My apathy is killing me. Dream widowers and shoegaze-savvy melancholics from the hell has frozen over winter landscape of Minneapolis, take us on a lucid journey to Spirit Island, their sophomore release on championing contemporary punk label Deranged Records. Turning total trash into solid gold, these spotty young alchemists are by no means amateurs, crafting their own toxic concoction for disillusionment and unbridled emotion. The powerhouse trio – composed of Dustin McChesney, Hannah Kathleen, and Jared Sather – have traded in their well-earned punk cards to wield modest anthems for a new wave of teen angst writhing in the clean-carpeted bedrooms of suburbia across America.
Not entirely abandoning their punk upbringing or allowing the roots of their youth to undo, a genuine aggression remains left intact, true twin city grit brushed in with the glossy polish of something different. At times, it feels like taking a chainsaw to a dream. The delivery is overdue and the framework proves to be impenetrable, but you take pleasure in the lull of watching sparks fly and dance among the shadows that decorate the wall. The structure is mangled and twisted, but the depth of failure doesn’t creep in; it only accelerates the process, utilizing the outcome of a wasted effort to its advantage. They have found themselves together taking a leap of faith into a self-induced whirlpool, surpassing the treacherous or whatever desire to test the waters.
There is a sense of mutual vulnerability shared and understood by everyone in the group, in tune with empathy but not letting a single guard down. Kathleen and McChesney’s vocal pairings are near seamless; each member often caught in an uncorrected blur of wanderlust, are somehow able to stumble back gracefully and meet again in the middle. The anesthetic resonance leaves you weak in the knees, drifting in and out of consciousness, before being contorted with a euphonic cacophony of overdriven swells and skin-tightening high frequencies. These outbursts are kept in check by Sather’s ability to remain grounded, gain momentum when it is necessary, and misdirect the attention elsewhere rhythmically when least expected.
McChesney and Sather have been riffing off of each other for years, and have not only maintained that level of natural chemistry so longed for and sought after, but have remarkably cultivated it into an ever-expansive playing field. Like holding up your friend by the bootstraps on a long, drunk walk home in the rain, there is an unexplainable force here at work that acts as a fulcrum to this relationship – a quality in most, that is on its way to becoming extinct. Together, along with Kathleen, they are able to mend and continue the trajectory of what once was the path of a broken arrow.
Opening the album with a fluorescent light to the back of the head, immediately gets straight to the point of what direction this abandoned ship is headed. Throwing inhibition to the wayside, self-deprecating and admitting defeat to the oppression of negative thoughts that have long been an influence on yourself and others, and wanting nothing more than to change. You have become nausea.
“Through Meditation” points and pokes a finger sarcastically at the desperate attempt to find true religion, preaching to the choir “you stare at your watch like you’ll find God” which out of habit the act overtime evolves into ritual. Leaning more towards indie pop rather than whatever subgenre post-rock, is a confident and casual lightheartedness that sets the tone and this track apart from all the others. It bares the resemblance of a happy accident, like what would happen when you play a game with optimism in a crowded room that has no windows.
On “Tarantula” you hear a soft-spoken McChesney murmuring under the competing volume of Kathleen’s breath and his guitar “a simple twist of fate ain’t simple to me” which directs a subtle nod towards blood on the tracks-era Dylan in addressing the tortured if only moments of the past, and the prolonged pain of memory that is eternal. The spider is a known universal symbol of fate: a mentor, a destroyer, and a great deceiver. Crawling up the bedpost until it has reached your pillow, cruel and unforgiving, it brokenly promises a future and whispers sweet nothings into your already deaf ear. The spider suggests that everything is connected. Once a web has been destroyed, it will out of instinct build another one, and just as anything else within our grasp, we too must also continue to weave our own webs to a life that will either serve or enslave us. In the case of this song, however, we have found ourselves caught in the web of another; with anguish trying to escape the smothered hope and fly from sorrow.
In songs like the title track and “Yellowknife Bay” there are allusions to banal, yet otherworldly pinpointed geographic locations, portraying a postcard-esque and at the same time, monumental quality to them. There is a reserved level of importance we place on the mundane experiences in life we share with others. When the feeling fades, whether or not a memory has been fabricated or implanted to these intimate moments, everything all of a sudden crumbles and takes precedence. The songs persevere through the aural muck to which they have become tethered, only to serve as individual messages in a bottle, trinkets caught somewhere in time between a blink and a tear where the inevitable threat of disappearing slowly evaporates into bliss. I’m not left with much at the end, other than feeling worse what already is.
After a dark day spent staring off into the distance, or more accurately, into a screen that emulates a version of that reality, Spirit Island doesn’t seem inaccessible or dangerous, as far as first impressions are concerned. There is no caterwaul or siren song, nothing to lure me in; the water is still and waveless, patiently waiting to be interrupted. I could just as well make an attempt to swim, but am hesitant in my carelessness as I continue to find solace in their calm before the storm. (Stephen Proski)