Music

Future Bible Heroes: Partygoing

On the one hand, Partygoing is refreshingly in sync with the group’s first two albums. On the other, each feels like its own concept album of sorts.


Future Bible Heroes

Partygoing

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2013-06-04
UK Release Date: 2013-06-10
Amazon
iTunes

Some critics and fans greeted the Magnetic Fields’ 2012 album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, as a potential return to past form just based on the fact it was performed on synthesizers. The instrument was once prominent in the Magnetic Fields sound but lessened on their epic 69 Love Songs (1999) and disappeared from some of the albums after that. Of course Love at the Bottom of the Sea wasn’t a retreat, the songs were a bit madcap and their use of synthesizers unconventional. Any one who said it reminded them of the earliest Magnetic Fields albums was lying.

The related group Future Bible Heroes -- the trio of Stephin Merritt, Claudia Gonson and Chris Ewen -- has always relied on synthesizers, though it’s been Ewen playing them. Yet their third album, Partygoing, is their first since 2002, which makes it doubtful the group has been fresh on the minds of today’s young record-buyers. That’s probably why Merge is releasing Partygoing simultaneously with a boxset of all three albums and their related EPs.

Of the three albums, Partygoing might be the one that sounds most like early Magnetic Fields, at least on the surface. The synthesizers are less strange than on 2002’s Eternal Youth, though as with all of their albums, the more you dig your ears into the synthesizers the more layers reveal themselves. Meritt has said the first and last songs (“A Drink Is Just the Thing” and “When Evening Falls on Tinseltown”) are songs he wrote a while back, and both would have fit well on Get Lost (1995) or the Sixths albums. “Sadder Than the Moon”, the second song, also seems like classic Merritt material, not just because it’s at least his eighth song with “moon” in the title (there are three on Get Lost). Another thing the album shares with 1997’s Memories of Love, the Future Bible Heroes’ debut, is the 50/50 split on lead vocals, where Gonson will sing lead on one song, Merritt the next, and so on.

On the one hand, Partygoing is refreshingly in sync with the group’s first two albums. On the other, each feels like its own concept album of sorts. If Memories of Love was a slightly fantastical collection of dreams of love, lust and their related disappointments; and Eternal Youth gave the same a subtext of vampires, ghosts and the apocalypse; Partygoing is about nighclubs and partying…sort of.

The album starts overtly sad and slow, grounding the songs in heartbreak before picking up more of a partying vibe. “Living, Loving, Partygoing” stands as a theme song of sorts for the album. To a club tempo, Gonson chronicles parties (“we took god knows what/and danced on the lawn”) in a slightly detached way that hints at a certain monotony to the wildness without really acknowledging it. In its chorus “living, loving… partygoing”, she pauses long enough before the last word to allow us to imagine a certain amount of weariness, even sadness, behind this all.

There’s a nihilism to these parties. One radio-ready chorus/advertising jingle tells us to “Keep Your Children in a Coma”, to avoid a whole mess of evils--molesting priests, bullies, brain-numbing gadgets. Another memorable song finds Merritt contemplating how hard it is to live a life that’s thoroughly evil (“Satan, Your Way Is a Hard One”). The evilest-sounding thing on the album might be Merritt’s robotic background vocals on “How Very Strange”, where he plays the part of the devil on Gonson's shoulder, while together they describe a relationship of pain and domination. The song fades out with them still going, suggesting this dialogue could continue on an endless loop, for them or plenty of other humans.

If the album’s characters drink and dance to make everything go black, to forget current events, a few of the songs put the reasons in economic terms that might ring true for many. The album’s first real entreatment to dance--the third track--is a suicide song titled “Let’s Go to Sleep (And Never Come Back)”. Love and life once seemed easy, the song tells us, but now making money is impossible, the future is bleak and life seems like a long slow chore. Gonson sings, “Can’t afford the children/can’t afford the rent/all our money’s stolen/all our future’s spent”. Later song titles include “Love Is a Luxury I Can No Longer Afford” and “Digging My Own Grave”. Why dig your own grave? To save money, of course, and because life without love is bleak.

One solution to the pain and loneliness of life is to drink yourself to oblivion. And why drink the cheap stuff? “Drink Nothing But Champagne” -- which resembles Momus greatly and also boasts mock cameos from both David Bowie and Aleister Crowley -- gives kids the life lesson to eschew water and drink only champagne. That song sets up the album’s closing sunset moment “When Evening Falls on Tinseltown”, which lets all of the apocalyptic partygoing gently slide off to the side, into the whirring and bubbling of synthesizers. It ends with its narrator declaring, in face of celebrity culture and rampant consumerism, that she’ll be selling her house and buying a Geodesic dome -- doing more with less, perhaps, or going into hiding.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image