“The Throes” is a fresh start. Its styles are old, but at least for the lead singer Adam Stephens, it is an exonerating piece of music with hopes of wiping his heavy slate clean of pain and remorse. Two Gallants are known for their strong lyrics which mostly consist of agonizing love stories which are especially noticeable on this promising debut. These torturous, unrelenting memories are explained from behind a veil of nameless characters except for one who seems to be not only the focus of this recording, but also of Adam’s life. Their music is so consistently based on women that I think he has never let her go, and while the noble valiance of Stephen’s lyrical character makes it clear that he has accepted her deceit as well as his own, he will mourn this loss for as long as he lives. Perhaps that is off-putting to some, but those who’ve experienced a similar relationship will affectionately attach themselves to the sorrowful Gallants. Even if the melodies don’t pull at your tender heart-strings (and that’s a big if), you’ll see right through the words like you were looking at her
from the other side of a glass door that won’t budge. “The Throes” is great music, but listening to it can be emotionally devastating, which is exactly why it ranks up there with the best sad crooner’s masterpieces and is for all intents and purposes a classic.
I’ll be the first to say that there isn’t a lot about love you can write about. It’s so complicated because it’s so simple. How can such an elementary concept cause such disaster? Well, some people foolishly believe they understand it when they don’t, and sometimes these people cross paths with those who do understand, very deeply at that. A lover is careful and willing, while their opposites are indecisive, spontaneous and oblivious. Love doesn’t blind you. If anything it gives you sight of things that are greater than yourself, like another life that is worth preserving. Have you ever wanted someone you couldn’t have? This object of your affection may live like they’re totally oblivious to your feelings, probably because they are. Some consider this a cursed, aggravating situation but there is something to gain from it. You can learn a lot by watching another person live; if you don’t get too close to them, you’d be more observant of their flaws, which are the keys to anyone’s heart. Deep, dark secrets are profoundly defining knowledge. Why are we vague and polite when making first impressions? How come we don’t spill our guts to just anyone? Our emotions are restless around new people as our bodies and our minds try to adapt to their behavior in an attempt to relate, kind of like a platonic mating ritual. At these moments, our heart is dormant, waiting to be awoken by some alarmingly similar niche or twitch in the other person. From then on, we desire each other’s company as the cathartic swap of passions and peeves is magnetic. Sometimes, one of the two is more out-going than the other and she becomes the leader of their little thing, bringing him to new places where she is accustomed but he, the foolish lover that he is, is not, and while she continues to be herself, oblivious, he strives to be her fondest dream. This is what we call a tragedy, which is how all these things end. It’s happened to me, maybe you too, but the point is it sure as hell happened to Adam Stephens. He’s taken his two-piece out in the open-ranged free-for-all of American alternative music, a scene where the style of Two Gallants doesn’t exactly fit, but he appears no less calm, collected and ambitious. It must be the lingering and harshly educational experience of a broken-heart. How had he become such a man at such a young age? Well, let me tell you something, those unstable, irresistible women don’t wait until their more than girls to be who they are. While you’re alone, thinking about her cold destructive emptiness and salivating sexual appetite, she’s already hunting for another. Have a drink young man, you’ve just seen a real
lady walk away for the first time, and for the sake of your music, hopefully not the last.
The Throes is a chronicle of moods that Stephens felt after the conclusion of a meaningful relationship. It progresses from denial to depression to drunk, and is so accurate to the throes of a break-up it must be biographical. Some critics accuse the Gallants of worshipping a long-lost era in their music, but it also deals with present-day problems that are continuously human and will likely never go away, like that stinging pang of sorrow you feel when you know she’s not coming back, or the guilt of knowing you haven’t done anything about her replacing you with someone who is obviously stupider and more oblivious than you’d ever been. Despite all of the sadness he took away from their relationship, Stephens celebrates the woman he wishes he had for her intelligence and grace is worth the trouble, like in the brave undertaking of their departure, Two Days Short Tomorrow
, a song that knows it has lost someone but paints a picture of a stoic romantic boy, though hiding behind this canvas is only the latter, proven by the following number, the gasping realization Nothing To You
. Here, Stephens almost insults his would be lover by calling her vain, a simple party girl who weaves in and out of the crowd no different than the rest of them, but he knows that isn’t all there is to her. After delivering each admonishing verse, the song speeds up for the chorus and smarmily peaks in mood as if it just made an extremely relevant point in an argument between the two; Nothing To You
mentions their splitting differences in metaphor: “I followed you into the party, that no one invited me to…I watched you forget your belongings, and belongings you’ve got quite a few. I filled up your bags with my longings and searched this whole wide city for you.” What was once within his grasp is now gone. The song goes on to explain how the writer doesn’t kick himself over her anymore but she’s still making a mistake, and he still cares enough to spare a warning. It’s the self-righteousness and brief immunity one feels when he thinks she’s actually wrong and dumb for choosing the choice she did, and she’ll come crawling back eventually. He reduces her to nothing, singing as if he was holy and she was scum.
The end of Nothing To You
marks an important part of The Throes, which is when somber reality kicks in. The first gut-piercing guitar notes of Crow Jane
is that exact moment, and all things have suddenly become quieter to allow the speculative performance that preaches about her deception, or his foolery. Partners in crime, but nobody wants to admit that they were a victim or
an instigator. Now comes the confusion; “Crow Jane’s the strangest thing that ever talked. Lips of honey but her tongue’s of chalk. Feet may be crooked but she sure can walk. Took my money, left me in shock.” While there are plenty of accusations towards her, this song is a milestone for Stephens’ character, who gloomily recalls a dreamy time when she would “call me angel child”, but his mistakes have led to desertion and a lonely road which only those hanged by shame will ever see. The sheer amount of hatred Stephens feels for himself protrudes from Crow Jane
like the slick and deadly beak of the actual bird. Rarely is the emotion of regret ever so potent in music. As if the story of Miss Jane needed to be made any sadder, the lyrics are commonly relatable, much more so than most of Two Gallants’ other songs (which propose vague yet hauntingly perceptive tragedies); Crow Jane
is a tune for all men who’ve pushed away or been pushed by some lovely specimen who was quite obviously the wittiest girl who ever mistakenly stumbled into their lives. Given a taste of beauty and intellect at the same time for the first time, we simply fall to pieces, and she just sort of drifts away, but her harrowing logic and warm, motherly charm remain in our memories, keeping us on the right track. This album is a story of a lesson learned, and thankfully so. Adam Stephens changes his vocal melodies when playing live, and I don’t blame him. I could never sing this song the same way twice; I’d drown in my own tears.