A Crooked and Unseen Highway: lowercase - "Neurasthenia"

"Neurasthenia" sinks into bed, going to sleep listless and defeated as Kill the Lights reaches its low ebb in the very middle.


Kill the Lights

Label: Amphetamine Reptile
US Release Date: 1997-07-08
UK Release Date: 1997-08-07

“I can’t obsess / Over you anymore / I can’t confess / That I love you”

Let’s get the definition of "Neurasthenia" out of the way: “an ill-defined medical condition characterized by lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability, associated chiefly with emotional disturbance.” A serious case of "the sads", then.

“I can’t address what is wrong anymore / And I don’t know if I want to”

When “Neurasthenia” starts up, it almost sounds like a 45RPM version of the song before it, “Severance Denied”, played at 33 ⅓ speed. The guitar and bass clang and bump up against each other, and the drums march in clipped snaps and kicks, but the band’s energy seems to be draining fast. Imaad Wasif, who has gnashed and howled his way through Kill the Lights up to this point, is utterly bereft of his usual volatility, delivering these first lines with something more than a whisper, less than a library voice. He sounds meek, humbled.

“Neurasthenia” is the collapsing middle of the album. The band sound like they are trying to decide if they want to carry on or call it a day.

“I can't infect / All the wounds and the sores / I can’t object / To my weakness”

The conflicts with lowercase weren’t just limited to the personal relationships that Wasif alluded to in his lyrics, or Brian Girgus’ strong dislike of the bass player they had at the time. Kill the Lights would be their second and final album for Amphetamine Reptile, who had with at least some seeming enthusiasm put out their debut, All Destructive Urges Seem So Perfect. Known for their noise rock roster that at different points included the likes of the Melvins, Helmet, and many others, the Minneapolis label started in Washington by a US Marine was perhaps not the most natural home for a less directly aggressive band like lowercase.

Still, most all labels have at least one odd-man-out band, and both parties can make it work. In the instance of lowercase and Amphetamine Reptile, it seems as if individual attitudes, from both sides, played a role in the demise of their relationship.

When Skyscraper asked Girgus to reflect on the situation a few years after the band and label had parted ways, he was a bit back and forth on the matter:

Skyscraper: Do you regret having worked with Amphetamine Reptiles (sic)?

Girgus: Oh god, you know what? I don’t know about that. I do in a lot of ways, but in another lot of ways I know that... fuck, it’s just like a learning experience.

Skyscraper: It always seemed like an odd pairing.

Girgus: Yeah, it was. I was really surprised that Tom Hazelmeyer (sic) liked our band a lot, and enough to want to do records. I really like Tom, he’s great... And I don’t see eye to eye with a lot of his views about music, but I don’t think I regret it. I mean, sometimes I wish it didn’t happen, that we were never on AmRep... but I can’t really say I regret it.

I think that Imaad might say he regretted it. It was just a really fucked up paring. I think it could have worked, somehow. But they were all too happy to not release our next record and we were all too happy to... like, I called them to be like “hey, we’re not going to do any more music with you guys”... They were just like, “oh, that’s really funny because we were going to call you in the next couple of days to tell you that we don’t want to do any more records with you guys, either.”

“I can’t forget / My way through this corridor / And I don’t know if I’ll haunt you”

Wasif finally raises his voice above the level of a murmur when he concludes his one-sided conversation. Still, he’s not angry, but sullen, having ceded his side of the argument. “So decide / What you want me to be”, he moans, with a repeated “so decide” that morphs into a nasally chant of “suici-i-ide”. Once again, it’s not on the lyric sheet, but there’s no denying that is what he is singing.

“So decide / What you want me to be”

This all happens in the first half of the song’s six minutes. After that the guitar, bass and drums carry on, the song dissipating further and further into an instrumental mumble. In many other groups’ hands, “Neurasthenia” would use this extended quiet passage as a diving board into a final outburst of volume, but lowercase fully commit to the theme. It sinks into bed, going to sleep listless and defeated as Kill the Lights reaches its low ebb in the very middle.

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