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Carissa's Wierd

They'll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996 - 2003

(Hardly Art; US: 13 Jul 2010; UK: 26 Jul 2010)

Carissa’s Wierd definitely has a reputation, even if no one’s heard the music. The band split up in 2003, virtually unknown outside of their Seattle home base. Left in their wake was a shitload of out-of-print music and an indie-rock legend. Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock supposedly climbed through their apartment window drunk and was so impressed by their music, he chose them as a tour opener.


Oh, yeah, and there were some famous people in the band.  Jenn Ghetto and Matt Brooke co-founded Carissa’s Weird in 1995, patiently refining a hushed, emotional indie rock playbook, recording on four tracks in Ghetto’s bedroom while Grandma slept in the next room.  After the band’s demise, Brooke and occasional drummer Ben Bridwell formed Band of Horses, which Brooke left after one album to form Grand Archives, and Ghetto started releasing solo albums under the name S.  One could easily play “Six Degrees of Wierd” and connect the dots to pretty much any indie-rock band currently out there. We’ve heard their names; we’ve heard the stories.  We’ve also heard some big talk about these songs as some sort of holy indie relic.  But is Carissa’s Wierd really worth the hype?


The good news is that we don’t have to go on much of an excavation to find out. Hardly Art has finally put an end to the years of mystery, issuing this loose best-of collection, which highlights tracks from all of their albums, as an official “Hello!” to the world (plans are to eventually reissue all of the band’s studio albums).  Lost treasure?  Overblown myth?  They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: 1996 – 2003, as it turns out, is really somewhere in the middle.  Any Band of Horses or Grand Archives fan will want to pick up this release simply for completist purposes. Those with a soft spot for chamber rock will find a handful of tracks to cherish.


“Low Budget Slow Motion Soundtrack Song for the Leaving Scene” sets the tone for the whole project. With Ghetto and Brooke’s tender unison vocals barely louder than a whisper, the childlike melody is brought to life by acoustic strums, an uncertain violin, and the surprisingly effective promise, “I will be waiting / I’ll just keep waiting for you”.  It’s the closest the track comes to a chorus, instead opting for repetitive chords and cyclical lyric fragments that waft through the speakers like debris through a highway-bound car window.  While these songs retain a sense of quiet grace and intimacy (an essential part of any chamber rock release), there is a palpable sense of spontaneity at work.  Many moments sound like the result of impromptu jam sessions, albeit very reserved ones.


The album starts to bleed together the longer it plays. Listening through the whole disc in one sitting is a bit of a chore, which is surprising considering this is essentially a best-of release. “Original” is definitely not the operative word here. A lot of these songs could be Modest Mouse b-sides, particularly the bent guitar drone of “Phantom Fireworks” and “Brooke Daniels’ Tiny Broken Fingers” which, with its trippy, galloping guitar and violin sweeps, feels like a Moon and Antarctica leftover.  Then again, Moon and Antarctica is a fucking great album, so it’s not exactly a bad place to be.


If you’re curious, stay that way.  If you’re not, don’t bother.  There’s not a single essential track here, and there is certainly not a bad one.  This is not a holy relic, not a lost classic.  It’s simply a collection of good-to-really good indie-rock songs.


“I never asked to be here”, Ghetto swears in the tear-jerking, suicidal climax of “Die”, her fragile voice circling above a weeping violin and piano.  It’s the most enthralling moment of the whole collection.  But her simple existential lament also serves as an effective calling card for the band itself.  Somehow, these songs sound confident, if fragile, content to exist as basically non-existent.  But they’re here now, and, perfect or not, we should be glad they decided to show up.

Rating:

Ryan Reed is an Adjunct English Professor, English Department Graduate Assistant, and freelance music critic/journalist with degrees in English and Journalism. In addition to serving as an Associate Music Editor/Music Writer with PopMatters, he contributes reviews, feature stories, and other work to Billboard, Paste, American Songwriter, Boston Phoenix, Relix, Blurt, Metro Pulse, Cleveland Scene, and a handful of others. If you want to contact him for any reason, send an e-mail to rreed6128[at]hotmail.com.


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