Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Bad Veins' Ben Davis suggests late in his band's second to last record that he won't get scared of not getting anywhere. The underwriting for the thought involves a relationship with someone dear and perhaps there was an initial sense that it was going to turn out rosier than it currently sits here in the lazy doldrums, just whittling away, no better and no worse, but maybe it is worse because of the stagnancy. It's been eroded and that part is causing some obvious consternation. There are a lot of very precarious relationships (or just one?) contained within this very promising Cincinnati band's debut full-length and they don't stray too far from their frayed and woozy balances which keep both sides of the heart's equation looking for anything other than the nonsensical tidings that they seem to be drowning in.
There is a lack of grasp on the shortcomings, or where the shortcomings come from in the interactions between these two people, who are the mellow, mellow, mellow versions of John Darnielle's classic and prolonged ruminations of the trials and more trials of his alpha couple as they slug through a marriage that seems to have had a fuzzy beginning and oddly enough, no end in sight.
The couple that Davis and band mate, drummer Sebastien Schultz have designed to follow may not be the same people throughout, but they all have a universal hold on key characteristics that make them able to try on and wear the others' clothing and problems with great ease. It's all very familiar feeling to the characters on "Bad Veins," as if they could walk into any conversation or tense room and find themselves nodding involuntarily, mouthing the emotions and the words as they were taking place for the first time in those other living people who didn't see them come up behind them.
Davis and Schultz make epic sounds, squalling warmth and larger-than-life arrangements that show poise and energy and the perfect amount of emotiveness. There's a direct connect between the topics at hand and what they're actually doing to the characters who are riddled with them, how the slow pace of love, the hard-beating heart of love makes sure to never give away too many of the answers, but remain a stubborn cloud that may or may not just pour its guts out all over the place without any warning given. The questions and the worries that Davis sings about having seem to begin nagging from the morning and definitely into the night, chewing on him, making him suffer, even if it's ever so lightly, as his characters are embroiled in these moments of grayness and near-combustion. He makes these people feel as if they're resilient though awfully breakable at the same time. All they want out of life is the happy ending, but there are the dips and drops, the unavoidable troubles of life's refusal to cooperate properly. When Davis sings, "I cannot reap what I cannot sow/I'll never keep what I can't grow/I can't be done cause I can't begin/I don't want you to be alone again. And I don't want to be alone again," it's as close to a synopsis to the general feeling of sunsets and what they mean in both literal and figurative ways. It's this sunset hopefulness and dread that makes "Bad Veins" such a beautiful album - an honest dissection of people at the fork in the road, with eyes torn in both directions half thinking that they might go this way or that and knowing just as well that the one standing in front of them might be thinking the same thing, feeling their own eyes splitting. Hearts divert openly and in secret and that's where we are with these veins, the good ones and the bad ones.
*Essay originally published July 2009
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