Kimya Dawson’s new solo release, I’m Sorry That Sometimes I’m Mean, is no Moldy Peaches record, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One of the most endearing qualities of the Moldy Peaches has also been one of their chief weaknesses. Dawson and Adam Green, her other (songwriting) half, have certainly raised the bar when it comes to writing smart, humorous, left-of-center sing-alongs. Their songs contain, in equal measure, a hint of perversion and a dash of sweet, child-like innocence.
However, while the main draw of the Moldy Peaches centers around their clever wordplay, pithy witticisms, and the tacit understanding that none of this is supposed to be taken too seriously, it’s hard not to hold tight for those unexpected moments of stark emotional honesty, when the heartfelt earnestness of the lyrics is not camouflaged for the sake of the joke. One wonderful example is Dawson’s song, “Nothing Came Out”, from the Moldy Peaches’ self-titled CD, about an unrequited crush. All one has to do is listen once to Dawson’s on-the-verge-of-tears delivery to know she is not just singing a song, but baring her soul.
Thankfully, I’m Sorry That Sometimes I’m Mean, contains a few truthful songs. In fact, Dawson seems quite at home sharing personal stories from many areas of her life, including her romantic past. The album’s eleven songs (including one bonus track) feature Dawson, alone, on her acoustic guitar, though she does utilize a liberal amount of layered in “noise” over her quiet vocals and soft guitar work. The entire album was recorded at Dawson’s home on a four track and she uses everything from bird tweets, to canned rain, to bells and chimes.
“Everything’s Alright”, a deceptively upbeat song with an incessant toy siren in the background, contains the disturbing lyric “I lived alone, so I took him home / He doesn’t love me, but he keeps me company / Everything’s alright”. Later Dawson sings, in her patented fragile crack, “Why do I always pretend I can spoon a guy and still be his friend? / I always wind up crushed out in the end and it makes me crazy”.
“Rocks with Holes” is another song that betrays Dawson’s apparent confusion in regards to romantic love. “I’m gonna get high and find me a skater / She tries, but for some reason, no one will date her”. This dirge-like tune contains a toy keyboard, as well as a recorder-type wood wind instrument.
Kimya Dawson grew up in her parents’ day care center in Westchester County in New York and now, as an adult, makes that same day care center her home. Growing up around so many other children has clearly informed her lyrics as well as her musical choices. The mid-tempo “Talking Ernest”, complete with drum machine, is about a pull-string doll with a surprisingly rich inner life. He seems to have many thoughts and opinions about love, friendship, fashion and popular culture, such as “He said them Garbage Pail Kids should have got a lot more credit for the wacky things they did”. The use of recorded snippets of an actual Talking Ernest doll is a nice touch.
“Stinky Stuff” is another child-friendly song in which Dawson enlisted the help of some of the children at the day care. During the song each child shares the things they really like, against dissonant piano music. “I like people that don’t have their clothes on, because they’re naked”, says one courageous child.
“Hold My Hand” about Dawson’s first-hand experience with child abuse, is perhaps the most moving song on the record. Repeated listens do nothing to negate the emotional impact and it’s nearly impossible to listen to the heartbreak and frustrated anger in Dawson’s voice without feeling it too. “Sometimes the world is dark and cold and no matter what I’m told / I’m scared and I’m alone and I’m five years old / Will you hold my hand?” And later: “Once I knew a little guy / Running nose and bruises on his thighs / And I said ‘hey, what happened here?’”
Dawson’s already hushed, small voice fades to almost nothing at different points in the song and the guitar’s soft strum makes it necessary, even on record, to pay close attention to lines like “And me and Oprah, we will fix CPS / And we’ll make sure that people working with kids have bigger hearts than the rest / And if you wanna have a baby, you’ll have to pass a test”.
Most of the songs on I’m Sorry That Sometimes I’m Mean are not as immediately accessible as Dawson’s work with the Moldy Peaches, but they do offer more consistent emotional depth. Lyrically, Dawson has emerged as a seriously talented wordsmith.
There are, of course, songs on this record that simply don’t work. “Stinky Stuff” is a great idea in theory, but in reality, it’s self indulgent. “Wandering Daughter”, “Eleventeen”, and the country-flavored “Trump Style” are each too slow and droning (and without a single hook to be found).
For those who come to this album hoping for more Moldy Peaches, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you’re interested in observing Kimya Dawson’s growth as a writer and person, this may be the album for you.