Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There is a phrase used on the first edition jacket blurb for Joan Didion's 1970 novel, "Play It As It Lays," likely pinned there by an underpaid copywriter or publicist in an attempt to woo browsers into becoming buyers. It mentions "the landscape of the arid soul" and it seems to have relevance here, when listening to Boston band Old Abram Brown. It also brings a thought to mind an open and freeform wondering about whether there would be much of a difference between the landscape of an arid and a soggy soul. It's just a bunch of quibbling with the details, I'd imagine, but splitting hairs probably gets us to a point where we would feel that the soggy soul is one that's been acted upon, one that's been done in by outside forces, mostly, and an arid soul is one that's been solely or more than partially responsible for the gloom and doom of its setting. Sometimes we let ourselves work our way into puddles, or we become them. We just get trashed by the probabilities that we refuse to see. We mess up and we wonder why things aren't fair. The things that we dream up for ourselves get lesser and lesser and there's nothing that we can do about it. We go down with the bar as it's being lowered. It's that trajectory that we keep our eyes on and down we go, to a level where they actually drag against the dusty floor.
Old Abram Brown's lead singer, Carson Lund, creates the landscape of a soggy soul that's prone to get prolonged droughts that last for indeterminate lengths of time, as droughts are wont to do. There seem to be plenty of instances of questioning why the shit is happening to him and then there's a song like, "I'm Not Happy," from the band's latest, "Restless Ghosts," where much of the misery is self-inflicted. There's cheating coming from both sides, in a story about infidelity, with very little wondering about whose skin is lying next to whose skin at night.
Lund sings, "All my thoughts and my senses/Are on my rooftop/In my mind/Oh, don't get me started/Cause I know you could…/But I'm not happy when I wake up to the moonshine stare above me/Away you go, back to the mattress where you started." It's a dirge that's ending poorly. The piano has set us up for the slow and full-bodied crying and the horns make you feel like you're walking across a bloody battlefield the morning after, just to survey what actually happened, who actually got hurt the worst in the fray. Looks like, everyone tied. Then, just a couple steps later, Lund finds the lifeless body of his dog. He believes that the mountain lions got the poor boy and he wonders, "Why's it gotta cost so much to die?" and we see that the landscape's shifted just a little bit once again.