For Once in My Life, I’ll Be Spontaneous: an EHS record review
Now That My TV Has Wings I’ll Never Be Lonely
So here’s the thing that bugs me about Tucson, Arizona’s …music video?: as a grammatical perfectionist, I hate the way the band’s name makes my sentences look. No, I’m not asking a question there. No, I’m not trailing into a thought. That’s just how the dude formats it. And as an iTunes perfectionist, I hate the way the band’s name is sorted in my library. The program knows enough to alphabetize it starting with the ‘m,’ so it falls correctly between Mull Historical Society and My Bloody Valentine. But it doesn’t know enough to jump directly to it when I type ‘mus.’ And it won’t let me find it quickly by typing in an ellipsis, either.
Turns out those are about the only two things that bug me about …music video?. Turns out, in fact, that I’m totally addicted to the new album from Paul Jenkins’s one-man pop/indie/electronica/rock band.
See, the album does this thing where it starts out all mysterious, with the hiss and whine of an off-the-air TV station (on the intro track "Ellipsis"; the album’s ethereal outro track is called "Question Mark." Get it?). Suddenly kicks in this big, heavy Amusement Parks on Fire-esque guitar riff and liberal stabs at a simulated crash cymbal, like some looming dark night-time anthem. When it cuts down to the album’s first verse, though, you hear a better example of the trademark …mv? sound: glitchy programmed drums, Jenkins’s low, warm, voice, free from any audible effect, and a sparkling plucked electric guitar line. When the chorus falls back down–that warm dark guitar riff that started everything–it sounds like some strange Smashing Pumpkins-turn-shoegaze movement, sans Billy Corgan’s occasionally-tolerable whine.
"Another Random Tragedy" sounds a bit like The Flaming Lips–mostly in Jenkins’s voice–but holds onto that distinct …mv? sound that you’ll get to know if you listen to even a few tracks; there’s another glitchy beat underneath, a post-rock-style single-string guitar line in the background, and a little breakdown that sounds exactly like your laptop, your cellphone, and your microwave are all flirting with each other in some kind of electronic bizarre love triangle. "The Little Boy on Fire" is equally Flaming Lips-inspired, and possibly one of the most straightforward tracks on the record, featuring mostly piano and synth sounds, with a super catchy syncopated beat that helps buoy the mournful piano chords and woeful chorus.
The album also stalks through a couple darkly playful tracks with Gotham-like musical landscapes. "For the Sake of Argument I Disagree" rides a grinding fuzzy bassline through its choruses with Jenkins weaving a tale of jealousy and regret through Elliott Smith-like whispers and bent blue notes. Its chorus is unexpectedly pretty, with a glittery harpish Nintendo-style synth line. "Seasick"–devious- and clever-sounding, pulsing with a distorted drum beat and a theremin-like synth line–could pass as a song in an imaginary Tim Burton film.
"Sugar Ghost" comes off like some lost post-rock tune rocketed into the future, with its chiming falling guitar line and heady, stuttering drums. Jenkins’s vocals gently push and then tear into the middle of the tune, carrying a romantically desperate wail-turned-impressive-falsetto (Glen Hansard-style) into a crushing tide made up of a mighty rising guitar riff and smashing drums. "Sparklemilk Warning" is equally emotive and equally fragile-yet-powerful, with crashing cymbals, a ghostly falsetto, and twirling organ lines that anyone who ever dug Volcano I’m Still Excited!! will admire. Both songs are impossible to imagine as anything but stunning at a live …mv? performance.
The album’s central tracks, though, happen to be my favorite. "House of Cards" is from the movie from the future, somehow blending an old-school-drum ‘n’ bass beat with a cool wave of electronic noise, an ocean of digital breath washing through the song’s chorus, with little electronic twitters and blip-buoys. Jenkins manages to create some extremely interesting sounds on this record; I find myself drawn back to the record just as much by these weird little noises as by its tight hooks and big soaring choruses. "Shipwrec" somehow makes musical the sound of futuristic vacuum cleaners or your computer’s hard drive spinning, and it’s strangely addictive and peaceful to let those sounds swirl around on either side of your head. It’s one of those beautiful night-time songs that can make you feel wistful and hopeful and melancholy and content all at the same time.
And then there’s "The Day I Exploded," the album’s brightest candidate for ambassador to indie radio. The song begins with the sound of blowing wind and a rich layer of twittering glitch-cricket clicks and then gallops quickly into a shiny busy verse and explodes into a triumphant, confident chorus. There also appears in the middle of the song a little lush glitchpop garden that would sound at home on a Seal Beach EP-era Album Leaf recording. But suddenly there’s that triumphant guitar riff again!
Jenkins’s vocal delivery is strong throughout the album, and the lyrics sound generally sincere, if not very poetic. There is the occasional awkward line (as on "The Little Boy on Fire," where can be found a line about "reindeer games"; I understand it’s a reference to the old Christmas standard and all, but I can’t help thinking about that terrible Ben Affleck movie). But it’s Jenkins’s sincerity that sells you. Or that sold me. When, on the just-mentioned "The Day I Exploded," Jenkins sing-shouts about how he’ll "keep it in a safe place," I believe him, and then when I’m further assured that "you’ll be able to find it whenever you need it," I wish the "you" referred to me because I would love to have that kind of peace of mind.
So is this a lyrical album? It is. You can hear what he’s saying. There’s nothing cringe-worthy. The stories are human, sympathetic, sometimes a little quirky and weird, and interesting (my favorite of them being "House of Cards," about a vaguely romantic companion who happens to be small enough to fit in a pocket). But ultimately this is a sound album, and I find myself listening (on repeat) for all those strange little engineered noises swimming around under or above the clever and well-made pop tunes.
Sadly, you’re not likely to catch a …music video? show in Denver anytime soon. Jenkins seems to be in that stage in a musician’s career where he makes music simply for the joy of making music and letting people hear it. Not much chance of a cross-country tour. He’s without a record label, a manager, or a booking agent (although he wouldn’t mind having any of those on board, according to the …mv? MySpace page). But if you find yourself in Tucson in time for one of his shows, you’re likely in for a smashing (and beautifully weird) performance. Would I be a total asshole if I added "And if you make it to a …music video? show, tell ‘im EHS sent ya!"?
The answer: …probably?