With its smart (self-conscious but not clever) lyrics, catchy music, and quality production, Aqueduct’s I Sold Gold has all the makings of a hit indie record, and it might have enough Ben Gibbardry and OC-ability to get David Terry, the act’s sole full member, wider attention. After one self-released full-length recording, Terry signed to Barsuk for an EP, and now an album that’s a fun personal showcase.
For this effort, Terry has kept two tracks from that EP, Pistols at Dawn, and they’re both winners. “Hardcore Days & Softcore Nights” satirically depicts the secretive stance of a tough-guy. After a steady keys intro and some heavy drums, Terry intones, “Don’t ever ask me where I go / Last man who asked me had to go,” and later threatens to “pull this heat [he’s] packing”. The solo consists of the still-steady keys playing a one-note-at-a-time melody while the programmed drums kick it up a notch. The song is ridiculous and infectious but, like the best of mouth-off pop, has something to say. With club-lite beats and a bouncy synth, Terry’s menacing falls silly, making a comment on the unflinching poise of the badass.
The other re-run, “Tension” opens with piano and effects that would do Grandaddy proud. The lyrics sound like an answer to the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”, indicated by the opening, “You’ve got a set of starry eyes / A pair that could make me realize…” However, instead of two lovers staying above the melee of life, we see that only our narrator is “in the sky”, and he’s “waiting patiently for” his beloved. His beloved, sadly enough, wants nothing to do with him, and we slowly learn that the object of affection (“object” being the key word here) feels “a little paranoid” around our narrator, refusing to speak to him on the phone and letting her anger grow. Rather than the lover- looking-to-help that we anticipate from the opening two stanzas, we get the semi-psycho stalker singer. Where “Such Great Heights” takes us on a vertical escape in union, “Tension” reveals a cold distance, from which an untrustworthy figure can pull us into a less comfortable reality.
As on “Hardcore Days & Softcore Nights”, Terry gives us characters who don’t seem to be what they should be, or who seem stuck in an awkward situation. In some ways, these songs are reminiscent of labelmate John Vanderslice, but the comparison works better in terms of production. The engineering — aided by Matt Pence (who’s worked with Jay Farrar and Deathray Davies) and Jason Holstrom of United State of Electronica — lacks the utter hi-fi nature of Vanderslice’s Cellar Door but it nearly matches the separation and precision. I Sold Gold, despite its lack of crisp tones, has clearly seen plenty of production fussiness, leading to a great sounding record that would fit in a lineup of Tiny Telephone productions, like Death Cab for Cutie in particular.
Fortunately, Aqueduct doesn’t rely on its production values; placing even greater emphasis on songwriting. Terry’s a witty lyricist, but one of his best tracks comes when he keeps the words to a minimum. “The Suggestion Box” begins with some electro-screech and a stirring piano line (yes, setting the tone for what is to come). The lyrics consist entirely of six similar lines based on an “instead of / you should” structure before closing on the two lines that reveal why the suggestion box needed to be put up: “I’d never leave you there / Screaming for my love.” Even when he seems more lighthearted, Terry never loses the intensity. “Growing Up With GNR” reveals heartbreak through the lens of nostalgia and Guns ‘n’ Roses fandom. He sings, “I was only 12, dammit all to hell / I was feeling fine / Hearing Axl Rose on the radio / Singing ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine.'” It sounds like the simple lost love of early adolescence, with its “dammit all to hell” outburst, but it’s actually a serious reflection on the past, escape from a fantasy, and the source of solace.
With these kinds of songs, Aqueduct should be starting off 2005 in the right way. Terry’s produced a unique sound, but one with references to his more successful peers. He claims that he’s “sold gold,” but that’s not the metaphor that people are going to use to describe this album; it’s a struggle for me to resist it, but Terry the lyricist deserves better.