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A Crooked and Unseen Highway: lowercase - "Severance Denied"

"Severance Denied" is possibly the most straightforward and uptempo track on the slowcore of Kill the Lights -- although "uptempo" is here a relative term.


lowercase

Kill the Lights

Label: Amphetamine Reptile
US Release Date: 1997-07-08
UK Release Date: 1997-08-07
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”Fill me innocently / When I have caved completely / With your talk of chances / The ones you never take.”

The third song on Kill the Lights, “Severance Denied”, fixates on spiritual and literal malnourishment. With the harrowing specter of “Slightly Dazed” still very much present, almost unwilling to recede, the thought of going through something like it all over again is off-putting. It would seem that the band felt much the same way, and as such, “Severance Denied” brings the tempo and the mood up a bit -- although here, "up" is a very relative term.

”The emptiness has left me / More than I want to be / And the way I stare at your vacancy frightens me.”

At only three minutes and six seconds, the once long-held ideal length for a pop song, “Severance Denied” is possibly the most straightforward track on Kill the Lights. Through what essentially qualifies as the verse, Imaad Wasif repeatedly hits his open high strings every couple of measures to produce something like an atonal bell ring. In the wordless chorus, he leaps off from those ringing notes into a discordant figure eight. Brian Girgus’ drumming is jittery and anxious, but also nimble.

Girgus is plenty capable of playing "big", as he does elsewhere on the album, but here, when it might have made sense to fill in the space left by Wasif’s sinuous guitar lines, Girgus holds back. The basslines also follow suit. Kill the Lights would, of course, be lowercase’s first recorded material to include bass. While the group clearly revels in the options provided by the new addition to their sound elsewhere on the record, on this song the bass tends to hover not too far below the same area of the sonic spectrum as the guitar. More than any other lowercase song, “Severance Denied” reflects their affinity with Unwound, who Wasif and Girgus got their very first gig opening for. It’s perhaps a more jangly take on Unwound’s brand of post-hardcore, as if that Olympia, Washington group had been more influenced by the lighter side of their town’s scene.

”I don’t consider / Myself a bread winner / But if the face is drawn long enough / Then I have no complaints.”

About that new bass player, then. In the album credits, he is listed merely as “justin”, but then so too is Girgus only listed as “brian”, while Wasif somehow gets his last initial in there, listed as “imaad w” -- asserting the frontman's authority, perhaps.

The new bassist's role in lowercase ended up being mostly to go into the studio to record Kill the Lights. He may have hung around for a little bit beyond that, but they ultimately parted ways not long after the album. In Andrew Bottomley’s interview with Girgus for issue #6 of Skyscraper, Girgus didn’t mince words in his recollection of working with a third member:

…I think when we first started playing with the bass player, I had a hard time relating to the third-person dynamic about it, I was so used to [just the two of us]. I think I had a lot of problems with it at first and then I think a lot of that, too, was just the guy that was playing bass for us -- I really hated him, I couldn’t stand him.

”I look much thinner / Than when you knew me last winter / I subsist on the thoughts of your last kiss / And what I’d lost.”

His experience with the bassist wasn’t the first time Girgus had been at odds with a third member. In another interview months before Kill the Lights was even recorded, Girgus told the zine Fungus Boy about the first time they tried to play with someone else, and the decision to be a duo:

We had this one guy that we were playing with like before we called ourselves anything… he was a shit for brains, so we just said, "Hey we’re gonna break up", and we were lying ‘cause we wanted him to quit.

An inability to work with others seems to have been built in to lowercase from the beginning. Wasif and Girgus had their own tumultuous stretches, even breaking up for a short time after moving to San Francisco after releasing their debut album, but lowercase was always going to be centered on their dynamic. The band was its own kind of relationship, a sometimes fraught one, at that. Hopefully, though, it was significantly less fraught than the relationships Wasif sings about on Kill the Lights.

”What keeps you inside/Is what keeps you denied”

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