Giving Up – Gthrowing Up
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Years ago, I remember reading a quote about the Boston based folk band, Christians and Lions (the quote was about their record More Songs for the Dreamsleepers & the Very Awake). Jack Younger, the band’s producer, said: “[More Songs for the Dreamsleepers] is somehow comfortable, yet unsettling...like a Cadillac someone died in.” The quote stayed with me because one, it was a good simile and I appreciate good similes, and two, because I didn’t think the quote really fit the Christians and Lions sound which can be said to be both powerful and intelligent, amongst other things, but perhaps not unsettling.
Unsettling is a word I don’t throw around too often. Not many things seem unsettling in 2009; punk has been commoditized, metal has outlived its shock value, alternative is mainstream, and rock & roll doesn’t mean anything. I’m sure audiences felt unsettled when Bob Dylan played an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. I’m sure people were unsettled when someone was killed at the Altamont Festival during a Rolling Stones set. But now?
I digress. The reason I’m bringing up the notion of unsettling is because it is the first word that came to my mind upon listening to Giving Up’s full length album Gthrowing Up. The Iowan trio have created a sound that marries lo-fi fuzzy grunge with front porch country, music that is undeniably Western but perhaps more at home in a zombie flick than any movie starring John Wayne. The absurd postmodern panache of the lyrics are sung out and screeched by the boy-girl pairing of Mikie Poland and Jenny Rose, who are never quite in unison. The vocals, charmingly off of kilter, are delivered over distorted guitar and chord organ melodies with tinny drums clanging in the background (Sean Roth played these). The final outcome is yes, unsettling (I’m done using this word, I promise) but furthermore, oddly catchy and sometimes just flat out beautiful.
The album opens with an Intro which my Itunes clocks in at 789 hours, 57 minutes, and 13 seconds (though it only plays for a fraction of a second before flipping to track 2, “Lord and Savior, Sandy Cohen”). “Lord and Savior” feels like it was written in an Indian burial ground; the vocals whine and howl over what sounds to be a rain stick and harmonica paired with the characteristic distorted twang of country guitar.
The next song, “The Potential of Constant Happiness” is a folk-punk flavored triumph, musically reminiscent of the fantastic disbanded plan-it-x band Rosal. Mikie and Jenny sing, “I measure the night by the dirt on my feet. The dirtier they get, the more the blood—the better the night, the fuller the love. The dirt’s piled on thick so the love must be overflowing.”
My favorite song is called “Inlaws? More Like Outlaws,” which features a noisy choral backdrop of whoa’s and ahhhs behind a humming organ and the tap-your-toes-pump-your-fist-and-sing-along vocal lines: “I wanna play with you all day long. Let’s grow our food on the front lawn. When it rains down the factory’s chemicals we get cancer from our tomatoes. When the state says this land aint ours and they take it back, let’s plan a terrorist attack.” Something about the way Mikie enunciates the word tomatoes gets me every time and I find myself singing this song everywhere I go.
The album continues on, waxing poetic on Police Academy One, a haunted lake where Freddy Killed Jason, and “that fucker from Pantera” while the guitars crunch and clear up, sometimes grinding and sometimes spacey, entwining with the chord organ and a few other featured instruments (is that a kid’s piano on “Holes?”) . The end result is impressive; a full length record, available through Sophomore Lounge records, that is both strangely charming and bizarrely satisfying—like sex in the back of a Cadillac that a whole family died in.