The Most Underrated Band on The Planet: A Retrospective
Part 4 - In the morning I’ll be fine
It’s hard to properly talk about a classic album without dipping into hyperbole. Even the act of writing “classic album” is loaded. But it must be done because Just Got Back From the Discomfort-We’re Alright
is the most underrated, underappreciated classic in all of emo. And so it becomes dicey trying to argue that an album that almost no one has heard is a classic. The Brave Little Abacus never spread out of their New Hampshire based scene, it’s just one of those things - a band that flies under the radar, doing great things and experimenting to an empty room. Please bear with me as I write many typically hyperbolic statements because these statements are undoubtedly accurate in this case.
Just Got Back From the Discomfort
is a life changing record. Wow, so I guess I’m starting with the most hyperbolic statement possible. I wouldn't be the same human being if I had never heard this record. OK, that’s even more hyperbolic. It’s hard to explain why an album is important to me personally. No matter what words I choose, the way I structure my sentences, the metaphors, the flowery adjectives I use, all that can really be said is that I love this album, it’s pleasing to my ears, it’s soothing to my soul, and I have a very strong attachment to it. I can make claims that it’s important for its genre, but I know for anyone that doesn’t like emo, it’s going to be a challenging listen, and it’s perfectly fair for anyone to not like the way it sounds. Just Got Back
is most certainly a challenging record - it’s a big part of why I’m so drawn to it. The first couple dozen listens were difficult, I liked it, but I didn’t love it, I skipped tracks, it lost my attention, but I kept coming back. It kept exciting me in new ways, like how it subtly repeats and references ideas, themes, lyrics, and melodies. The “Way before now” refrain in the closer hits that much harder because of its appearance in the opener. “When I say I’m sad I mean it” imprinted on my brain, the shaky vocals, the droning interludes, the Malcolm in The Middle
samples, there was always something that felt fresh and new, even after 100 listens. And after 100 listens it became my favorite album, it forever glued itself to my consciousness.
Just Got Back
is the culmination of everything The Brave Little Abacus accomplished throughout their career. Having experimented so much with eclectic instrumentation, TBLA knows exactly when to implement a trumpet, or a keyboard, or a guitar, or a sample, or even the jump sound from Sonic The Hedgehog.
From the boisterous horns in the opener to the shaky, bendy guitar in song two, to the rapid fire vocals in the 10th track, to the bumpy percussion, gloomy keyboard, and soaring vocals in the closer, every song has its own flavor. JGB
defies genre every chance it has. The toy piano, the accordion, the 15+ different synth tones, the “Pet Sounds of emo” is a melancholy grab-bag of sounds and tones that all mesh together into the same mood. JGB
is musically diverse in a way that was unparalleled by the band, unique for the genre and exciting for music as a whole.
The sloppy, lo-fi production adds to the challenging nature of the record. The kick drum is inaudible, the snare sounds like trash, and the mixing is all over the place. It’s difficult to sink into the music because of the distracting production, but Just Got Back
is that special kind of grower where you start to get past its flaws until you eventually love the unconventional sound of the record. The poorly produced rhythm section does allow the vocals and eclectic instrumentation to come into the limelight. It becomes hard to say whether the album would be better, or perhaps worse with better production - it would certainly be less unique.
There are samples from the early 2000s single camera dramedy Malcolm in The Middle
at the end of the first and last tracks and during the bridge of the penultimate track. I loved Malcolm
as a kid, so I connected with the samples immediately, they, along with the show have a very similar vibe - emotional, yet playful. Not taking itself too seriously, sad, but with moments of levity. The first, spoken by Hal, “So, now a relationship that was totally meaningless and trivial is over. It’s hard to get too upset,” followed by Dewey’s musing, “Is your brain big enough to get your feelings hurt. Me neither,” then a speech given by Cynthia to Malcolm “You hate everyone. To you everyone is either a moron, or a creep, or a poser. Why do you suddenly care about their opinion of you?” followed by Malcolm’s retort “Because I’m shallow OK...I want people to like me,” and finally, Malcolm’s response to his own question, “You want to know the best part about childhood? At some point it stops.” Much of the lyrics reflect the sentiments found in these samples, the awkwardness of growing up, figuring out who you are, figuring out you don’t like who you are, coming to terms with insecurities. “This is my resignation from the s-c-e-n-e, I said ‘no’ once, got stabbed in the back, while they said ‘relax’.” Critiquing one’s self to the point of self loathing and rumination, “I hate the way I talk,” and, “You're not listening, I said ‘stop,’ because it's come to be too much I can't just pile aesthetic-perceptive dilemma, over-analytic demeanors, feelings of lonely worthlessness and unproductivity atop the other, allowing each to bleed through their fabricated boundaries, and become one more thing to.” At first, the samples might seem like cheap ways to insert emotion into an album, like setting your dull student film to post-rock. But the samples only serve to reflect back the emotions already found all over the album. They’re supplemental, the album could stand without them, but they fit well with the lyrics, and their presence adds another layer to an already deep album.
Adam’s vocals are a big part of the appeal of the album, but they also pose the greatest challenge. They're nasally, Adam has a lisp, they’re rough around the edges - they take some getting used to. I’ve heard his voice described as “Spongebob meets Isaac Brock,” and I don’t think that’s far off. After many listens it becomes obvious that Adam’s voice fits the music perfectly. The appeal of his strong confident, atypical voice grows and grows when the listener discovers how essential they are - the lyrics hit harder because of the way they’re delivered, and the music is that much sweeter with Adam’s voice layered over it. I’m not even going to pretend like I understand the meaning behind most of the lyrics, but they’re so evocative and flow so well it’s easy to decipher how they’re supposed to make you feel. Adam’s lyrics and vocals ask a lot out of the listener, but digging to their stunning core is well worth the effort.
Just Got Back From the Discomfort-We’re Alright
is the most exciting and challenging album of the millennium. I know that’s a tough pill to swallow, but I feel like the fact that a one paragraph specialist such as myself was able to cobble together seven paragraphs justifies my statement. The Brave Little Abacus put their everything into JGB;
the stellar execution matches the grand ideas. It’s a perfect album by a near perfect band, and it breaks my heart that TBLA broke up a year after its release. It saddens me that there’s only one more part to this story, but at some point it stops.