So it is General Thad’s one-year anniversary. In May 2011, I started up and we’ve since been able to put together 14 articles on Kosciusko County art in the forms of reviews, analysis and interviews. I hope to keep going. Thanks to everybody who has supported us so far. Now without further ado, I present to you my 2-Part discussion of Pink Balloon Band’s E.P. Tomorrow We Sleep:
Part I: Impression, soleil levant
Steve Henn once said on this blog, “I can’t stand it when critics criticize music, poetry, fiction, whatever, for what it is not rather than for what it is”, and, my brothers and sisters, I can’t stand it either. I try to analyze pieces for what they are. That is what I will do in this article. Now, keeping this in mind, there is something that must be said.
There is a way of singing that does not belong in Warsaw, IN anymore. There is a way of singing that should die off, in the same way certain dialects of language do. Do you know what kind of singing I’m talking about? Some might be thinking, “Oh yea, he’s talking about that faux-Bob Dylan style! Today we don’t respect men who write protest songs only to back out of the very same protest movement for a bourgeois existence! People today can’t flip-flop! Stubbornness is strength! Consistency is King!” Others may exclaim “No! It’s Daniel Johnston! Men who sound like 5-year-olds don’t exist in Northern Indiana!” or “Actually it’s Kanye West! What does rap from middle-class Chicago have to do with rural Indiana?!? Led Zepplin YES! Now there’s a good, white, English band that speaks to the Kosciusko County Conscience with their legend of a Mudshark sexual encounter!”. But I say no!
There is only one type of singing that nurses the nipple of annoying suckiness as if it were an infant. You know what I’m talking about – it’s that pop-punk-emo nasal-sound that Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory and Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance made 15 minute-careers out of. That kind of vocal styling, ladies and gentleman, is the centerpiece jewel on the crown of suck and doesn’t need to exist… Ok, guys, I’m exaggerating a bit here for effect. Please understand that. But truth be told I do find this kind of singing nearly unbearable. It is a style that has too many associations with High School for me.
Pink Balloon Band’s newest EP “Tomorrow We Sleep” has that dreaded whiney-make-me-wanna-punch-a-pop-punk-dude-in-the-face vocal style. When I first put on the E.P., I almost turned it off immediately. A whining voice singing “With just these lies in my pocket, I’ll buy you the world / crown you my princess and call you my girl” is not the way you kick off an E.P. if you want me to take you seriously as an artist.
But alas I didn’t turn off my speakers, because I remembered what Steve Henn wrote many months ago.
Saying “I don’t like all of this, just because of the whining vocals” is as silly as somebody who dislikes all bluegrass because of the crooning, all rap because of the rhythmic emphasis or all rock because of the loud guitars. I try to be a patient listener. I really try to understand art for what it is.
So there I was eating lunch, appalled by the sheer 16-year-old-ness of Pink Balloon Band, but as I kept listening to the record something happened. Skeans sung a sentence that began to redeem the record in my eyes, in the eyes of a man who is obsessed with Kosciusko County cultural identity. Skeans sung: “I’ll die in this dead-end town I’ve grown to hate”. That line saved “Tomorrow We Sleep” from being thrown away. At that moment it started to become more than just another hackneyed power-pop 6-song E.P. It became more interesting, with a particular setting and connection to the other art around it. I continued listening and Skean’s chords became more complex and through the ubiquitous whining timbre of his voice, I surprisingly noticed some very nice melodic work going on. Tomorrow We Sleep does, surely, at times sound like a 16-year old’s failed love relationship (i.e. whining voice, “One time you made me so sad, you made me so sad one time”, etc.) but this fact does not mean the E.P.’s is without truly shining moments, like for example when Skeans breaks into the beautiful falsetto in “Keep it Together for the Cats”. Tomorrow We Sleep has truly passionate parts that are as good as anything I’ve heard, but at the same time the E.P. struggles to contain a wholly original concept. After a few listens you’ll find yourself singing along with the hooks and impressed by Skean’s musical innovation, regardless of whether you like or dislike the style.
Part II: Analysis – Humor and Small-Town Identity
If you listen to “Tomorrow We Sleep” on the surface, it recounts the story of a man, who falls in love with a girl who is “something different”. Their relationship begins falling apart due to the nothingness of small-town life among other ambiguous factors until they are finally separated. Concluding the E.P., the narrator sings of how he should be happy whether she takes him back or not, while still accepting the fact that he needs “help” and is “messed up”.
That’s the basic plot of “Tomorrow We Sleep”. But when you take this rather honest and sad tale of a relationship’s destruction and look at some of the titles of the tracks, you see some peculiar humor arise. Track names like “Sam Neil [of Jurassic Park fame] vs. The Warsaw Tigers” and “Keep it Together for the Cats” don’t really seem to fit the somber feel of the E.P. This is one way, in which Skeans aesthetically creates nice lightness with a heavy topic.
But this humor can also be deceiving. Take “Keep it Together for the Cats” for example. Instead of simply being a humorous wordplay on the cultural status quo of keeping marriage together for the benefit of children (exchange “cats” with “kids”), it could also imply that the couple’s only reasons for staying together are merely house pets. A sad, but perhaps plausible problem for some of Kosciusko County’s underground art community.
Also the E.P.’s earnest pictures of Skeans alone in a home studio, passionately singing and playing, don’t seem to fit a few of the humorous song titles. I still, after having listened to Tomorrow We Sleep over 20 times, don’t quite know how to interpret this humor. Does the humor of these titles mock the entire love-story or does it rather randomly try to escape the pain? I’d be curious to know if anybody has a better interpretation of this (type in the comment box below… please… somebody… anybody?).
Aside from the peculiar humor of the E.P., one of the most interesting aspects of Tomorrow We Sleep is the role that Warsaw, IN plays. Warsaw, IN is only implied twice in the lyrics of the E.P. (3 times if you include the track title “Sam Neil vs. The Warsaw Tigers”) but it can be safely assumed that it is the background. The two times when Skeans mentions the town lyrically, “I’ll die in this dead-end town I’ve grown to hate” and “This town is taking it’s toll – these people never forget”, don’t just mention a place, but also two interesting small town ideas that exist underneath the location.
The first idea is that Warsaw is a “dead-end town”, void of many artistic opportunities. This idea has been expressed in many other works featured on General Thad. Earlier this month Jenelle Bickel noted how few places there are for artists to publish human-interest pieces. Invisible Robots sing of “Boring Bars” and dysfunctional diners. Oren Wagner talked of alleviating boredom in a dead-end town by “writing poems on the back of placemats”. My song “Barstool Prophets” also explores this idea. It seems that many artists from the area have tried to work their way out of the “dead-end town”. Caleb Vogel’s project Kill and Eat and Dylan Ettinger both attempted to escape the town via the Internet. Steve Henn, Oren Wagner and Kaveh Akbar sent their work to New York to be published. Fair Fjola went to Chicago and then New York. We have to notice that most lasting artists in Warsaw who produce original material, leave Warsaw. Warsaw is not a self-sustaining artistic community, unless you’re a classic rock cover band. And even then you usually need a day job. This is exactly what makes Pink Balloon Band so interesting. Is that Ian has been in the “dead-end town” at least since the days of the old Maple Leaf Grille open mic night. Instead of trying to escape Warsaw, like so many others (myself included), he is one of the few brave souls (like Ryan Kerr) who remains in the area. He plays an important part in the music culture of Warsaw by playing around and DIY-releasing E.P.s. These attempts are nothing new, but they are a crucial part in keeping the Warsaw art culture moving.
The second small town idea comes from the line “these people never forget” and has to do with the repetition of faces and ideas in a town like Warsaw. The same names come into conversation and the same musicians play the same songs on the same stages. Perhaps one could argue this causes stagnation and can be detrimental to an art culture, just as it was detrimental to the narrator’s relationship in Tomorrow We Sleep. But seeing the same faces and hearing the same bands can also create unique artistic circles, where honest criticism is easier to come by and artists are allowed develop at their own pace. This is something that should be understood and embraced by artists from the Warsaw-area. The small-town as a place does to a certain extent provide this and one should try to take advantage of it.
Pink Balloon Band’s Tomorrow We Sleep, is a free E.P. worth checking out, particularly for those in the Warsaw art scene. It raises interesting questions: Should the power-pop vocal styling be in the underground scene? How is a love story set in Warsaw fundamentally different than one set elsewhere? In what ways is destruction humorous? How do we find reasons as artists and as lovers to keep going?
Download the E.P. here: http://pinkballoonband.bandcamp.com/album/tomorrow-we-sleep
Check out Pink Balloon Band’s Facebook Page here: http://www.facebook.com/pinkballoonband
Finally, I hope I didn’t tick off anybody singing along in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iC-61MVoDcE
May 28, 2012,