June 08, 2003

Skating Club "Bugs & Flowers"

In my mind, if you're going to make sad music, you've got to have an edge. Lord knows that the bands that pioneered the genre--The Smiths, Joy Division, Cure, Depeche Mode--were mopey, depressing, but were also highly melodic. You could dance in the club to them if you wanted, or you could sit around the house and feel all glum about life. Later bands, such as the angst-ridden Nirvana, remained melodic, but they added the intensity of utter fear, depression, and anger. Now it's twenty-five years since the underground was born, and all we have are reruns. Of course, the sad-eyed folkie type hasn't really changed in hundreds of years--highlighting the main problem of folk music. And the Blues? Well, that's a class that's beyond the scope of mere indie-rock.

Bugs & Flowers, the second album by Skating Club, finds the band growing sadder and much deeper. In my mind, you can't just be sad and mopey anymore, you have to have depth, you have to have emotion, you have to not just go through the motions. On first listen, I didn't warm to Bugs & Flowers. From the first moment of "Empty New Bedroom," you know that you're in for a trail of tears, and that first impression is certainly correct. Skating Club brings the melancholy, and though it's sad, it's nothing particularly new--or interesting. Indeed, my initial impression was that nothing on Bugs & Flowers really stood out. The more I thought about it, though, the more I started asking questions about what I'd heard, and the nuances really started to reveal themselves. Wasn't that a lovely organ on "Come By or Call?" Wasn't that great how "I Returned to California" ended quietly and a sad acoustic refrain came up again? Wasn't "Here Before" a particularly heartfelt song? Doesn't Matt Smith's hammond organ really add a new dimension to Skating Club's sound?

After my inital listen to Bugs & Flowers I felt oddly compelled to sit down and write a letter to a friend. I wrote this friend--who I miss terribly--about my life, about how things in my life were not as I had expected them to be, about my dreams, about my shortcomings, and about how I can pull the pros and cons together and make things a little bit better. I told this friend about how I envision life now, how I envision it in the future, and how my life may or may not equal up to how I envisioned it a year ago. After I wrote this long letter, I felt better--and then promptly threw it in the trash. Sometimes it's best to keep those secrets secret. Something inside told me to go back to Bugs & Flowers and give it another chance.

Bugs & Flowers is a painfully subtle record. There are a lot of really beautiful moments to be found, but you cannot force yourself into this album's groove--you must let it slowly take you over. Sure, that can be a risky proposition, but it's the only way you can approach it, or otherwise, you'll drown in the misery and miss the beauty within. If you listen with an open mind and no expectations, Bugs & Flowers will quietly win you over. It's not an album you'll listen to everyday, but it's one you'll always listen to when you do.

--Joseph Kyle

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