Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
A stamina for the drudgery is what Sybris, the Chicago four-piece has as an intrinsic value. All of its members have been through the shit, through the big storms of human nastiness and debauchery, and found them to be laughable - to be amusement parks with short lines, all aboard. They've gone through many times that they must silently say to themselves as they're happening, "This sucks now, but it's going to make for a good story somewhere down the road." They must do many things that require getting drunk for maximization and when that sometimes goes too far, it gets interesting, the bogeymen of ideas and worries are heard a few paces behind. Angela Mullenhaur's wavy and colorfully loopy voice tends to sweeten and mellow the lyrical material that comes off as interestingly indecisive and paranoid, dampening the tones into a stream of gray, murky waters.
There is no chipper dimension to what she sings about in a shoegazer-on-uppers feeling, drawing listeners over to the tightrope on the band's latest album, Into the Trees, asking us - those afraid of heights - to go ahead and walk forward, it's the only way, knowing full well that our feet may or may not be wide enough or our balance as good as needed. A good majority of the songs on the new album - out recently on Absolutely Kosher Records - make one feel as if they were ascending a dark stairway, coming up from the basement, always with that lurking sensation that someone's going to be following you up, picking up speed and then it's a sprint to get through the upstairs door and get it locked before the worst happens.
It's not really that riddled with anxiety, but then again it is. You'll see. The album gives off a scent of terrible, terrible motel rooms - with paper-thin walls that allow for great eavesdropping and unwanted audio intrusions depending on the neighbors. It's about sticky barroom floors that might have a crackling topsoil of broken shot glasses, smashed by overly soused patrons and angry folks. It's about and in collusion with all of those consequences of long nights, early mornings at those bars that formerly used to be smoky havens of rancid dispositions and letting off steam, of doing things that one would never do during the business hours or when too many people you knew were looking or paying attention. With one beer in hand and a half a dozen more in the tank - lapping the stomach with that night's dinner of buffalo wings and French fries - the fires start flickering and the courage to engage in activities that aren't allowed by the fancily attired grows to be mountainous.
The music that Mullenhour, guitarist Phil Naumann, drummer Eric Mahle and bassist/vocalist Shawn Podgurski spill out gets boiling and works into delicate scalds, leaving the kinds of scabs and scrapes that you'll look at days later and wonder where they came from. It's a sly combination of the urgency and caterwalling of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the tickly sentimentalism of Death Cab For Cutie, if you can believe it.
Mullenhour takes it up and pulls it down, just like the sweaty stage hand whose job it is to pull the ropes and make a scene night or make it afternoon. She would likely support a mandatory referendum that required so many drunken hours in proportion to how many hours spent practicing the mundane duties of the day or just thinking about them. She would raise a glass and her bandmates would have her back, counting off to the chug and breaking all of the buttons off of our shirts, getting stinky wasted.