $3,000 in tax refunds for all your babies”. I only bought the high class trailer parks and I installed double-wides. I was living the hillbilly high life with all my pastel bills.

No surprise
Different lives
Express the world on time
Sad ends
To bad ends
We never realized

A lot of smoking. A lot of cussing. A lot of singing. A lot of laughing.

It was short lived. As the respective romantic relationships fell apart, the friendships did too. I miss them and love them all still. But people mess up. They pick sides. They run. They move on. You are left to remember what used to be and how it all met sad ends. The only other option is not to remember at all. I think that would be worse.

“The Birthrite” – The Fashion Focus

I’m glad that we are back to a song that bears its teeth a bit. Don’t get me wrong; I like the songs we’ve reviewed on this album thus far. I just like my Starflyer a little bit rude. This song has swagger. The drums are steady but powerful; they go double barrel in all the right places. The layered “yeah yeah yeah’s” have the disaffected sneer of a post-punk Liverpool teen (I do love Liverpool boys; they are like Kentucky boys but so much more exotic and they have better musical taste). I like how the track starts with the sound of a song in progress. I feel like I arrived at the party fashionably late (which is accurate for me in general).

The guitar and bass run the show here. The rhythm and bass combo pounding out the da-da-da-da-da-da line is as relentless as the Red Army attacking Berlin. What really gets to me is the krnk-rgggk upstrokes at the end of a phrase. It’s all about those upstrokes for me. Take it from a girl who knows – you can pound out that da-da-da-da-da-da line all day and everyone will have a decent time, but it’s those upstrokes thrown into the rhythm that hits a girl at her epicenter. Yeah yeah yeah.

Some might
Some might sell out on the birthrite

This is another one of those instances where I was today years old when I learned the lyrics to this song. I don’t know that I have much to offer here. But just like the lead guitar on this song sounds wonderfully unplanned, I’ll go with it and we’ll see what I can come up with.

Esau sold his birthrite for a bowl of soup. As we used to say when I worked mental health, Esau had “poor choicing skills”. I think girls had to hear this story growing up in church more that the boys. Well-meaning Sunday School teachers would raise the specter of Esau to teach us girls that we needed to hold our sexual purity so close to our bosoms that no one else could get near them. I always wondered why we focused on Esau’s poor choices when Jacob was the real dick in this story. Why didn’t we talk more about Jacob?

Never shy
And you never shot a bird right

I take this as a reference to sin. In particular, it reminds me of that definition of sin as “missing the mark”. Maybe that reference comes to mind for me because I was always the designated skeet puller for my dad’s gun shooting extravaganzas.

But you’re taking on the worst shine
You’re taking on the worst shine
With the hairiness you never had

At first I thought this was a diss on bald guys. Being bald must be hard. But having hair is hard too (me and my hair are frenemies at best).

Oh wait, someone is finally talking about what a dick Jacob is. Thank you, sf59! I’ve been waiting for this. Jacob tricks a blessing out of his blind father. Jacob impersonates Esau by slapping on some animal skins and guiding his father’s hand to touch the fur (man, Esau must have been, like, Robin Williams level hairy).

Jacob is a complicated hero. He’s a trickster. On the whole, people do not benefit from knowing him. Plot twist: he wrestles with himself all night, then demands a blessing. He’s wounded for life but he is also reborn as Israel (“one who struggles with God”) and becomes the father of the church. Maybe that’s why they didn’t like talking about him in Sunday School. Jacob is too real. If we look at him too long, we might have to wrestle with our own sins.

Some might
Sell out on the wrong side
In the corner of his eye
“Well he never shot a bird right”
But you’re taking on the worst shine
You’re taking on the worst shine
With the hairiness you never had

The second verse repeats the first for the most part but there are some shifting perspectives here. Why is “Well he never shot a bird right” in quotes? Doesn’t that seem odd?

I haven’t yet addressed what I think the theme of this album is. The previous three albums were a sort of trilogy, each with their own theme or spirit (as it is with other great trilogies like the Star Wars Ep IV- VI or LOTR). The Fashion Focus is more scattered, but there is a theme here. Several of these songs are about judgement. You’ll see it more as we get further in. It’s a special brand of judgement too; it is judgement issued from a place of perceived purity in the singer.

This line in quotes stands out to me. There’s been several judging verses so far on The Fashion Focus. This is the first line that hints that the judge might be starting to observe his own judging behavior.

… Or maybe the song is just about skeet shooting and bald guys.

“All The Time” – The Fashion Focus

“All The Time” has the vibe of a New Wave interpretation a spaghetti western background track. The soaring synths and the persistent four on the floor drumbeat are classic New Wave. We find the western influence in the slide guitar and all that reverb that is as wide as the desert that the cowboy crosses on his horse on his way to find whatever it is that motivates him – whether it be vengeance, a home or a long lost girl. The music battles between weariness, loneliness, longing and hope. Which of these should we feel? How about all of them at once, all the time?

The lyrics remind me of the concept of locus of control. Your own understanding of yourself is shaped by what you think you can control. You may act upon the world; you can, through your own agency and will, change the world. The world can also act upon you and change you, sometimes against your will. Your sanity rests on finding the balance between these two realities.

“Locus of control” is the concept of where you find that balance. The balance will fall somewhere on the continuum between the opposing poles of “external” and “internal”. If you fall on the extreme ends of the external pole, you will believe that you are always at the mercy of what is outside of you. The world does as it will to you and you are powerless to stop any of it. You are a puppet on a string, destined to move only as you are directed by the puppet master. It is a bleak existence. The learned helplessness of this way of understanding your place in the world leaves you paralyzed and shattered.

Of course, having an extreme internal locus of control isn’t much better. If you believe that you can control the trajectory of all that happens around you, you have a completely different set of problems. You can be blind to your own motivations if you do not recognize the external forces that shape them from birth. You push ahead, asserting your own way in everything because if you stop long enough to ponder the source of your motivation, your self-contained, self-made image of who you are might fall apart. You may even begin to take responsibility for the actions of others, to take their burdens onto yourself, because doing so is preferable to contemplating a world that you cannot control. Interestingly, an extreme internal locus of control will leave you paralyzed as much as its opposite pole. I read once that catatonics suffer from a sense of too much responsibility. The burden is too heavy to carry and the consequences too great if they fail, so they just stop moving all together.

We don’t make the world go round
We don’t know much about
Life and little things
We don’t make it happen
We don’t make it happen
All the time

We will focus on the external locus of control today because this is where the lyrics lead us (and that was not intended as a pun, really). This first verse is an outright denial of personal agency. We don’t make the world turn. We don’t know about this stuff. We don’t make anything happen. It is an abdication of responsibility and of making decisions. Hey, it ain’t my fault the world is the way it is. It ain’t me.

Love a world that’s not your own
And pretty soon we’ll go home

The second verse takes an unexpected turn. I assume the world that he loves, that is not his own, is heaven. Here’s what is strange about that line – he tacitly takes ownership of the very world he abdicated in the first verse. If heaven is the home that we love and will go to at some point in the future, then the earth must be the world we own now. This may not be a sound interpretation of this. I haven’t exactly plotted this out using deductive reasoning or anything. But it strikes me as strange. The only world that is his right now is the world that he denies any responsibility for.

Find some real love
That’ll make us happy
That’ll make us happy
All the time

In some future state, we will go home and we’ll find real love. This are the only direct verbs in the entire song. The rest of the song talks about what he doesn’t do or doesn’t know. This is the only expression of actually doing something (even though it is in future tense, it’s not happening right now). So what is he actually doing right now? Denying responsibility for the world and dreaming of a future heaven state where a real love will make him happy all the time. Notice how this real love that will “make [him] happy all the time” is another external force that will act upon him?

These lyrics pretty much describe the criticisms that non-Christians have about Christianity. Christians will turn our backs on the suffering of the world with a “I’m not my brother’s keeper” shrug. When it comes to being accountable for our own actions and self-improvement, we expect some Jesus atonement magic to do all the work for us. This is why evangelical Christianity is such a punchline in the world right now.

Now, I know that the truth of atonement is much more than this. But I’m also frustrated that we Christians make it so easy for the world to paint us with such broad strokes. We were not put here to abdicate our place in the world while dreaming of a future heaven where all our problems will be solved for us. God has no hands in the world except our own. We are here in this world now, all the time. We should act like it.

Wow, this post did not go in the direction I thought it was. I should do something to bring it full circle. In the beginning, I wrote about how this song sounded like weariness, loneliness, longing and hope. This external locus of control business can explain why there is weariness and loneliness here. It doesn’t explain the longing and hope. Maybe the music tells us more than the lyrics do.

Let’s go back to that image of the lone cowboy crossing the desert that the music evokes. The myth of the cowboy is an American creation – the rugged individual who cares for his herd and does his duty no matter the weather conditions. The cowboy is the mythical figure that Americans wish we could be. He is undoubtedly the symbol of an internal locus of control. And there is the hope.

The longing is in the space between the lyrics and the music. It is the distance between who we say we are now and who we wish to become… all the time.

“A Holiday Song (Happy Holidays)” – The Fashion Focus

It’s Christmas in July, folks! It feels strange to contemplate the holidays when the sun attacks me every time I walk out the door, but this is the song order dictated to me so I must work with it. It helps that this is not your average Christmas song. From the first da-da-da-da-da-deeeeee-da-duh-da-duh of the acoustic guitar, you know this song is its own thing. This ain’t your mama’s Christmas carol. It’s kitschy as hell. Trust me, the gays know kitsch like no one else. This is not meant to be derogatory; I love kitsch.

The song is playful and boppy. The drums bounce all over the place like a toddler at a birthday party. The lead guitar holds its notes a little longer than expected on occasion and, at other times, a note stops just short of where you think it will. The bass jumps up and down and does some fun waterfall descending lines. And let’s just pause for a moment and talk about the keys. I talk often about how sf59 has a ’50s or ’70s vibe, but this is pure 60’s. These keys sound like what would happen if The Doors and The Monkees had a baby. Like, I should be wearing a Nehru collar and black slacks listening to this, y’all (I’m wearing Thai fisherman pants right now so maybe that is close enough).

You know what day it is?
The day we fell in love

Listening to this song today reminds me of the time that I fought for its inclusion in an eclectic Christmas season playlist with my most recent ex (the one who doesn’t like New Wave). We thought up this idea that we would start our own Christmas family traditions. When you aren’t accepted as you are in your family of origins, you have to make up new traditions with the family you choose. A weirdo Christmas playlist that would last the season was one of ours. I fought hard to get this song included, but it never was added to the list. I had better success at convincing her to add Fleming & John’s reinterpretations of classic Christmas carols as AC/DC and Led Zeppelin tunes (and if you didn’t know that was a thing that existed in this world, you need to go look it up right now on YouTube; it’s totally worth it).

Long and sad goodbyes
So sad you couldn’t stay

My ex and I agreed in our musical tastes the majority of the time, but she hated sf59. I could never figure out why. When I inquired about her distaste for all things sf59, she told me that they had no melody. No melody? Are you kidding me? This song was the lone song out of their entire catalogue that she even moderately liked. She said it was the only one that had any melody (Tell me, is it really because this song has sleigh bells? Because I think it’s the sleigh bells). This charge of “no melody” floored me, to the extent that it made me doubt and question my own tastes. She knew more about music and music theory than I did by far. She could play more instruments. We both played guitar. I was the better chord player but she far surpassed me at picking. She could sing and had such a command of her voice that she could come up with harmonies the first time she heard a song. What was she hearing that I didn’t?

I’m sure you all have had experiences like this – you introduce a music lover to sf59 and they just don’t get it. You’ll hear, “It all sounds the same,” or “It all sounds like a bunch of mush.” They don’t hear what you hear. It doesn’t resonate in their blood the way it does in yours. Then you are left to wonder why they miss what is so obvious to you. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I like to ponder on things and my ex’s criticism of sf59 was no exception. I even went to the extent of digging into some musical theory (what little I know) to find the answer.

Musicians sometimes like to play a game called “What chord are you?” If a musician asks you this, you have to scramble for a chord is a perfect distillation of your personality. I am Fmaj7. I’m not really a minor chord although I like to hang out with them. I’m not a full-throated major chord either; I’m not bright enough. The thing I love about a maj7 chord is that you take one of the cornerstone notes of a major chord and drop it down a step. It makes the sound so much more complex and nuanced. If I had to guess what chord my ex would pick for herself, I would say a straight Gmaj. She would want to sound bright like that. She might have picked a chord with an added 2nd or 4th for harmony but those weren’t in her chord vocabulary. Ironically (or perhaps truthfully), she couldn’t actually play a full G major because her hands weren’t big or strong enough. She would hold the high e string at the 3rd fret and play half the chord. When you heard her play it, your mind would fill in the rest of the chord with what you expected to be there (and, honestly, that is the best metaphor for the nature of our relationship I have yet to find).

You don’t have to go
Spend the holidays

So I started thinking that maybe all the maj7 chords in sf59 songs were the reason my ex did not like them. Maybe that’s why people in general don’t go for sf59. These are not chords you hear on what passes for pop music these days. We are serving roasted chicken marinated in a fine vinaigrette with herbs and they are used to a diet of breaded chicken tenders. There’s nothing wrong with chicken tenders, per se. I will eat them when I have neither the time or the energy to do something better.

And maybe that’s the thing right there – it takes some time and effort to peel back the layers of sf59 songs, to hear all the complexity and nuance. This is the reason I love sf59. I hate it when I hear a song on the radio and I can tell what chords they are playing without even picking up my guitar. I want a song that challenges me and my ears. But most people are happy with plain old chicken tenders and in the words of Miss Jean Brodie, “To those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.”

(Happy Holidays)

… I still think it’s because of the sleigh bells.

“Fell In Love At 22” – The Fashion Focus

“Fell In Love At 22” takes a contemplative pace as is needed for this stroll down memory lane, a stroll that you just wish would last a little longer. We are all suckers for nostalgia around here. I know you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps we want to stay here longer in these memories because we are selectively picking only the good memories to revisit. We can tell that is the case here because of how gentle the song sounds. If we actually listen to songs JM wrote during this lauded age, we see that things weren’t so gentle at the time.

This song uses a different set of tactics than what we have seen in most of the sf59 songs up to this point. The guitar’s role and importance have switched; it now exists to provide accents and punctuation, a bit like guitars in reggae music. The guitar isn’t the work horse here. JM allows the bass, keys and vocals to carry the melody and harmonies. The piano and synth parts weave in an out of each other. The backing vocals come in like a Greek chorus to remind us why these rememberances are important – this is our life, our old times.

Fell in love at 22
With a girl that’s close to you
Find a job and find a life
No more long days, longer nights
With your girl and family too
Playing card games in the room

I never fell in love at 22, but I did fall in love at 24. It was my first experience with falling in love. I was thinking about this the other day when I looked out my bedroom window and saw the sun reflecting off the green leaves of the forest. It reminded me of the way the sun shown down on the southern Appalachian mountains I drove past as I was heading toward where my love lived at the time. The summer seemed to have so much promise; the light bouncing off all the beauty that surrounded me confirmed it.

I had been friends with this love of mine for years. We met when I was a freshman in college and I started my work study assignment in his science department. I knew that he wanted us to be more then, but I was not ready yet. Still though, we had a lot of fun. Being the rogue that I am, I installed illegal game console emulators on the department’s computers and we played many 8-bit Nintendo games in between classes. Our gaming wasn’t limited to the illegal variety either; we played many card games as well. He taught me how to play gin rummy. He always played any card he could as soon as he could. I hoarded my cards, quietly shifting them in my hand. I could see in his eyes the pride that he felt thinking he was doing so well at beating me. He would temper this pride with well-meaning statements about how I was just learning the game and I would get better. I smirked as I laid down my entire hand of perfectly matched cards at once. He sat blinking in disbelief. It took a few seconds for him to realize what had just happened to him.

We remained friends like this for years. Eventually I graduated from college and he moved down south to pursue his doctorate. We would chat by computer in the evenings. After awhile I realized that chatting with him was my favorite part of the day. He did a semi-autobiographical web comic with a modest following which we discussed regularly. There were always new video games to discuss. When we weren’t talking about these things, I was busy undermining his belief in a world that could be easily understood. He was a hard scientist and I was a psychologist with a side fling with philosophy. I flexed my epistemological muscles enough to make him realize that the scientific method is just a theory and that just because a thing can be measured doesn’t mean that its measurement is all that it is.

This is our life, our old times…

When we started dating, he made a comic character based on me named “Milli Graham” (based on Stanley Milgrim whose experiments on social conformity and perceived authority revealed how easy it is to get a person to kill another). Milli was a psychology student who ran into his character at the school library. She was part love interest and part foil. Milli was sarcastic and challenging. She always wore head scarves (a style I maintain to this day). Anytime his character would state something as obvious according to science, Milli always pointed out that things were not so obvious as they appear. She was also the only character who could beat his character at Tetris. I am not that good at Tetris myself, but he always took Tetris skills as the highest form of achievement so I took the fact that my character could beat his as the highest of compliments. The readers of the comic fell in love with Milli and would comment in the forums about how they wished they could meet a girl like that.

The love affair was charged and a lot of fun. I always knew it was temporary though. There was nothing wrong with the guy at all; I just knew that we were not destined to be together for all time. I said as much one day, not realizing the bomb that I was dropping on him. He sat blinking in disbelief. It took more than a few seconds for him to realize what had just happened to him. It took some time for me to realize it too. I would have thought what I said was obvious. I did not realize that he would interpret this proclamation as evidence that he was not good enough. That wasn’t a part of my thinking at all. I have since spent time working on anticipating how the things I say might actually be interpreted. It’s taken a lot of work to learn that.

The relationship in the comic played out much like it did in real life. The pair had a perfect day together until Milli blurts out that the relationship won’t last in the third panel. The fallout continued to be incorporated into the story arc of the comic. The people on the forums who loved Milli quickly turned on her, blasting her for her insensitivity. It was illuminating for me to watch this unfold but also perplexing. Milli was always a foil from the beginning. Didn’t they know that doing the unanticipated was always a part of her character?

Now that John is 42
With a family like you
With a job that led him down
Don’t you know I led him round?

It’s funny, even after the fallout of the breakup, I would still post “Happy Birthday John” on his birthday. His birthday is coming up soon and he’s probably about 42. I hope his life is better than this verse suggests. I don’t know. It’s hard being a scientist in this post-truth world.

Although he may have felt dismayed at the time that I called the relationship temporary, he may have cause to appreciate my prescient proclamation since. He got married a few years later. They had kids and a house, all the things that he wanted and all the things that I could not bear to be tied down by. He always did play his cards as soon as he could. As for me, I’m still holding onto my hand, waiting for the day that I can lay all my perfectly matched cards down at once.

“Sundown” – The Fashion Focus

What is that noise in the beginning? Man, I don’t even know. We are getting to the point in the sf59 catalogue where I may no longer be able to accurately identify instruments. Is it a synth? Is it a bass with crazy effects? Who can say? It sounds like the auditory representation of the way a cat moves when he first thinks he is in trouble and then when he knows for certain he is in trouble and scurries off in haste.

Maybe that is an appropriate beginning to this song since this song is about being in trouble. This is our first entry about a sf59 “spooky song”. The spooky song becomes a standard trope in later years but this will be our first foray into one on this blog. I love the spooky songs. Maybe having cats in the house has attuned me to things that are just a bit evil.

After that weird intro noise, we get a strong drum beat and JM’s rumbling baritone announcing “This is the sundown.” The lead guitar starts out methodical and intentional. With all that reverb and the slight waver in the notes, you can’t tell if you’ve landed at a drunken luau or a ’50s horror film. Maybe someone did some crossover fan fiction of a late ’50s Elvis Presley movie with a Vincent Price movie, you know, that kinda thing. Then the second part of the first verse kicks in. The notes descend. That schizophrenic synth starts running around in the background. It is menacing. We are definitely in spooky territory now.

Your bet is lost
You’re fading slow
Sundown, the dark has laid you low

One of the main differences in the lyrics of this album compared to previous albums is that the focus has shifted (and I didn’t even mean that as a pun, really). In previous albums, JM mostly wrote inward. The songs were either about internal emotions or about people who stirred his internal emotions. The singer is always a character in the song. In this album we see JM write about other people. This song is about someone the singer has observed and he’s not going to hold back on his judgments about it.

A rite to save your own
The blackness fiend will take you on

These lines remind me of teenage witch curses sworn in the dark of night while everyone is wearing pajamas. And it makes me laugh. I can’t help it. Then I remember the time that some of my high school friends had a sleepover with activities that included witch curses, tarot card readings, summoning the dead with a homemade Ouija board and huffing Glade. One of the girls huffed too deeply and died that night. But I don’t want to write a post about that. I’ve stopped laughing though. It really is getting creepy around here.


The “sundown” is a metaphor for the light going out of a life of one who has chosen darkness. They are in trouble now and you can hear the darkness creeping in the music. It seems this person’s fate is sealed according to the singer.

Your slipping heart
A gray shadow
Sundown, the dark has laid you low

A rite to save your own
A rite to save your soul
A rite to save your own
The blackness fiend will take you on

The singer continues his proclamations about the future of this person. As I am listening to the words, all I can think is that this song was written by someone young, someone who believes that good and evil are as distinguishable as light and dark. It doesn’t seem as simple as all this to me. I have lived enough to know how subtle evil may be and how it can creep up into your life without even sounding like a spooky luau at all.

I’ve also lived long enough to learn a thing or two about grace. There is no offer of grace in this song, just punishment and torment. Maybe your understanding of grace expands as you learn the subtly of evil and how easily it may ensnare a person. Maybe those realizations go hand in hand. At least it helps to do some living first before you make your proclamations of judgment.