The Go-Betweens

Spring Hill Fair(Sire 1984)

In my younger years, I was wrong about a lot more than I am today. However, I can easily imagine a similar judgement from a cranky bastard who looks incredibly like myself in ten years. It’s just that I have been so misguided in my first impressions of bands. I thought Spacemen 3’s Perfect Prescription was a load of hippie bullshit and that Dolly Parton was funny in 9 to 5, but who in the hell wants to listen to that hokey bullshit? Years later, I cannot imagine life without Dolly’s tales of bargain stores and multi-colored coats. A similar situation occurred when I first heard Spring Hill Fair.

Countless cronies had talked them up a storm over the years, but they just seemed so monotonous and dour. Neither vocalist seemed too excited by thought of life and there weren’t many hooks or melodies to my ears. Never gave ’em a whit of thought until a chance encounter with a fellow traveler bearing Spring Hill Fair. Maybe life dealt me a few too many dour moments since its cynicism and broken spirit seemed more approachable now.

Spring Hill Fair is devoted to slowly decaying affairs, broken promises the consequences of decisions not made. It’s a bit like a poor bloke in the throes of his own version of the Stations of the Cross. Each song piles yet another indignity upon our poor protagonist as mortgages, age, domesticity and accumulated slights weigh heavily upon him.  Now, Spring Hill Fair isn’t all piss and vinegar. Our hero also may be the most sentimental record about humiliation ever recorded. It’s almost an ode to falling out of love as Forster and McClennan vie to see who can take the most pleasure from being hurt.

Therefore, it’s only fitting that a B-Side on the bonus disc tackles the plight of the courtesan. An educated, beautiful devotee to their love who perpetually shuns them in favor of less worthy souls. All of Spring Hill Fair’s lovable losers kind of remind me of courtesans in training. All of them enthusiastically take their lumps and stoke the fires of love while the object of their affections kick dirt upon the flames. Highly recommended for moments of masochism.

Gastr Del Sol

Camoufleur (Drag City 1996)

Forever will I be a hopeless sucker for the changes in season. It isn’t always a basket of puppies and Wawa hoagies since fall’s slide into winter gives me a taste of the lonesomes. Since it is safe to say that I’ve bid those months adieu, spring has definitely fulfilled its old role and friend and rejuvenator of withered spirits. No matter how many rings accumulate inside my trunk, spring serves as an annual starting line for  a giddy gambol filled with newfound optimism, budding friendships, repaired and broken hearts and the liberating feeling of being out and about in this grand old world. It’s when you rediscover the fact that it’s time to get your hands dirty and hit those high notes or fall flat on your foolish face. Pardon my hyperbolic descriptions of the seasons, but they are all so distinct to me that it seems I sometimes view life as the passing of seasons, not years. Then again, I am also the one who harbors an irrational fear that sharks lurk in every body of water.

Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about an album isn’t it? Well, there is actually a method to my malingering. “The Seasons Reverse,” the opening track on Gastr Del Sol’s grand finale Camoufleur, always embodied these sensitivities to the seasons.

september reverses and the equinoxes flip

winter turns into fall

when glimpsed in leaps of nine months or more

the seasons reverse

they swing back and fall forward

they reshuffle when you touch down at long intervals

they shuffle because it’s been more than two years

first seeing you in a snow bank

then a sweater

then a swelter

they rehsuffle with leaps of some time

or reshuffle with leaps of distance

This song kind of epitomizes the reasons behind the band’s demise. I love it because it sounds like two musicians doing their own thing in total separation from the other. David Grubbs aims for minimalism as he croaks his off kilter harmonies while Jim O’Rourke opposes him by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. However, that’s what sparks the magic here. O’Rourke performs an extreme makeover on Grubbs, removes his horn-rimmed glasses, messes up his hair a bit and transforms the asexual into the sensual. The damn song even ends with a steel drum coda. Now, we’re talking! It just symbolizes the joy of the new and the comfort to be found in the romanticizing of the old. It’s conflicted and full of regret and positivity. It’s all over the goddamn place, but I like folks who are goddamn all over the place.

On one level, Camoufleur is a lot like the Mirror Repair ep and Upgrade and Afterlife ep with its dependence on spare piano jaunts, mournful melodies and sparse aesthetic. However, you can sense that Jim O’Rourke didn’t give a shit about following Grubbs anymore and he sabotages each song in the best way possible. Field Recordings, french horns, long organ solos and grimy bursts of noise punctuate many songs. It’s a schizophrenic listen, but somehow it flows together perfectly in an unexpected and jarring way. Then yet again, I’m the kind of creep who would eat risotto, pad thai and kielbasi in one sitting.

Pencil me in as a sucker for Markus Von Oehlen’s stark cover art. It’s a depiction of two sets of hands joined in unison while two sets of mouths vie to be first in line to grasp a set of musical instruments below.  Plus, I love how it’s so wintry with its abundance of whites and smudgy greys, but the lines are in constant motion as if a change is gonna come. Whether its inclusion was intentional or not, it sums up the end of a partnership and the a shift of season all in one. Any way you slice it, Camoufleur tackles the end of a partnership while making something elegant out a potentially awkward situation