Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Where does a band like San Francisco's Social Studies come from and why has it stayed so well hidden? It's probably a mystery that has very little answer, but the sinewy and rich verve that seems to snake through its confident and affected sound is ripe for easy exploration and fanfare. It's a band that believes in great heights and believes that those heights are somewhat scary, but still it leaps off from them without double-checking to see if it's packed a chute. There's not a net below it, but the wind whipping through its head in the fall is enough to make whatever happens next - whether that's the natural progression of growing older or a succinct end to a short existence - just what happens next and nothing to be too worked up over. The wind is glorious enough for it. It's as if we're able to hear salty sea swells in their every movement and we're able to feel the buzz of a good getting' drunk night in Natalia Rogouin's rainy wet singing and the quaint whispers of the passage of time in the melodies and stories. The back story that the band provides for "Mad Decent," a brand new song that is debuting in recorded form here, is a glimpse at the towering thoughts and ideas that she's pressed with when she writes, giving us more than just pithy and sleepy sentiments that offer little depth or meaningfulness. She says of the song, "It's about the American ideology of manifest destiny, and the goals of the first European settlers here. I think it's creepy the way America is so sure of itself, unwilling to admit mistakes, and unwilling to admit we don't know everything. It's even creepier that we have built this entire western way of life on the graves of all the people who lived here before us, and we still refuse to fully acknowledge or take responsibility for this sordid part of our past, even as the legacy of our genocide still exists. I've been very obsessed with time, and the inevitability of repeating the same mistakes over and over as part of the human condition." Within it the song, which carries a pesky synth progression, a gloomy bass line that seems to be looking out over a landscape of broken herds, homes torn to shreds and wooly carcasses lying there rotting after a needless kill, is a line about progress and where we've come as a country, with Rogouin singing, "These dreams are built on old bones." It's a frank reminder of then and now and it's the observational aspect of her unassuming words that showcases the true power of this band - giving us so much substance and a mood to enjoy it within. It feels like a version of the 1960s mod world, slick and handsome, but rebellious and steeped in more contextual graces than is normal. It pulls us to explore further and it pulls us into leaping from great heights as well, liking the trip downward, to land in a crystal blue lake with little splash and hardly any dangerous shock to the system. It all just feels right and exhilarating. Then we towel off and head back up to the cliff and press play before the next fall.