35 Albums in 35 Years: 2009

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it. Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.

 

paperchase2009: The Paper Chase’s Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1

Things are likely to get a little heavy.

In the grand scheme of all things, we are not defined but what we like, what we watch, what we read, what we listen to. Ultimately, none of that stuff matters. The art and the culture are just a fading reflection of what a person or a people felt, what they expressed about themselves, or what they’ve seen while living on their own chunk of this spinning rock. But it does not define them. We are defined by our actions, not our art…but sometimes that art can make us feel just as human, or weak, or vulnerable, just as haunted, or loved, or alone as any action…or inaction. Our art does not define us, but it does make us feel. It makes us whole. It is an ongoing and living testament to the human condition and experience. Even when it’s unintentional, art can make us feel something. But, that’s subjectivity for you.

So many records hit me in this way.

I have been so immersed in music my whole life, that there are any number of different albums that have been internally assigned to specific feelings or moments or events in my 35 years, be they joyous, tragic, or comic, significant or insignificant. I have love albums. I have break-up albums. I have childhood albums and teenage albums and college albums. Albums that make me smile. Albums that make me reflective. Albums that make me nostalgic. They’re all in there. And they’re important to me, even if my associated feelings were never the artist’s intent. It’s the way I’m hearing it. It’s the way I’m reading in to it. I have an album for everything.

Defunct (but not forgotten) Dallas band The Paper Chase’s 2009 album Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1 has the dubious distinction of being the “my dad is dying from cancer” album. It is what it is.

I was a pretty big fan of the band starting in 2003 when I heard the What Big Teeth You Have EP which featured amazing covers of songs by Roger Waters and Scott Walker*, as well as an intense and foreboding original tune. 2004’s full-length release God Bless Your Black Heart hooked me in even further, and I’ve been a devoted follower of the band and lead man John Congleton’s production work** ever since. When the band’s last album was released in 2009, it followed the trajectory that previous efforts had gradually been perfecting for the better part of a decade, a sonic palette of jarring and purposefully discordant songs preaching about the darker and uglier aspects of humanity, a strange mix of hardcore punk, heavy metal, prog rock, experimental textures, and off-kilter recordings that bared Congleton’s soul, as well as his teeth. And as much as I love The Paper Chase, I don’t believe I was adequately prepared for the effect that Someday This Could All Be Yours would have on me.

The album came out about a month and a half after my father had already passed. Still, as emotionally wounded as I was, it was a shock to hear an album that seemed to so aptly apply to my life’s current events, to every aspect of disease, death, and loss, even if it was only metaphoric. Themes of destruction, death, illness, and the frailty of the human body pop up all over the record. The album opener alone, “If Nobody Moves Nobody Will Get Hurt (The Extinction),” makes references to the sinking of the Titanic, the death of the Kennedy’s, and the devolution of our own physical bodies. Further imagery of forest fires destroying family homesteads (“I’m Going to Heaven with or without You (The Forest Fire)”), pestilence (“The Common Cold (The Epidemic)”), and the dead piling up in the streets (“What Should We Do with Your Body (The Lightning)”) only served to solidify all of the dread and anguish that I felt with my family.

The moment on the record that hit me hardest (and still very much does) was the repeating chorus of “The Laying of Hands The Speaking in Tongues (The Mass Hysteria),” the line “I command you to leave this body” said, sang, screamed over and over again. That one line was the clincher. It said so much. And it held three distinct and disparate meanings for me. In one sense, it comes from the doctor’s perspective as he attempts to irradiate the cancer from my father’s body. In another, it’s from my father’s, as his soul, or essence, or whatever leaves his frail frame as his life expires. And in the last, it’s from my own point of view, as I close off my emotions and in essence, leave my body in order to dull the pain, to feel numb.

The song doesn’t mean any of this though. And neither does the album. Not exactly anyway. It uses natural disasters as metaphors for the inevitable end of all of us, a statement about the inherent weakness of the human condition. Mine at the time just so happened to be cancer and the death of a loved one.

I likely will never be able to disassociate this album from that time of my life, or the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that weighed so heavy on my heart and soul in 2009…and since, and to some degree, that’s probably unfair to the record, a disservice to the songs. Maybe they were never meant to mean all that. But, on the other hand, that association will keep the album forever precious and important to me. Art will always be subjective, and as unintentional as The Paper Chase’s final album’s effect on me personally may have been, as art, it succeeded on all fronts.

-Favorite song: “The Laying of Hands The Speaking of Tongues (The Mass Hysteria)”
-Runner up: “If Nobody Moves Nobody Will Get Hurt (The Extinction)”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Zombi’s Spirit Animal; Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport; Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion; Ganglians’ Monster Head Room; The Flaming Lips’ Embryonic; DOOM’s Born Like This; Secret Chiefs 3’s Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini; Steve Wilson’s Insurgentes; Dangermouse and Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul.

 
*The song “My Death” was actually written by French singer/songwriter/composer Jacques Brel, but The Paper Chase’s rendition is a take on the Eric Blau and Mort Shuman English translation that was performed by Scott Walker on his 1967 album Scott.

**John Congleton has been a producer/engineer/mixer for a large number of different bands and artists, including The Polyphonic Spree, Swans, The Roots, Baroness, Black Mountain, Modest Mouse, Clinic, Erykah Badu, and on and on.

 

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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