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Holy Ground: 2004 ; Recorded/Mixed by: laptop home demo ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 

Barbed Wire: 2007 ; Recorded/Mixed by: laptop home demo ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Guantanamo: 2003 ; Drums: Joe Brown or Joe Giotta ; Electric Guitar: Torbin Harding ; Bass: Justin Day ; Recorded/Mixed by: rehearsal recording ; Studio: Midtown Mall rehearsal studio, Worcester, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Wrecking Ball: 2003 ; Drums: Joe Brown or Joe Giotta ; Electric Guitar: Torbin Harding ; Bass: Justin Day ; Recorded/Mixed by: rehearsal recording ; Studio: Midtown Mall rehearsal studio, Worcester, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Going Nowhere: c. 2003 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Ari ; Studio: WRBB 104.9 FM, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Enemy: c. 2004 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Jordan Tishler ; Studio: Digital Bear Entertainment, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Election Day: 2004 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Jordan Tishler ; Studio: Digital Bear Entertainment, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

 

Notes

I wasn’t touring or playing out anymore, but the songs still came — not a flood of them, but a new one now and then.

“Holy Ground” is one song from that time. The lyrics rise from a different well. I am all alone in an apartment and letting this music happen in unhurried, daylong ways. This is the nature of it. You can also maybe detect some Peter Buck down in the DNA, down in the arpeggios.

Another of the laptop songs, “Barbed Wire” emerged from a moment of crisis. I was in a bad job. And you can hear the rawness of the recording-apparatus at work — the texture of the vocals, the swirling hissy quality of the whole thing. Natural flange and phase. There is a un-peg-able atmosphere around these soundscapes. I am thankful for it: in this case, the nature of the recording echoes the mood of the moment.

The next track takes us back to when I was still on the road, still on the mic, still pushing for it. For something. For whatever it was supposed to be. In the timeframe of the same months that included the final sessions for Church of the Kitchen Sink, the band that would bear that album’s name was practicing in a shopping-mall basement in central Massachusetts — Worcester. The space was a dump, once an Army recruiting office but by the time of our occupancy it had collapsed into a long, cluttered, carpeted expanse of junked-up amplifiers and discarded DIY stage lights. Everything was old. Everything old down there was rotting under the remains of the shopping mall.

From these rehearsals, “Guantanamo” post-dates the songs on Church. In this recording, you can hear all the murky, milky frustration of the early 2000s, all that anger coming through. It’s an Iraq War song. It’s a 9/11 song. It’s a George W. dirge, a long-running ramble from an age of imperfect anesthesia. Be patient with the recording quality, in this instance (and in the next one on the track list, too). These bits represent some of the rawest of all possible inputs, but such a gloriously lugubrious result. The bass sounds gorgeous to me. Nudge up your volume a little bit. 

“Wrecking Ball.” Same time period. We’re going full-bore, here, performing for each other, listening for where the song is supposed to live if we can just get it down. There are unfinished arrangements floating in the root code. Sometimes the song wants to fly apart, other times it pulses like an anthem, which is what it ached to become. I love the miniature guitar solo; it’s about two-and-a-half minutes into the take. For a moment, this version of the song probably sounded like the future of the band.

“Going Nowhere.” The recording comes from the soundboard at a city university radio station — Northeastern, in Boston — and it sounds clean and clear and strong. Just because you’re precocious doesn’t mean you’re wrong. 

“Enemy.” An anthem for the rest of us. I tried to write some notes about this, but I haven’t got it right, yet. It’s not much of a song, sometimes, to me. Other times it’s a very complicated thing. More to come.

Finally, this volume wraps on a topical note, thirteen years in the past. So much seemed to ride on that November’s national election. Some of my favorite lines are in this one. We were so much younger. We’ll leave off, then, now, but we’ll pick up in a similar moment when we get to Volume Four. 

Keep it going. See you out there. It’s not over, yet. Thanks.

 

All these tracks were mastered in 2017 by Matt Girard. 

The artwork is by Joe Kowan.

 

James O'Brien — Life Underwater Music (1 November 2017)