On the Music and Memory Project: The New Year

02Nov08

In which The Gay Recluse listens with admiration to the new record by The New Year.

Recently we went to see The New Year in Williamsburg. It was a great show until we went back to our car and discovered that some frat boy asshole had broken off our side mirror on the car. Goodbye $300!

But whatevs, we’re not here to talk about the bizarrely homogeneous youth culture we witnessed in the streets surrounding the rock club, but the music we heard inside.

The New Year will always have place in our heart, because they are the only band that still makes us genuinely excited about rock, at least as part of an audience.

We remember the first time we saw them (this of course was Bedhead, the previous incarnation of the band), almost fifteen years ago. We had bought their debut album — What Fun Life Was — after a friend of ours (now deceased, sadly, ironically) read something about how Dean Wareham supposedly loved Bedhead, which at the time — given our Galaxie 500 obsession — was more than enough to rush over to Kim’s Underground and buy a copy. Which we loved! We were immediately possessed by the careful orchestration — three guitars! — hushed lyrics and anthemic waves of sound. Though at times it brought to mind a roaring My Bloody Valentine-esque wall-of-noise, it was quintessentially American music, with direct roots in the third album by the Velvet Underground (“Pale Blue Eyes” and “Candy Says”).  We learned that they were from Texas, which seemed to make sense.

The live show was at CBs. We got there just in time for a midnight slot, after hauling our ass back from Coney Island where we had seen some shitty band. It was like 110 degrees outside (and in our memory, inside too), but we didn’t care, we were mesmerized as soon as they started setting up: there was something remarkably unassuming and awkward — yet endearing — about the way they took the stage; at least three had full beards, and a couple of them wore John Lennon glasses, which made them look more like a late 60s debate team than a mid-90s indie-rock band. More importantly, they used small amplifiers (e.g., a Princeton reverb) and all three guitarists played Telecasters. When they launched into their set, we died a little, in the way we used to die when seeing our favorite bands, as if we could soak up their brilliance and use it to find our own way in the world. (Lol.) It wasn’t “freak-out” rock at all — there wasn’t even an indie-rock head nod to be seen — which isn’t to say it wasn’t emotional, but rather remarkably introspective, the sort of thing that by the end made it seem as if you had just seen an epic movie, but in an empty theater.

In Williamsburg the other night, we still felt a stab — or perhaps even a pang — of this old exhilaration, even though we’re too old and jaded to get blown away the way we used to. (Or at least outside of a Tristan show with a kickin’ Isolde — lol!)

Interesting enough, the new record — also called The New Year — in some ways seems to reflect this kind of passage/growth/maturity — or more depressingly, loss.

The music is no less careful in its note-by-note construction than past albums — and there’s nobody who’s put out as many consistently great records as the Kadanes, i.e., the songwriters, and the musicians are always top-flight (hey, Mike D!) — but on the whole the songs seem more resigned to a certain complexity of the moment, rather than searching for the big payoff, as we are more inclined to do in our youth.

Perhaps this is why we find on this record a wider range of instruments/orchestration; there are pianos and keyboards and vocal multi-tracking/harmonies and even what sounds like a My Bloody Valentine sample in “The Company I Can Get.”

But mostly the songs dwell on failed ambition, and the resignation of small — i.e., adult — pleasures (in the form of drinks, laffs, banter with rednecks, vacations from work, and so on).

Which in lesser hands might be unbearably mundane except for the way it’s bound together by a philosophical pessimism rooted in the pain of life, the impossibility of escape, the relentless ambivalence for the best life has to offer and the dimming flicker of hope that anything will ever be different. In short, we are reminded* of the sad axiom of Pascal: “The soul is pained by all things it thinks upon.”

In what is perhaps the most brutal song on the album — “The Idea of You” — we hear from someone who seems to want to love but who after being ground down by experience seems to recognize his incapacity to ever truly do so. The crescendo at the end of this song — the last on the album — is less cathartic than damning and bitter and brittle, yet for all its (albeit quite cerebral) pain — and this is the miracle — still exquisitely beautiful.

It reminds us of the fleeting joy we get for a few seconds after a snowstorm, when we contemplate the banks of snow covering the world outside, before we remember we have to shovel it all away to just to get out of the house.

*That this sentence is lifted almost verbatim from Huysmans makes it no less true.

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