Friday, September 9, 2016

My Band is a Computer

The past is the place to be on this superb compilation from Audio Antihero spin-off Old Money Records

Funny thing, nostalgia. The most mundane experiences start to seem glorious once they're in the past; as Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff sang on Pink Slips, "show me my best memory, it's probably super crappy".

A yearning for the past is one of the main driving forces behind My Band is a Computer, a selection of songs recorded by NYC resident CHUCK (a.k.a. Charles Griffin Gibson) over the past five years or so. This compilation is the inaugural release from Old Money Records, an offshoot of the always-ace Audio Antihero Records that will reportedly focus on "reissues, compilations and archiving of the under-heard and under-appreciated". If that's the goal, then MBiaC is a great first play; I had never even heard of CHUCK before I listened to this record, and now I find myself compelled to go back and check out the albums from which these thirteen tracks were culled.

Appropriately for a collection of old songs, My Band is a Computer is sticky with nostalgia and filled with niggling doubts that anything will ever be as good as it was back in the day. This is most obviously manifested on the penultimate track, Wipe Out, in which Charles meets up with an old friend to reminisce about their school days and discuss how humdrum their lives have become since then:

More emotionally affecting, though, are the songs that use romantic relationships as symbols of the past. On Mary Anne, our discontented protagonist expresses a desire to reconnect with the titular ex-girlfriend once again ("I wanna hold her hand, I want her to want me to hold her hand"), while the stunning Phoebe's Lips - my personal highlight - tells the sad story of Mikey, who fulfilled his dream of leaving his dead-end hometown but ended up wishing he could go back to the life and the love he had there.

"She's got a new boyfriend, Mikey's got a nicotine addiction. But he's gonna win her back, he's gonna be young again..."

Throughout this compilation, the past is portrayed as a magical place of second chances and soft-focus synths. The present, on the other hand, is represented by songs like Camel Lights and The Internet: far more threadbare recordings that, compared to the arrangements that surround them, sound morose, muted, and somewhat detached from the vibrant real life that CHUCK's characters think they used to have.

And yet when one of those characters actually manages to recapture the past - on closing number Let's Make Out - it doesn't seem to be the euphoric experience that he might have expected. The song finds our hero going home with his ex and french-kissing with her on the sofa, but CHUCK's description is deliberately bereft of passion and catharsis and romance, making this make-out seem more like just another dumb that happened this week.

"Eyes and teeth and tongues in mouths, let's make out...let's make out, let's order takeout..."

Sure, there's a moment where the narrator feels like they're in love again, but the overall feeling is one of numbness and tedium, which - paradoxically - feels even more emotive than if the experience was portrayed as some sort of blissful epiphany.

You probably won't come away from My Band is a Computer filled with joie de vivre, but it's a very affecting reminder that neither the past nor the present keep the promises they make, and if you like music that makes you feel kinda sad and lonely then I can't recommend it enough.

My Band is a Computer is out today on Old Money Records - buy it here.

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