Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Just beside the beds at the grandest hotel I've ever slept in - the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. - are bottles of a substance that's labeled as a relaxation tonic, a sleeping spray, made effective by its lavender fragrance. You're to spray it in the air and slightly upon your pillows and it will accompany you into a peaceful slumber before you even know it. One second you'll be slogging through a Garcia Marquez novel and the next you'll be adrift, hurtling toward morning. It's a natural serum that probably only sometimes works, depending on so many other things - the amounts of caffeine or alcohol in one's system, the levels of stress and discomfort currently sandblasting you from the insides out. Chicago band Quieting Syrup plays into the same kind of predicament, holding us dangling in the late stages of a night that's hanging on its own precipice - lightly regarded and kind of cold and breathless. Most of the time, it's the strangulation of the light and a long and choking night, teaming up with that stress and misery that win the battles. Lead singer Stephen Howard has had many sleepless nights - nights that he's worried would be final nights or that if he were to fall asleep, he'd wake up a different, worse off person so he'd just fight his body into never letting sleep into him. Howard has been of poor health for the majority of his life, constantly having to beat off illnesses, and yet, the wars have severely warped his quality of life into something that's revealing and soothing. As a man who has been unable to take anything for granted - as not even the almost automatic good health of youth could be counted on - Howard has found himself needing his notebook and the lyrics that he put to his latest album "Songs About A Sick Boy," to add stability to his instability. He asks himself on "Goin' For The Gold," "How much worse can it get?" over a slowly plucked electric guitar, with a swirling abyss/open plains windstorm whistling in the background. It's in this song where he's counting down to some ending, as if his world could stop at any time, there at the age of 25. But it could just as easily be said that every Quieting Syrup song contains the same kind of forecast, where there are very few indications that the current day will lead seamlessly into the following day or one more after that. Nowhere on the album does he resign himself to any inevitable conclusion that invites death in for a sit, but he's come to terms and is going out like a lamb, not a wildfire. Howard sings on separate occasions about being too scared to close his eyes and not knowing what he's going to find there when he does. It might be the most frightening thing he's faced with - the uncertainty of his strength and the possibility of its fleeting properties as he's been witness to - the breakdowns and recoveries, never withstanding. Many of the songs on "Songs About A Sick Boy," contain lyrics that make it clear that he cannot go into these nights alone, that he needs help, a guiding hand to provide some sort of stability and comfort. He sings, "I hope when I pass out, you take me in," and it's likely that he's not hinting at a drunken night downtown, in which he's planning on blacking out and letting luck have him. He's looking at a dark mirror where there is no understanding and there is no way to calm oneself down enough to shut their eyes. It's a fear that doesn't abide.
Quieting Syrup Official Site