So this is going to be something a little different from the first two parts of The Catch-Up. This isn’t going to be a quick little review of Frank Turner’s Positive Songs for Negative People (If you really need that here’s an even shorter one: I liked it a whole lot).
One song in particular caught my attention on my few spins through the album. On the song “Demons,” Turner goes on about living life to the fullest, how “Time is not there to be saved.” The song ruminates on taking advantage of everything that one comes across, even going as far to say “If life gives you demons, make a deal.” Not to shy away from temptation or evil but to take hold of the power that may be offered. I appreciated the shot taken at Pascal’s Wager (the idea that you should say you believe in God on the chance that God exists just to cover your bases and not go to hell) because even as a pastor I think that’s the worst possible reason and method to engage with faith. And while I think that Frank and I would disagree on the true value of selling one’s soul to experience life to the fullest, or even whether or not it’s for the best to give in to every temptation just for the story you’ll have after, I think that he’s got something to say about how we end up using the life that we have.
The chorus starts with the line “You’re not delivering a perfect body to the grave,” and I think that’s honestly poignant. There is a call for the Christian life not to be played safe, not to exist in a bubble and refuse to be tainted by “the culture” but to engage with the world around us. We’re not going to live a brief, wholly perfect life and then die. There’s no efficient way to speed-run existence, finding all the exploits that we can to get the most out of it as fast as humanly possible. We were given life to use, to serve others, to share love, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. And while this is a temporary situation that we find ourselves in, there’s something to be said about using every second of it. I believe that part of that is refusing to be stagnant, to innovate and iterate on what the Church has done well and to find ways to shore up the places where the Church has been lacking. In those moments of trying to do new things, sometimes there will be mistakes and yes, even flat out failures. But it’s not about doing the perfect thing 100% of the time. It’s about being willing to step out in faith to make use of the time that we’ve been given to help bring about something beautiful.
The song ends with “You won’t get everything you wanted/But you will never be defeated.” I think especially in this season of Advent, as the body of Christ waits in anticipation for what is to come this is something to hold close. The Christian life isn’t about getting everything you ever wanted. Pascal was a chump when he reduced the whole thing down to heaven or hell. But it does come with knowing at the end of all things, God is with us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
I was introduced to Open Mike Eagle through his incredible performance with Thundercat on Why? with Hannibal Burress. His A Special Episode EP entered steady rotation and digging back through his discography showed me an artist who had a unique style about him. So when I heard about Cavanaugh, his collaboration with Serengeti I was pretty excited to listen to it. Time and Materials is a concept album about a high-rise building that contains both luxury condos and section 7 housing and keeps the different groups of residents split by using separate entrances. The story is told through the characters of maintenance men Mike and Dave and gives Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti exaggerated versions of themselves to play off of as they spit grim lyrics about the life of blue collar artists.
The production, handled entirely by Open Mike Eagle (his first time to produce an entire project) has a dark electronic vibe to it. Opening track “Zorak” has an almost industrial quality as Dave and Mike trade verses on top of it. Lead single “Screen Play” has our two characters discussing their lives outside of work, how they wish they would be able to leave it behind but they can’t. It feels like these two characters are talking to each other because they know that no one else is going to understand them. It’s a lonely song but one that’s handled with such care that it ends up being the best possible introduction to the people we’ll be spending the rest of the album with
There’s a line that haunts the final track that I can’t get away from. “Lemons” opens with a chant of “Keep the us with the uses/The yous with the yous.” In this world that Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti have created there’s a tension between the two groups that make up the Cavanaugh development and these two, Mike and Dave, are the only ones who get to see both sides. There’s both an isolating feeling of knowing that they are the only ones who can get the whole story (this probably plays into the melancholy that looms over the whole album) and a responsibility to tell that story even if it gets to be too much. The characters of Mike and Dave seem to need each other because no one else wants to listen.
Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti have made something special with Cavanaugh. The two emcees work in a near-perfect sync to make something much bigger then either has done alone and I can’t wait to hear what story they decide to tell next.
So here’s what’s happening: Every December I say that I’m going to do a big rush through a bunch of albums to get a big picture of what came out this year outside of what I loved semi-obsessively on my own. Every year I do not do that thing. So this year in an effort to get back into a regular writing groove I’m picking at least one album a day that I haven’t listened to this year and spending some time with it. The plan is to write something short about each one here on Irrational Confidence every day but if it turns out an album give me no strong feelings one way or another you might just get a tweet or two. You can follow along with the project at http://tinyurl.com/catchup2015 and even add in some stuff you think I might have missed. We’re not going in any particular order other than I’m saving Wilco’s Star Wars for Friday as a desperate reach for a theme.
I found Chappo right when I started research for this project scanning through this list of under-the-radar albums from Don Saas over at Baeble Music. Don described Future Former Self as a mix of T. Rex, Tame Impala and just a hint of Rush, but somehow a little more than that. I’m inclined to agree, as Chappo runs the gamut from 80’s glam-rock on “I’m Not Ready” to some delightful funk on “Mad Magic” to something a bit more psychedelic on “Run Me Into the Ground.” The latter was a track that I kept coming back to as a palate cleanser, not because I disliked any of the others, quite the opposite. It was just a nice place for a come-down after the high energy grooves of the rest of the album. It’s one of those songs that has the ability to wash over you, a slow, near-full body nod in comparison to something like “Hold On” and its uncanny ability to make me want to break out into my trademark indie-kid shuffle.
Chappo has a distinct sound that takes their obvious glam influences and focuses them into something just a bit different. The vocals on every track have a tendency to float just over the track as a compliment to the soundscapes being created underneath. The instrumentals, with their jangly guitars and groovy drums feel full. There’s a lot happening in every track without it being distracting. Everything feels distinct and I mean that as a great compliment. I think that Future Former Self was a great place to start The Catch-Up and Chappo has set a high bar for the rest of the project. Check out the video for “Hold On” below and we’ll see you tomorrow for part 2!