PINK BALLOON BAND – Tomorrow We Sleep

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.

The wise sage Steve Henn shown here in his wise cap

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,

Andrew Morris

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28 thoughts on “PINK BALLOON BAND – Tomorrow We Sleep

  1. For God’s sake, Andrew, don’t quote me as some sort of authoritative source to justify your absurd notion that a distaste for whiney-boy-emo-pop-voice is somehow unjustifiable. That style of singing is repugnant and I wouldn’t be surprised if Skeans sings that way because of the era of high school / music during which he came of age. The only really good singers aren’t the talented ones anyway; they’re the ones who do a lot with a little, whose style / emotion / delivery transcend their abilities, such as with Bob Dylan or Kurt Cobain or the artist you so casually threw under the bus that no musician in Warsaw can approach in terms of lyrical honesty, Daniel Johnston. My friend Chris, himself a vocalist of limited talent who played with a group of Warsaw expats in Bloomington eventually called Big Secret Underground, once claimed Warsaw/Kosciusko County breeds genius in its artists, but he only said that because he’s full of himself and wanted to be called a genius. Nobody playing or writing from or in Warsaw is a genius, and if they are it’s because they moved on from Warsaw, like Ambrose Bierce, the great post-Civil War Era Warsonite who made his name in San Francisco and recently had a Modern Library collection of his work released (which means according to People Who Know What They’re Talking About he actually was one of the American greats), or like Theodore Dreiser, who went to high school here and would’ve won the Nobel Prize in Literature if not for the unfortunate existence of Sinclair Lewis and his works. You aren’t a genius; I’m not a genius; Pink Balloon Band / Skeans is not a genius. Which means you should say what you think about the e.p. and quit p****footing around. He’s just gonna have to take it. It sucks being reviewed: most artistic works are pretty average and most of the time when you get them out there in the wide world they’re quickly forgotten. I should know. I’ve got a book out there that sold about 100 copies. It’s not exactly time to quit my day job. It won’t be time without more work and dedication on my part and it won’t be time for Skeans either, which means he oughta get plenty of sleep tonight, because, if he wants to “make it” like you and me and the rest of us Kosc. County not-really-genius artists, he’s got a long way to go to get to the tomorrow he wants.

    • I’m not going to make an effort to correct Steve, or even pretend he’s not making a lot of good points, but I do want to emphasize that “making it” has never been my intention with music. I enjoy writing music, playing instruments, and sharing my work when I can. The fact that any sort of formal review ever came of this EP is mind blowing considering I put it up as a free download primarily for my friends and anyone else who might enjoy it, should they stumble upon it. As local artists, we encounter plenty of people with egos that far exceed the level of talent they possess and I just want to make sure I’m not getting typecast with that group. To everyone who’s downloaded the album, thanks a ton for giving it a listen. Everyone’s feedback, for better or worse, has been really great to hear. And to the friends and fans that come out to sing along at shows, you guys make this all worth while. So while I haven’t reached the “tomorrow I want”, I’m enjoying the journey regardless.

      -Pink Balloon Band

      Also, I’m honored to be mentioned (even negatively) next to New Found Glory, haha.

  2. Pink Balloon owns! Local music with the intent of having fun and doing what you love is the only way to go. Screw “tomorrow.”

  3. To Steve Henn, “That style of singing is repugnant…” That’s your opinion, and to make such a blanket statement as if you speak for everyone, is off-putting. I’m not sure if you intended it that way, but that’s how it comes across.
    To Andrew Morris, I think you’re reading way too much into things. I find that music is most enjoyable if you don’t try to crack the Da Vinci Code of every single line and lyric. I’m glad you stayed with PBB and gave the music a full chance. I was a bit surprised, though, that you didn’t mention my favorite PBB song, “What Have I Become”. Man, that song is one of my all-time favorites. And I mean out of any songs I’ve ever heard. The last part, with the countdown and the sing-along, that’s just awesome. I also love the guitar on the song, it’s so great.

    • Wow. What a wordy review. Was your goal to some how show you think your smarter than the man who wrote the lyrics? All I got from this exhausting review is that you don’t like the style of singing, don’t get the humor, but for some reason enjoy it. I love the E.P. I hope anyone who reads your review listens to the E.P. And ignores all your rants about the style of singing that you feel doesn’t belong in warsaw.

    • If I was speaking for anyone else I would’ve said “we all think that style of singing is repugnant.” I’m only speaking for myself, thanks. And busting Andrew in the chops for not coming out and saying what he means in the article, which he does a better job of addressing in his reply to all the comments, below. I should say kudos to Ian for putting stuff out there. It takes guts to take that kind of risk.

  4. Wow. What an exhausting review to read. Basically you don’t like his style of singing, don’t understand the humor, and don’t like the pictures on the cover, but yet like it. I don’t understand why you assume his style of singing isn’t for EVERYBODY in Warsaw. Aparently it’s not for you. I enjoy every song on the E.P. and his style of singing. The beauty of downloadable music is everyone can enjoy their style of music no matter what town they are in.

    • Well put. The one thing that stuck with me in this review is despite the odds against it with the reviewer’s personal taste, he still came out enjoying it overall which speaks a lot to me.

  5. Basically all “Tomorrow, We Sleep” shows, is that great music CAN come from Warsaw, IN.

    There’s my review.
    – Ian Ruisard

    (can I get paid now?)

  6. Hey all. As the writer/founder of GT I want to thank everybody for commenting on the “exhausting review”. That’s what this General Thad thing is supposed to be all about: Digging deep into Warsaw music/art and talking about it. So seriously, thanks. Now, I’ve got to respond to some questions. 1) The articles on GT that I write aren’t traditional reviews, but rather are analyses. I try not to say whether the piece was “good” or “bad”, but instead try to break down the art, figure out what ideas are behind it, how it fits into the Kosciusko County “scene”, what aesthetic devices the artist uses, etc. If you want a review on a 5* scale go over to The Midwest’s Finest and have them do it. 2) This doesn’t mean I think I’m better than anyone else. I believe in writing serious and in-depth articles on underground art. I get criticized at the university for writing too seriously about “unimportant” culture and now I apparently get criticized by the people I try to serve for being too “academic”. 3) If you don’t want to analyze the music, that’s fine. Don’t. Just sit there listen with your brain off. I want to analyze every sentence. It’s important 4) The EP is not the next London Calling, it’s no Tom Russell, it’s no Rodeo Goat Sessions. Face it people. It’s not that good. It has very good moments musically (at parts in Keep it together for Cats, the whole of Sam Neil), mediocre ones (What have I become) and horrible ones (The whole 1st track). I think he did a great job with the album art. If you want to talk more about my opinions of each track individually send me an email. I’d love to discuss it. But I don’t think that stuff has a place in this article. 5) I didn’t throw Daniel Johnston under a bus. As far as I know he’s never been hit by one. 6) Part I was my Impression of the album: a sketch like Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” – my impressions in quick brush strokes. Part II was the analysis: What does this EP say, how does it fit into Warsaw Culture, what should we take away from Skeans’ work as artists and as members of a community, etc. 7) I don’t get paid for this. I work 40 hours a week. No, Ian Ruisard, no. You cannot get paid now.

  7. I would beg to differ on your analysis of which songs you prefer and which you find “horrible”. Again, it all boils down to opinion and taste. When artists like Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan are referenced as examples to aspire to, I find myself amused because I find them uninspiring. As do many people I’ve discussed this with. But I can’t rule out that they hold an appeal to a huge audience and as such must be musically and socially inspiring to many. And essentially that’s what music boils down to for myself. Anyone hoping to someday get rich by writing that number one song, or painting that perfect image, or writing that incredible novel needs to just stop. Enjoy your art for what it is and realize that not everyone will like it, but when you create that something that strikes a note with even one person, that’s an incredible feeling. I think it’s readily apparent, Andrew, that there are quite a few people who would debate your opinion of not just individual songs, but the EP as a whole. I’m glad you gave it a listen and like I said, I’m open to criticism and you’re not the first to find flaws in it. Heck! I find plenty myself everytime I listen, haha. So thanks again for listening and I hope to see you out at a show sometime in the near future. Learn the lyrics, and come sing along 😉

    • “Anyone hoping to someday get rich by writing that number one song, or painting that perfect image, or writing that incredible novel needs to just stop. Enjoy your art for what it is and realize that not everyone will like it, but when you create that something that strikes a note with even one person, that’s an incredible feeling.” Words of sage wisdom Pink Balloon Man. The music world is changing Andrew. You don’t have to leave Warsaw to find an audience for your art. And so I think you are wrong to assume that ,just because an artist produces an album , their intention is to “make it”(become rich and famous or to be considered a “genius”). It’s all about sharing and connecting. And there is not a thing wrong with kindness.

  8. For you to sit there and say “face it people. It’s not that good” is extremely harsh. Last time I checked that’s called an opinion. YOUR opinion. Don’t state it like it’s a fact. As you can see from all these replies, you really shouldn’t give up your day job anytime soon.

  9. Wow, this discourse is incredible! Andrew has done something truly great with this record, which I love. Thinking deeply about music is what most artists want you to do. I understand that Ian has a lot of die hard fans and friends that have a switch flipped in them when his record is criticized and automatically want to defend, but he has given an honest analysis of the work. I think that he lingered on a bit about not liking the vocals, but he was fair enough to judge the work for what it is, as he referenced, and move on. Examining every sentence of a writers work is crucial to understanding the piece, whatever the case may be, and I would be stoked to have anyone come away loving or hating my work as long as they put in the listening effort to clearly explain why. Good review, good analysis, good comments and discussion. Ian should be proud to have so much support, and I can’t wait for the next record. Now, go download it, burn three copies, and give them to your friends!

  10. I don’t agree with that one jack offs review but everyone’s got their own opinion right. There’s a couple songs that are different but I like it all so far it’s idk LIKE A BOSS

  11. I don’t agree with that one jack offs review but everyones got their own opinion right. I have listened to the cds i have quite a bit and made it to a couple shows people are good at making you laugh, but you don’t have stage fright so that’s a plus. A few songs are different but I really like your music so far it’s idk LIKE A BOSS!!!!

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