[14 April 2008]
It all ends with those steady claps, apropos to nothing. It’s just a flow of in-time clapping. Maybe it is supposed to be a show of gratitude. Perhaps it is from them to us; perhaps from us to them; perhaps both. That’s not the point. The point is that it may all be over. It may all be over, and not much of anyone knew that it ever started. We Appreciate You says the title, and one has to wonder if this magnanimous disposition has more to do with acceptance than it does gracefulness, or vice-versa. Ultimately, The Plastic Constellations have chosen to vanish into that good night, and they want to convey thanks to us for wasting some time with them.
“So many friends/ So many friends/ With so many friends/ We’re bound to last ‘til the end.”
Just as they’ve shown countless times throughout their ten-plus years together, The Plastic Constellations are hardly Minnesota wordsmiths (they leave that to Craig Finn). However, there is a simple honesty and gentle phrasing in passages like this that no doubt lend themselves to scrutiny, but sting in places you may not realize or want to admit. The key to enjoying a band like The Plastic Constellations—besides seeing them live (SXSW is your last chance!)—is understanding that, in the end, trite as it may sound, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
These wiry guitar riffs; these spit and sputter time changes; these break-beat percussion choices are all familiar in the world of The Plastic Constellations. Throughout their career, this troupe has developed a mode of operations not completely dissimilar to other bands in their rather dubious genre. What sets apart The Plastic Constellations, in my mind, is their apparent devotion to the art of excelling at being lackluster. This is not to say that they are not a talented band, or even a good band. In fact, quite the opposite is true. However, they’ve never really been able to have their different talents coalesce into something truly meaningful, as opposed to something simply special. The Plastic Constellations have always realized this, and wear their shortcomings like a badge of honor.
“Don’t waste any time/ Cuz we only get one life/ Then it’s gone for good.”
That comes from We Appreciate You and the song “Hardland/Heartland”. It is just a brief example of the labored, clichéd lyrical choices that The Plastic Constellations have always—and continue—to employ with both pride and vigor. If not for these kinds of empty attempts at anthemic immortality at the expense of credibility, these boys just might be a lot more popular than they are at the moment. However, if not for their willful (almost petulant) dedication to these dime-a-dozen, way-of-the-world truisms and call-to-arms platitudes they might lose all of their charms. And there’s the rub.
We Appreciate You continues the structural and stylistic choices that have helped to make them one of the better live acts that I have ever seen (it certainly helps to see them with The Hold Steady). The Plastic Constellations easily blend noise rock, post-punk, and snotty indulgence into tiny pop confections that are as seething as they are addictive. When topped off with the middling to maddening word styling of the band’s frontmen, a hyperactive mix of journey and judgment is reached for the listener. We Appreciate You is short, not so sweet, and speaks well to this point.
The album’s opener “Stay That Way” is, for lack of a better word, a perfect introduction to the band. It’s loud, deceptively messy, smirking atmosphere helps them to latch their hooks into you fairly easily. Tracks like this one seem to help highlight what makes The Plastic Constellations so oddly compelling in the first place. Simply stated, the Plastic Constellations are probably one of the most honest bands around today. This quality can be found all through out We Appreciate You. Notable gems like “Disastrophe” and the aforementioned “Hardland/Heartland” blend up-tempo timing with jubilantly dissonant melodic structures and an all-too-vulnerable lyrical canvas.
The album’s best track, its closer, “So Many Friends”, provides maybe the best example of The Plastic Constellations’ modesty, honesty and, of course, gratitude. Those steady claps that I mentioned earlier start it off, giving way to a barely there acoustic strum, repeated ad nauseam. It is an effortless track that is decidedly uncomplicated with its central conceit that… they’ve made a lot of friends, and really appreciate them all. The coda of the track has a choir of voices repeating those same words over and over again (the lyrics I cited up there in the second paragraph. Remember?) until the loudness of their resolve becomes a whisper, retreating all the way back to those steady handclaps. Those steady claps, acting as a heartbeat pumping blood until there simply is nothing left to pump.