I Once Was Found, But Now I'm Lost
At the beginning of Lost‘s second season premiere, as the mystery of “the hatch” hung unresolved in the air, viewers were treated to a blast of unfamiliar imagery. A muscular figure, his face never shown, awakes to a beeping computer, types something on the worn keyboard, and plunges into a purposeful morning routine. As he goes about cleaning, washing dishes, and exercising, he puts on a record: “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass. Lost had often used pop music for dramatic effect previous to this, most memorably for a fuzzy slo-mo character montage set to “Delicate” by Irish balladeer Damien Rice. But the Mama Cass tune was a different beast. The song’s sun-kissed hippie positivity came off as borderline demented when contrasted with the tense riddling of the show, particularly when it blares out later in the episode in the midst of yet another armed stand-off.
Taking their cue from Mama Cass, New York City-based duo Previously on Lost (a.k.a. Jeff Curtain and Adam Schatz) find the perfect counterpoint to the ponderous mysteries of Lost: quirky goofball psych-pop with hilarious lyrics and silly vocals. The conceit is simple: after every episode of the cult ABC drama airs, Curtain and Schatz write and record a song recapping it. Kind of recapping it. Sort of. Okay, not really even at all.
The Tale of Season Four and the Oceanic Six
(Kiss My Arzt Records)
US: 5 Dec 2008
Previously on Lost’s aesthetic is full of referential winks and witty commentary on the show’s willful flirtations with weirdness, but it’s hardly a substitute for that weirdness, and assumes a good deal of familiarity with the unfolding events on the fictitious island. Non-fanatics are likely to be, well, lost. As they’re released week-by-week on the internet, the songs have more than a faint scent of the novelty to them. But when compiled on a mail-order album that covers an entire season, they speak not only to the enduring wit but also to the devious sonic playfulness of their creators.
When considering Previously on Lost, the most obviously analogous act that comes to mind is Harry and the Potters, the “wizard rock” duo who make offbeat lo-fi garage pop inspired by J.K. Rowling’s mega-popular novels. But while the Potters stretch a single minor element of their cultural muse into repetitive songs which expose their extremely limited musical abilities, Previously on Lost craft labyrinthine compositions with clever, side-splitting lyrics and eccentric instrumentation.
“We’re Going Home!”, the recap for the fourth season premiere that opens the album, is typical of Curtain and Schatz’s loopy talents but also reflective of the emotional ebb and flow of the episode at hand. Opening with harmonized “yeahs” and bright strumming, the band shares smiles and jubilation with the characters anticipating rescue, and uses the song’s bridge to celebrate Hurley’s liberating cannonball dive. But as the survivors split and the likelihood of imminent rescue fizzles, the tune slips into the minor key repetition of “We are the Oceanic Six”, accompanied by random observations like Jack opining, “I think I’m gonna grow a beard.”
“Just Wink” begins with a S.O.S. and radio chatter before lapsing into a xylophone-and-calliope waltz, the lyrics commenting on the maddening indirectness that permeates Lost‘s dialogue (“the knowledge Ben holds is older than the Sphinx / but he can’t just say what he thinks”) and the prevalence of firearms on the island (“we’ve got tons of those!”). The oddly anthemic “The Ballad of Sayid Jarrah” pokes riotous fun at the incongruous episode in which everyone’s favorite former Iraqi torturer finds himself mired in secret agent clichés, complete with a rumba-beat coda of Sayid break-dancing (“He’s doing the worm!”). “Be My Constant” is a bizarro-funk love song about electro-magnetism and Desmond Hume’s time-travelling (“she’s constantly on my mind / I’m constantly blacking out”). “Move It!” surfs in on a kazoo orchestra and ends with Motown exhortations to “move your island”. Even when the on-the-fly songwriting doesn’t congeal into anything substantial, brilliant one-offs abound: “What’s a girl gotta do to get a healthy double-dip of pre-natal?” in “Wherever Sun Go”; “Be our shining star in the night / smoke monster” in “Woosh!”; “Don’t use Jesus Christ as a defensive device / and probably steer quite clear of the crackers” in “BFF”. If they weren’t based on a popular network television drama, these lines would be held up as examples of the most innovative lyrics in indie rock.
Curtain and Schatz close the album with a 12-minute live recording of their off-the-cuff season finale recap. Their comical post-mortem discusses muscle-bound commandos and exploding freighters (and pays brief tribute to Gerald, the forgotten freighter dishwasher who is blown up with all his dishes). It takes the form of a gospel-blues revival sing-along that inverts the refrain of “Amazing Grace” into a mantra for the show’s legion of obsessives: “I once was found / but now I’m lost.” In its post-post-modern, hyper-ironic way, the sing-along is a comment on the church-like communality produced by hit TV programs like Lost. But it’s also a testament to the screwball creativity of Previously on Lost, that rare novelty act that transcends its own self-constructed novelty.
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