One of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, gave a lecture in the late 80’s looking back on his body of work. He saw a theme of “lightness,” which he tried to define as something not quite like levity or flippancy, but like getting the same impact out of removing things as you do by adding things. Jazz is about the notes you don’t play, you’ve probably heard some jerk say. But it’s true. Calvino says it this way: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”
Toward the end of The Albert Square’s I (Assume I) Know What I’m Doing, the band seems to be shedding weight by second. Even the title of the album wants to ascend, escape from the qualifying parenthetical.
But before we get to the end, there’s the life of the album–9 straight rounds of loveless rock and roll blows. They rail against midwestern injustice. They distrust cities. They “gnash and bite and champ at the bit, without a sense or an intuition of the pain that comes because of it.” They would comprise a different album if there was nothing to follow these haymakers. It would be an album that reaches it’s midlife crises
I’m afraid to try because i might die
you are a sweet, sweet man
and you are a wonderful father
and you’ll remain that way
your intent it has the weight to guide the rest of us.
but dies before act two. It would be an album that appears heroic for opting out, assuming act two would only pile on more weight. But isn’t it tragic to miss the lightening that comes with age? Every. Thing. Leaves. And an album that sticks around to say goodbye is an Essential one indeed.
After the title track, the record begins to age suddenly and splendidly, worn down to an acoustic guitar on the beautiful “Sum of Our Parts:”
insignificant in this canyon where we disappear together
as you sleep with uncovered feet
right now this is our time in this freezing winter weather
here’s me at my best i can never compromise
i can never find a balance no matter how hard i try
and i wish i had a job and i wish i had a home
and i wish i had a place away from this communal space
but if i had a job and if i had a home
i’d be swallowing that status quo you never would have made your mark
and i would never know
some of our parts break like waves
these parts weigh heavy these days
The there’s a death rattle in “Get Back Here,” and the album seems like it can live another twenty years. But the delusion is tempered immediately with the next track, removing the weight of vocals and every other rock instrument, and leaving only a strange, angel-invoking keyboard and thermion-shaded instrumental. At last comes the end that refuses itself, “I’m Not a Closer,” which concludes with: “i’m alive / for the very first time / leaving all that weight / behind and i’m so high / we’ll never get it right but still we try.”
The album came out, fittingly, when there was barely anything left of 2015. Don’t go through 2016 without it.
FFO: Chamberlain, Shinobu, Adam Faucett, Lilly Hiatt, Richmond Fontaine, Fake Problems. Buy the vinyl from Shinobu’s label Phat n’ Phunky, buy the digital from the Albert Square bandcamp, or download from the much-loved donation-based label Quote Unquote Records.