Review Summary: Haunting my autumn."Never Knows Best."
It’s a nonsense phrase, really, just three simple words adorning the side of some disillusioned kid’s cigarette in the pilot episode of the anime FLCL
. Fans have debated its meaning and apparent lack of a subject for years, and it’s become a classic catchphrase of the franchise despite it never once being uttered aloud. The handwritten message flickers out as the cigarette falls to a river below and the present characters get on with their awkward, ambiguous conversation. It’s on screen for such a short time, but the atmosphere in that scene is incredible. It never fails to fully absorb me into its hopelessness. Some snapshots in art just cling to a person like glue, and that has long been one of mine.
Judging by this EP’s name and other references made in its title track, I have to assume the same is the case for Chloe Keenan, frontwoman of the short-lived North Carolina screamo five-piece O’ God the White Whale. At just under 20 minutes, Never Knows Best
is the band’s longest release, and it draws not only from that niche cult classic but haikus, films, personal experiences, and even other songwriters’ material as jumping-off points for the band’s own spin on depression, making already dismal stories even more distressing.
I don’t use those adjectives lightly here, either. There’s plenty of sad music to go around in the world, but it’s rare to find an album this uncomfortable with itself, this pushed to the brink and unafraid to speak its mind without losing its sense of poetry. Stuffed with lines that would seem cheesy if they weren’t delivered with such conviction, “Brand New Song” starts the affair off with several references to Your Favorite Weapon
, turning the bravado of Brand New’s childish early hits “Seventy Times 7” and “Soco Amaretto Lime” into an avalanche of regret and denial. One protagonist gruesomely meets their end and the other tells themselves they can’t care, mocking the victim while still reeling from the shock. Immediately after, “A Bird for the Worms” looks outwards, portraying the less personal but no less dark relationship between the blissfully-ignorant wealthy and the scrappy lower classes ready to collect their dues. “Fourteen Years” is another highlight, a prickly, confessional number about a marriage in decline due to the other partner’s dementia. Many of the EP’s characters, from the burnt-out, suicidal teens in the closer to the fed-up elderly couple described here, share some degree of blame but also none at all; they’re victims of their own psyches, a world rigged for chaos, and unfortunate circumstance.
And whatever the subject matter, this group backs up the mood instrumentally with fire and grit. Capable of memorable melodic passages and disquieting aggression, the band’s songwriting feels completely organic, dictated by the severity of the lyricism and a knack for flow characteristic of an act well beyond their years. The opener brings forth a slew of sharp riffs and a scathing blast beat bridge, “Cicada Whisper” is a ghostly, tense post-rock interlude, and Keenan’s vocals throughout range from a throaty screech to an exasperated spoken gasp. Every song slots perfectly into place, and while the production job is a tad amateur and there's nothing genre-(re)defining here, those critiques do little to offset how strong the songwriting itself is.
It’s a shame then that the band too fizzled out like a half-used smoke not long after this release. It’s been just shy of 5 years this week since Never Knows Best
dropped on a limited cassette run and 4 since the band broke up, but that whole time, this EP and its jagged, bleak outlook have stayed with me not unlike the very snippets of gloomy weight it so often takes nods from. Perhaps the best praise anyone can give re-interpretive art is claim that it lives up to its inspirations and comes fully into its own. Never Knows Best
just about flawlessly does that from creaky start to breathtaking finale and then bows out with totality. For five years, it’s haunted my autumn and looks poised to continue to, even if O’ God The White Whale are nowhere. Such is art.