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Courtesy of Run For Cover Records

April 4, 2016

TEST SPIN: Teen Suicide — It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot

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Is Teen Suicide’s It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot a long album? Its 26 tracks boost it to a nearly half-hour longer duration than that of the Maryland band’s 2012 i will be my own hell because there is a devil inside my body. And even though many clock in at two minutes or shorter, the pure number of songs on the release can seem intimidating. Or, if you switch your mindset, welcoming.

It’s the Big Joyous Celebration does not pack neatly into a succinct metaphor. Maybe the album is a vaulted stone mansion, one whose fickle owners draped each room in a different collection of tapestries and rugs. The metaphor would hold if so many of It’s the Big Joyous Celebration’s tracks did not sound so acutely like wistful send-offs from suburban attics and basements.

If nothing else, It’s the Big Joyous Celebration disrupts. It disrupts a control-F approach to reviewing that encourages ripping a few characteristics out of context and nailing them down in aseptically organized paragraphs. Look — lo-fi vocals, teen nihilism, tinkling synthesizers! Is it possible to take such an approach to listening It’s the Big Joyous Celebration? Certainly it’s possible, but it also completely misses the point, which is, ironically, that there is no point.

It’s the Big Joyous Celebration isn’t a breakup album, a concept album or anything in such a restrictive vein; it’s a vast, ornate vessel of timbres, melodies, thoughts, screams, musings. Perhaps the album causes a spatial, rather than analytical, listening.

When I started listened through It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, I wanted to sketch it, to draw it a sprawling make-believe map like those often included in fat fantasy novels. “Living Proof,” the album’s opener, winds through a pine-lined dirt road (maybe one that cuts across the face of slate grey mountain) as Max Kuzmyak’s wandering trumpet brushes back and forth throughout the song’s second half.

Soon after, “Alex” finds Teen Suicide in a dusty enclosed porch (the dim garage/living room that houses the band for the song’s music video feels equally apt) as they weave a lattice of depravity, vulnerability and powerful melody. After singer/guitarist Sam Ray tunnels into a haze of unending afternoons and coke malaise (“She buys a gram of coke and doesn’t want to die”), the guitar tears through with an affirmatively not-cathartic riff.

The latter halves of Teen Suicide tracks rarely provide a simple resolution to any melodic or lyrical material previously introduced. Consider, for example, the pitter-pattering synths that “Obvious Love” simmers down to in its final 30 seconds.  The non-closure is an arresting quality that cause It’s the Big Joyous Celebration to flow in multiple directions rather than just start to finish; nothing is ever truly closed off, forgotten or finished.

Still, there’s more to explore. The listener’s attention oscillates throughout the songs of It’s the Big Joyous Celebration. Serendipitously, certain songs, certain riffs and certain phrases rise to the surface, like the melancholy guitar and keyboard melody that mark “V.I.P.” or the visceral ineffability of the distortion and screaming that wrap “Beauty” into a gauzy cocoon. The album has a number of alleyways — series of songs that venture off into an idea or aesthetic for a few minutes. From “God” to “Have a Conversation,” Teen Suicide slowly submerge the listener in minimal, airy lo-fi ballads. Similarly, from “My Little World” to the album’s aptly named closer, “If I Don’t See You Before You Leave,” Teen Suicide puts their songwriting prowess on full display with tightly layered tracks that evidence their marriage of emotive honesty and textural complexity.

For some, this review might read like a criticism of It’s the Big Joyous Celebration; the album can be confusing, it’s not conspicuously organized, it’s multivalent. It trades one digestible persona that is easily summed up into a band tee or plugged into an algorithm for a haze of obscure, even contradictory characters. This is good. The album’s refusal of clear structure makes it intricate, fascinating and requiring of future listens.

In her 1966 essay “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag laments that many critics and academics subjugate a discussion of a work’s form to one of its content. Any attention to form follows from a desire to investigate how a work expresses something, not from a curious preoccupation with beautiful expression itself. Teen Suicide brings Sontag’s argument into sharp relief. Get lost in the album, in its five song cul-de-sacs, one-off experiments and denial of any simple messages, get lost in the impossibility of analyzing and summarizing the work in anything shorter than its duration.

Interpretation, Sontag writes, “means plucking a set of elements (the X, the Y, the Z, and so forth) from the whole work.” Certainly such elements are pluck-able from It’s the Big Joyous Celebration: meandering synthesizer, teen nihilism, lo-fi aesthetics.

Still, the album resists a calculated, rigid listening. It is not an album to listen to once with a notepad or from which to select a few exemplary moments to construct one argument about what it all means. Rather, it’s an album to continually replay for months, allowing changes and new realizations to arise, and accepting that certain aspects will dissipate.

Shay Collins is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at scollins@cornellsun.com. 

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