by Daniel Welch
“To do away with itself, that spirit cannot do; seize itself, so long as it has itself outside itself, it cannot do that either. Nor can the human being sink down into the vegetative, for he is characterized as spirit. Flee from anxiety he cannot, for he loves it; really love it he cannot, for he flees from it. Innocence has now reached its peak.” – Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety
A Distant Fist Unclenching is a difficult, rewarding album.
Relative to previous releases, Krill has stripped down their song structure — songs ‘Phantom’, ‘Torturer’, ‘Tiger’ and ‘Brain Problem’ all involve repeating lines or verses more or less word-for-word — but with less words Krill manages to summon much more dense and intricate images. I didn’t really ‘get’ a few of the songs on the first listen, and every once in a while a line will still throw me a bit, forcing me to question whether I’m missing something big (it doesn’t help that you’re thrown into it without a lyric sheet or anything). Not only that, but the images and ideas of these individual songs have tricky ways of echoing throughout the album, which makes understanding the thing itself all at once a difficult task.
Not only that, but in many ways a part of understanding A Distant Fist Unclenching is as a culmination of what Krill has done so far as a band. A lot of musicians indulge themselves or their fanbase in winking references to self-mythology, a strange by-product of pop music that bizarrely ends up becoming a part of the commerce in its own right. Krill has been guilty of this before (sardonically or no, they have recorded a song called “Theme from Krill”), but on this record history plays a much more meaningful role: Krill moves forward with some of the core “Krill” concepts (of failure, division of self, “Purity”, human and animal life…) and their ability to do so is already impressive in itself. But more than that, how this step is taken is actually a testament to the central ideas of the album… The most fitting way to explain this, for now at least, seems to be a (not really winking) reference:
On ‘Infinite Power’, the climax of the previous Krill full-length Lucky Leaves (2013), bassist/lyricist Jonah Furman sings:
“And now the fact that things have happened,
is the only thing that I can know
and inside that oscillating noise
is my favorite place to go…
It’s the only place I can go.”
At the end of new song ‘Tiger’, Furman’s pleading cries of “Me…. Me…. Me!” are swallowed by a thickly distorted wall of sound, generated by guitarist Aaron Ratoff locomotively chugging at the same minor note over and over again. In a moment like this the listener finally arrives in that oscillating place Furman could previously only describe. Beneath the unyielding layer of noise, the distant sounds of a bassline by Furman, Ian Becker on drums, and shrill, creakily ascending feedback (and a plunking that might be the most uncharacteristically “Krill” piano part ever?) just barely offer up a sense of progression. But tempting as it is to anxiously poke through the incomprehensible repetition at these suggestions of structure and meaning, at the end of the “bad day” or “good day” Furman frames the verses with, all we can know is that things have happened.
What follows is a sort of crazy, English major-y analysis of A Distant Fist Unclenching. It helps if you’ve listened to Krill before, but the hope is that it isn’t necessary. For reading this, that is. Beyond that, I’m not coming down on either side.
“Novelism” is a standard that always requires some unpacking, but it’s one that definitely has a place in conversations about Krill. The best way to do so might be found on the back of their previous release, self-proclaimed “failed concept EP” Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears (2014). The reverse side of the record sleeve has all of the lyrics printed in a single, prosaic paragraph — repetition of lines and choruses cut out in order to adapt a musical narrative (“failed” or no) to a print format. The result is something like prose poetry, but there’s also something very different about it. . . which would be kind of useless to parse out in a review for a different record entirely. But it’s an interesting attempt to bridge the gap between the two forms, and the possibility for the album to cohere as a literal ‘text’ reveals a bit about Krill’s overall mindset when it comes to lyrics. For now, it’s enough to know that this is clearly something that the three think about a lot – Furman himself explained to Death and Taxes his feelings about the critical response to Lucky Leaves:
“I guess people don’t respect something you can experience in three minutes but I feel like we’ve just published a short novel…”
Since the idea of the ‘concept album’ was introduced, songwriters have puzzled over the question of how to get a Pop record to function as such while also carrying a narrative (And selling). Some take an operatic approach, having the lead singer literally tell you the whole story as catchy guitar hooks work their way around it. Others have taken a more abstract approach, building a narrative sonically as otherwise disconnected lyrics touch on common themes. And in the intervening decades, as physical, digital, and multi-media alternatives have challenged the increasingly defunct LP format — stuck up against the wall right next to the novel that convinced it to get “conceptual” in the first place — new artists have found new, inventive ways to approach the question.
If it seems like I’m about to say that Krill has finally found the answer, I’m not (and it definitely wasn’t going to be that they’ve gone from “something you can experience in three minutes” to something you can experience in five and a half). But the album is actually better for it, because A Distant Fist Unclenching isn’t about stepping away from your problems and towards a solution, but finding a unique, functional place within these liminal (“oscillating”) spaces of self-questioning. And in this sense, with A Distant Fist Krill seems to have redeemed the “failure” of Steve Hears Pile – the trio has come that much closer to expressing itself in its own dialectic. As such, the ‘sinew’ of A Distant Fist meshes together in a way that isn’t really like any other band’s album. And as such, it’s tricky to write about. You’ll see.
Okay, that’s enough about the old shit for now.
The titular claim of album closer, ‘It Ends’ is that, “It ends. . . the same way it begins.” ‘It Ends’ itself concludes the record with a slow, anxious fade-out, mirroring the fade-in that begins not the opening track, ‘Phantom’, but the second track, ‘Foot’. If you’re a listener who grew up in the Pink Floyd tradition of bookended fades easing you into and eventually out of the ‘experience’, then maybe this strikes you as a marginally odd choice. But then maybe it digs at you a bit (and maybe you take a bong rip) and the result is a sort of koan: “When does ‘It’ begin. . . not how it ends. . ?” And maybe it’s just then you remember that the first song is called ‘Phantom’, and so maybe it makes sense that it’s placed outside the ‘body’. . . of the album. . . ? You fall asleep with your headphones on, but not before resolving to soberly reassess in the morning.
In ‘novelistic’ terms, ‘Phantom’ serves as a prologue to A Distant Fist Unclenching. This allows the lyrics to introduce some central images and arguments of the album as a whole while still being slightly distanced from the narrative – namely:
“What’s the proper orientation of my self to my non-self?*
What’s the proper orientation of my non-self to me?
What’s the proper orientation of the world to my non-self?
What’s the proper orientation of the world to me?
Does it always have to be. . .
Although you hate clubbing, you find yourself in a club. And even though dancefloor hookups don’t carry any value for you, there’s still a strange feeling that comes to you when you end the night alone. You either tell yourself, “There’s no such thing as ghosts,” or try to acknowledge this specter of rejection. . . You come to terms with the presence and return to the club the next night, vowing to find a stranger to go home with. But when the moment finally comes, another phantom passes through you and it all seems sort of unsexy and pointless.
You think you’re a good person, but then you remember a bad thing you did. You think you’re a bad person, but then you remember a time when someone told you you were good.
Wherever you end the night, you feel as dissatisfied as the night before.
So what’s the proper orientation?
The questions ‘Phantom’ ends on form a transition between it and the body of A Distant Fist, made particularly resonant by the fact that the previous verses have been sung entirely in the second person, transposing onto the listener the existential angst that Furman then places upon himself in the songs that follow. It clarifies that, though the rest of the lyrics are about Furman, and can only really be about Furman, there, but for the grace of God, go “You”. On A Distant Fist Unclenching, the division of the self is comparable to the “othering / of a puny little bug” alluded to in ‘Fly’ – the painful distance Furman has to negotiate between his non-self and his present sense of ‘self’ is as vast as that of “You” from “Me.”
Not only do these questions give us a philosophical grounding from which to approach the rest of the album, but moments in the song introduce several lyrical and aural motifs that reiterate throughout: Furman’s sneering address, “puny pilgrim, keep on running” may be to his paranoiac, restless self in ‘Foot’, but also to the aforementioned “puny” ‘Fly’ – as Furman describes the “unblinking, awful scent” arising from the glass of sour milk in his kitchen, the vocal reverb momentarily wobbles away from his voice into something like the ethereal doppelganger of the title… which returns to haunt his bitter interrogation of “what is juuuuuuust… me” in ‘Brain Problem’ – at 2:12 we hear the collapsing bass motif that will send the interlude preceding and guitar fills following Furman’s new lease on life in ‘Mom’ crashing into themselves. The album is recursive in the sense that with each reiteration the first iteration gains clarification – the album builds itself with each listen.
With these phantasmic presences of the songs to come, we are given a sense that the entire album could be dispersed throughout Furman’s house – thoughts, images, and leitmotifs swirl in the hallway (as they do on the center label of the record itself) as he pinches his nose and prays for the strength to enter the kitchen. To open the door to the microwave would mean having to confront the “You” whose shameful Brain Problem created the unblinking, awful scent polluting his home, and reconcile with this “non-self”. And then from the other side of the threshold he would have to face the ‘Torturer’ who stands at that door, realize it’s himself under “black mask / in spite collar” and steel himself for the exchange:
‘What did You come here for?’
And You said,
‘Whatever You need me for.’
And I said,
‘I don’t know what You’re for.’”
Questions of internal orientation on A Distant Fist Unclenching are always simultaneously questions of how we interact with the world: the debate over punishment in ‘Torturer’ involves the same “othering” that the moral debate in ‘Fly’ is centered on – that is, whether the virtues of mercy or judgment are even relevant when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as the life of a flipped-over bug. Structurally, ‘Fly’ is signaled as a prelude in its own right by the low-fi buzzing layered over the vocals and instruments, which crosses over into the first few seconds of ‘Torturer’ before cutting out. So ‘Fly’ provides the anecdote which provokes the abstract deliberation of ‘Torturer’, and then the circle is closed with the same (brilliant) drum fill ending both songs. Though they involve different characters in different orientations (“Furman” self to “fly” non-self vs. “Furman” self to “Furman” non-self), this percussive denouement links them as two ways of understanding the same moral conundrum. Lyrically, the fate of the “fly / who couldn’t” is left up to the listener, with Furman asking, “you… / knowing what you do of me / what do you… / think I chose?” But Becker’s fill certainly sounds like Furman’s ‘Foot’ falling onto the ‘Fly’… the fuzzy note Furman’s been strumming is squashed and all that’s left is droning feedback, mimicking the slow, twitching death of a swatted fly, the music positing a hypothetical outcome in which Furman decides to act with judgment instead of mercy. So the crime is committed and Furman is faced with his Torturer. . . then what? Is Furman now the fly, sentenced to equal suffering at the hand of a huge, unblinking “non-self”? But wait, isn’t that a collar on the Torturer’s neck? And isn’t that Furman under the mask? Who sent the orders in the first place. . . ? The “I’s” and “You’s” get confused – and in the end Becker’s simulated footfall returns and something is crushed.
I could continue evaluating each song in the Adam West school of hermeneutics,** but the real point here is to give an idea of how narrative is formed on the album. The whole system of meaning-making is constructed with a respect for everything Krill’s chosen medium is composed of — vocal inflection, sound effects, time signatures, grammar, verse, diction, repetition, motif, leitmotif, etc., etc. There’s clear evidence that a lot of thought — or maybe just sheer intuition — has gone into the implementation of these techniques, working in conjunction to go beyond just making songs that sound “cool” but actually guide us toward something. And that thing, as with most great ‘novels’, is the writer itself as an individual we can understand intimately through art. On Lucky Leaves’ ‘Purity of Heart’, Furman describes how fucking hard it is “to will to be someone who isn’t not you,” but the complex inter-connectedness of A Distant Fist Unclenching gives us a distinct impression of what it might feel like to spend 45 minutes inside a brain belonging to no one else but Krill. Instead of having it or its failure to cohere simply described to us, musical and lyrical expression moves toward transcending the limitations language imposes on our ability to connect. And so maybe the brain starts to overcome some of its problems after all?
A Distant Fist Unclenching beckons the listener to follow all of these internal connections through — to trace the intersecting veins that run against its tendons. The furthest I can take my above argument about ‘Fly’ is to link its sonic death to that of the fly Furman remembers having watched “wriggle and twitch and then die” in ‘It Ends’. He says that over the course of its struggle he “never once bat a grieving eye”, and perhaps we can see when the “huge, unblinking eye”, the reflective surface that is all we see of the Phantom, stopped shutting.
But then there’s the fact that the fly in ‘It Ends’ was swatted by Furman’s ‘Mom’, and then all the meaning of that song has to color every step along the way and further, further towards an “answer” to what this album is about. And that’s about where the vein slips too deep under the skin for me. I can guess that line probably has to do with ‘Mom’s’ chorus of “Why would I stop you? / How could I stop you?”, but beyond that I get too exhausted. Not that continuing isn’t a worthwhile effort — to be able to grasp something and choose not to is just laziness — but if you’re squeezing your fist just to make the veins bulge, then it’s kind of pointless. You can try to understand another person’s perspective but you can never actually be them — there are always going to be lines like, “I thought you had meant Boston when you said you were moving back East” that only really mean anything to Furman. If you’re a member of Impose’s “Cult of Krill” then maybe you’ll read a crazy amount of interviews with Furman and get an idea of what he’s referring to, but what’s the point? The important shit is there whether you can see it or not…none of what Krill’s saying is so esoteric that you won’t be able to find it inside yourself someday. The endeavor isn’t to connect all the dots, but to at least reciprocate the gesture that Krill offers: to come outside of yourself and explore how this non-self might not be so unfamiliar. As long as you’re willing to do that you understand enough.
A Distant Fist Unclenching wouldn’t be so honest of an attempt to communicate Krill’s ‘Self’ if it didn’t include all of Krill. So we see a lot of previous Krill imagery return: tortured by his ‘Brain Problem’, Furman remembers a simultaneous wish to die and “live forever” — the latter of which concludes Steve Hears Pile’s ‘Turd’ as a possibility to finally find happiness. . . The walk he wills himself to take in Lucky Leaves’ ‘Purity of Heart’ is what leads him to the ‘Fly’, his footsteps “spooking” it into flipping onto its back. . .
The peach pit his soul transforms into despite the lingering feeling that ‘I Am The Cherry’ from Alam No Hris is the opening image of ‘It Ends’: The peach “dangled and plopped down” from the tree that both Twig and Grass imagine themselves to be in ‘Purity of Heart’ — maybe even the same tree Furman wants to climb as a ‘Squirrel’, or be, or be the view that squirrel might see from it — and we understand that the desire at the heart of Krill’s music has always been the same, clenched or unclenched. The peach falls and even though Furman explains, “I’ve been allergic since I was sixteen,” — the same age at which he both chose to develop his ‘Brain Problem’ and realized he’d always had it — he still affirms, “but I wanted to set the pit free.” And then all of the images and ideas A Distant Fist has been clenched around slip through the fingers.
All of A Distant Fist Unclenching’s anxiety is held in conflicts like this one –- choices presented over and over again that illustrate the deep, lacerating costs of self-discovery, the threat of becoming lost in ambiguity and possibility, and the question of whether “discovery” is really even the goal one should set for one’s “self”. In Furman’s own words:
“The fist unclenching is what happens after a tortured moment. It’s how to move from that anxiety without being too naïve or too cynical — without being happy-go-lucky or saying, ‘Fuck it, nothing matters.’”
All of the self-reflection and maturity that results in an album like this cohering the way it does – somehow having the faith to, despite the tortured moment, begin to draw a line between “what is a brain problem –- and what is juuuuuuust… me.” — finally rewards the “Me” with the rare ability to go beyond just describing the circumstances surrounding the Problem, and paint “You” a picture of what it might look like when the fist finally begins to unclench.
*A lot of blogs are transcribing this (because again, Krill isn’t giving us the lyrics) as “my non-self”. I’ve listened to this verse several time and I still hear “known”, but I’ll go with the blogs this time just in case. But thinking about the dynamic of a “self” vs. a “known self” is just as intriguing, and I would say just as relevant to this album.
** Robin: But wait! It happened at sea! See? “C” for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet… an exploding shark was pulling my leg!
Gordon: The Joker!
O’Hara: It all adds up to a sinister riddle. Riddle-er. Riddler?
Ok, to tell you the truth, I’m getting a little tired of the over exposed Dave Grohl. I was going to hold off on this post for a few more weeks but now the stories are showing up everywhere so I figured I better get on board. RECORD STORE DAY is about two months away but its coming fast and furious. You can find out where to participate when this happens. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be posting again as we get closer to that date – April 18th. As you can see above Dave is the Ambassador to Record Store day. Good for him. This is a project meant to get you out of your house and join your fellow music lovers by checking out old analog recordings on vinyl. Does anyone really have a record player any more? Actually, yes. Pressing plants are back up and running according to this article in the NYTIMES – Records making a comeback. There is no denying that records are making a comeback of sorts. The was also another article in the LA Weekly titled Why CDs May Actually Sound Better. It doesn’t matter what side you fall on cds – digital – vinyl. You should make music a big part of your life because it never lets you down. Another item of interest on Record Store Day – Slayer will be releasing their latest song “When the Stillness Comes. Of course it will be released on a picture disk. They will also be re-releasing Black Magic. What more could you want?!
Music lovers already know who this guy is and that of course is Buckethead. I remember when he came on to the music scene many years ago, everyone was trying to guess who this was. The KFC bucket threw a lot of people off, I myself suspected it was none other than Michael Battio… ok not at all. Others had thought it was one of my other favorite guitarist – Paul Gilbert, there were some similarities in playing style and both are blindingly fast! When the day was done, he came out of his bucket and his real name is Brian Carroll. Anyway, he has done stints with shitty guns and roses, Primus and Praxis just to name a couple of bands. Buckethead is a pretty prolific musician. While some of us where wasting away on our couch last year, he released over 30 albums!!! I’ve posted one of the 30 below. He has a running series of over 90 cds. How does he make money? VOLUME!!! Yeah back to stupid reality. I just love pure guitar playing and this is guitar playing at its finest. I implore you, if you have never heard his stuff before check it out. There is literally a ton of really good stuff put out by him.
(Full Album) Buckethead – Claymation Courtyard (Buckethead Pikes #51)
What is element Z? Only the heaviest metal on earth! However if you are looking for locally developed man made metal you can find it all on this fantastic website Return To The Pit! The man running this site is called “the Reverand”. He has been doing this for almost 20 years! If there was a metal show in New England, he was there with his camera! Nobody covers the local metal scene better than this man. He even has a show on college radio no less! For that info you can check it out on his website. Whether its his classified boards which let other metal heads find bands or sell equipment, its all there. It has been one of my goto sites for quite some time.
Another metal site worth checking out? Invisible Oranges!
This site is a little more eclectic, they try and stick to the facts while also exposing live albums for not being live at all! What I like most about IO is that they don’t cover the same stories that everyone else does. They keep to the facts and I love the reviews of metal albums. They cover every sub genre of metal and if you’re a metal head, what you need is on this site.
Ok, I’ve posted about some pop bands but my real passion has been about brutal metal. I love the band Enslaved. Its not your typical death metal band. I would almost call them, dare I say, progressive? Not necessarily as progressive as Opeth but they bring their A game to the studio with such albums as Below The Northern Lights (highlight there is the song The Dead Stare) to Ruun which I felt was their most complete album to date. I have not had a chance to listen to their latest effort but most likely will this weekend. For that you can check out my blog – WMFO Regular Show. How will this album compare to Ruun? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. For now check out the song below. If you are intrigued, they will be playing at the SINCLAIR in Harvard Square March 24th. Doom fans will want to catch this show as YOB will be playing the undercard. The show is only $20 in advance and $24 day of the show. This promises to be one of the best shows in the area for these cold winter months. For more shows at the Sinclair, check out their SCHEDULE. For now, enjoy the song Ruun from the titled album Ruun.
One of the most common questions I get is “How do I listen to your archived shows?”. I’ve created a short video that shows you how to navigate to our various shows. Now that you have the knowledge, go forth and listen to all of our archived shows!
Songs from the Squid Pod airs every Sunday from 3-5pm.
Contact: @squidpodmusic or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Straight out of Gothenburg, Sweden, this week’s artist is School ’94. Fresh off a name change (from School to School ’94, because they liked that year), the band had released its first album, Like You, back in December of 2014 on the Cascine record label. As Bill Pearis of BrooklynVegan noted, Alice Botéus’ vocals on the EP’s six tracks capture the range often found in Swedish indie music, dark to pop, without ever breaching either shore. Hard copies are as yet unavailable; however, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify all offer their digital releases. Be sure to visit Cascine’s website to preview all the tracks from Like You in their entirety.
A nice interview with the band can be found on the Swedish label Sommarhjärta’s website.
Below, check out their video for “SoLong,” and no, that’s not a typo in the song name.
Seems like 2009 was a year when music stopped for some. I ended my five year run at WMFO and apparently for Veruca Salt, three of the four members called it quits! 2014 was like a phoenix rising out of the ashes. I came back to WMFO and Veruca Salt reformed with their original members! I loved the first two albums, American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold you. In fact eight arms had my favorite song on it called “Volcano Girls”. I loved their aggressive guitar attack and the dual vocals of Post and Gordon complemented each other very well. Their harmonies were spot on, they simply made great rock music. Their latest effort MMXIV was released on Record Store Day 2014 on vinyl of course! It was a three song ep but its clear the song “It’s Holy” shows they haven’t lost a step in either their sonic attack or their knack of crafting a pop hit song. Like fine wine both Gordon and Post are in their late 40’s and they are just as hot today as they were 10 years ago and their music is solid! Let’s hope we can get a full album out of them in the upcoming year. Below is their latest song, “It’s Holy” Enjoy!
Finally! The B’s Knees of 2014 are ready to share with the world!
Check out Bubbles in the Think Tank every Saturday night starting at 11pm for all the silliness you can stomach, all the silliness you can shake your stick at. You’ll hear so much free form-y goodness that you’ll be back every week with us to share in the love.
Whet your appetite with this archive and then go buy as much of this fine music as you can at the links below.
And, as always, tell them Bubbles in the Think Tank sent you! We just want to make sure all of these fine artists feel the love from all the good friends of WMFO!
Behold the Knees!
A Tribute To Bob Dylan In the 80s, Vol. One – Various artists
Nobody’s Baby – Miriam
Pure as Coal – Tim Carroll & Midnight Orange
Spring is around the corner, how can you tell? The spring concerts are starting up. As noted in an earlier post, the NEHCMF will be in Worcester in April and just recently finalized, the headliners for Boston Calling. Boston Calling started in 2013 and the goal was to hold the event not once but twice a year! Full disclosure, I have never been to this event and the price for these tickets are a lot more than I am willing to spend but thats just me. The general admission ticket is $175 for the three day event. The top three headliners are – Beck, The Pixies and Ben Harper. This all happens in Downtown Boston at city hall plaza. The event will be held May 22nd, 23rd and 24th. Please checkout their website if you have the cash and nothing to do after your finals!