We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Gravel, Either
The tribulations of Chin Up Chin Up have been well-documented in the indie press. In early 2004, bassist Chris Saathoff was killed in a senseless hit-and-run accident. Ignoring the fact that most of the bass parts were completed before the tragedy, it is admittedly a rather convenient springboard to talk about the album’s apparent mortality-tinged melancholy. Yet, at the risk of sounding opportunistic, I can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding in the proceedings. I may be conjuring things that are not there, but even the album’s title seems to embody some form of post-911 regret.
Chin Up Chin Up are the auteurs of atmospherics, filtering Pavement-like irreverence through tight virtuosic arrangements, intent on trapping the vast existentialist core of everyday hustle-and-bustle into the three-minute rock song. They are the musical versions of urban planners, where all 10 varied tracks in We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers form a vast cityscape whose sole connecting factor is the overwhelming sense of concrete ennui.
As a result of its ambition, We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers is a really busy album. The album takes the everything-including-the-kitchen sink route, a post-rock mad scientist sensibility that is in ample supply. Yet, within those math-rock breakdowns of structure lies a sense of melody so painfully acute that it nearly reaches the point of pop. Frontman Jeremy Bolen’s vocals whisper in forced-hush tones, like an Englishman reading Romanized Chinese off a cue card. We hear the semblance and shape of words, yet nothing is decipherable. The result is yet another layer in the already padded orchestrations of echoing what-could-have-been’s and never-meant-to-be’s.
The opener “Why Is My Sleeping Bag a Ghetto Muppet?” epitomizes the album’s overall feel and execution. A repeating keyboard solo riff plays over New Order-like cricket clicks to start off the track. Then, the line is layered with yet another guitar solo and a modified marching beat, subsequently harkening a call-and-response sequence between the original guitar and a newly-introduced one. It builds up into a drunken swoon, inculcating a sense of aural displacement to fit its overarching theme of homelessness. Alas, Bolen laments in the chorus, “You can go home / But I can’t go home”. After all, cardboard boxes, or ghetto Muppets in particular, are not meant to be permanent lodging.
Due to the unfortunate timing of the release of their LP in late 2004, Chin Up Chin Up went by relatively unnoticed by critics who had already compiled their year-end lists. However, if this disc had been released in 2005, this would be in my personal top five for the year. They are indeed a case study in bouncing back from adversity, in the process crafting a gem of a record. It is a most fortunate fact that more and more people are paying attention to them these days, because talent this potent will not go unnoticed for long.
So brothers, chin up. Your time to shine is near.