A few weeks back I finally saw Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a film I’ve wanted to see for what feels like a long time. Its one of those movies that splits opinion (at least judging by the internet responses I’ve read), probably because it’s the kind of thing that people view as award-bait (a silly opinion to me, but w/e). Basically its a time lapse of an American family, a natural and almost random-feeling collection of scenes from everyday life. For reasons that seem either mind-bendingly obscure or else too big to properly describe, each and every scene is a delicate balance of soul-destroying sadness and heart-swelling joy, an equation which somehow adds up to exceptional normality, real-life in a slightly different light.
If you’re anything like a regular reader then you’ll know that we love Talons’ here at WTD (like a lot), and after seeing Linklater’s film it struck me how they share common methods and goals. The second release in a series of four EPs (more on the third soon), Growing Up pulls a similarly bewitching and indescribable effect, pushing the buttons labelled Love and Sadness and Nostalgia and Death Anxiety all at once and ever so subtly, so that none can be said to be the presiding emotion. ‘My Life is an Endless Outro’ opens the mini-album and sets the unhurried and reflective atmosphere immediately. It sounds like a soundtrack of a wordless driving movie, all grainy analogue film footage of corn fields and motels rushing past open windows on a humid and grey summer’s day, but also has the trademark Talons’ self-deprecating, life-deprecating attitude:
“He blew a tire on 65 North.
Hit a retread in the road- was he looking at the wind farm or down at his phone?
Went across the median, towards the truck that I just passed.
I was on the phone with you, complaining about my job.
Will my last words really be so trivial?
Alone in a rented Scion cube, I’ll slide off into nothing.”
‘Milwaukee’ is about as noisy as Talons’ have ever been, the swirly background fuzz and percussion taking things a lot further than the simple acoustic recordings we’re used to, though it’s still cloaked in that same sense of reluctant apathy. I can’t think of another band who could make the line, “Milwaukee tonight smells like the mall in middle school” sound so resigned and nostalgic and sad. But the standout line comes later in the track, a line that to me sums up everything Talons’ stand for, the whole aesthetic in twelve words:
“Its funny how life can be so rad sometimes
then its not”
‘All That Hasn’t Burned is Drowned’ is classic Talons’, the lyrics reading like the kind of poem that makes me wish I could get into poetry: “The house across the street from us is burning down / I woke up to the heat on my face (I guess the wind must have been blowing the other way)”. Then the instrumental ‘Song For Carissa’s Wierd’ puts acoustic guitar over that looped, feedback-type sound that worms its way into several of the tracks, while ‘Richmond’ is a song that highlights Tolan’s knack for sounding simultaneously sad and hopeful, “As the sun rises somewhere in western Virginia / You’re the only thing that’s in my head / And I won’t lose you again”. The effect is really difficult to explain, like pain and joy rolled into one, and is exemplified by the reference to listening to Boxer back to back repeatedly, one of the albums we leant on until they became the redemption we needed, the albums that make it hard not to look at past troubles with something approaching fondness.
‘Song for Bass VI and Joe Golden’s Vibrochamp’ is another instrumental, featuring Keith Freund (of Lejsovka & Freund and formerly Trouble Books) on bass clarinet, before the two-part final track emerges from faint sound recordings. ‘Growing Up (Part 1)’ opens with the most important lyrics on the record, a summation of the titular themes, before transitioning seamlessly into ‘Growing Up (Part 2)’, the instrumental finale/epilogue. The closer plays like Boyhood if the camera had kept rolling, if the boy graduated and became wary and weary and had to try to make a life during a global recession.
“Is growing up just getting better at letting yourself off the hook?
At learning not to look?
(or to look away from the things you could change but don’t)”
The fact that the above lyrics are an explicit explanation of Growing Up shows just how subtle and indistinct the record’s themes are, though that’s not to say they are not felt keenly. Indeed, if anything they are too immediate to properly describe, charting history in the present, emotions and trends which define us so closely we cannot get a good view of them. I guess that’s the point of art, to convey the things that we can’t yet put into normal words. Talking about this kind of stuff directly somehow feels wrong, like it should be left to David Foster Wallace to make sense of with Charlie Rose or something, but the feel of these songs capture something. If someone was making a time capsule and wanted to show a civilization in 4016 what it’s like to be alive (and of a certain age/social class) today then I’d play them this.