“What did I used to have before I had nothing?” ~ Fucked Up, “Glass Boys”
Billy Pettinger gives insight into the (un)making of this album: after Frank Turner produced her last album (Billy the Kid’s Horseshoes & Hand Grenades for biggie-indie label Xtra-Mile), Laura Jane Grace and Ryan Adams blipped in and, disappointingly, out of the picture as potential producers on this one; Xtra-Mile passed, as well. With a batch of songs that deserves the wider distribution and the notoriety of those producers, Pettinger committed them to record herself. That is the limit of this tragedy–that the songs are handicapped in distribution when they should be pandemic. The tragedy does not extend to the actual product, which Pettinger hoped to be demos on their way to full production, but which turned out as surely one of the best albums of the year.
There’s no lonelier sound than a sole electric guitar and a drum machine*. Knowing the backstory going into the album (a story Pettinger shares openly on the Bandcamp where you can buy this), that loneliness amplifies. But like all Pettinger’s work, there is such gratitude and insistence and, somehow, faith, that the loneliness candies into head-rushing, sternum-crushing pop. There’s 15 songs here, all of them well lyric’d. For instance,
the bridge of “Architects”:
We’re always making plans, not redesigning
Something that was likely never even supposed to last
But I would pick up the pieces again, if you asked,
and the pre-chorus of “I Ain’t Dead”:
It only makes it feel like they were all fucking with us when we were kids
The only reason I’m alive right now is because I didn’t have the same dealer that she did,
but the album succeeds as a perfect blend of tones. That stranded guitar. That receding, far-away drum sound. Those fugal lyrics. That voice that worries nobody wants to hear it. I’m so happy I heard Billy Pettinger opening for Tim Barry four years ago. Whatever should’ve happened between now and then, I Have to Do This is exactly what I have to hear. Essential Listening.
*Pettinger has drummed in bands before, so she very likely played live drums here. Either way, they serve the songs so well.