Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Try Me, Oh God, Try Me

I write this to organize my thoughts and puzzle out how I feel. Patrick Kindlon was kind enough to show me the packaging, with an email chain from Deathwish Inc. founder and designer Jake Bannon at an October DRUG CHURCH show. This isn't a review.

There is a major conceit to Try Me. The conceit is this: Try Me revolves around the early life of Angelique Bernstein, or as she now calls herself, Jeanna Fine. 

It is told primarily through two interviews which focus on her life before she came into the porn industry. These interviews speak frankly about the multiple times she was raped, the oppression she faced after having sex with women and her life choices. The interviews are not, in my opinion, salacious.

Put crudely, her life's been rough and hearing her speak about it is compelling and depressing. Try Me is easily the most brutal thing Deathwish has put out this year, last year, next year or perhaps in any year the label will release music.

To anticipate the snark:

-Yes, I'm aware that the devastating nature regarding frank discussion of rape (a sadly common experience) speaks volumes about the castles in my mind about the place of aggressive music in this world.

I step around those interviews in my repeated listening, like landmines. You ought to hear Try Me once, straight through. It will not be a pleasurable experience, but you will talk about it. For better or for worse, my thoughts of Try Me are in the shadow of those interviews.

- - - - - - - - -

I should talk about the music.

 Try Me is 11 tracks, of which two are interviews and nine are songs.

Of the nine songs, three are over five minutes. Of those three, one is "Dingo Fence", a 10 minute song where a double-vocaled Patrick mostly yells "All the dumb cops, they get what they want." "Apport Birds" is six minutes and feels like 20.

The nine songs on Try Me are fairly divergent in terms of length. Three push past five minutes, two hit four and the balance are three or less.

 SELF DEFENSE FAMILY indulges their shoegaze and drone influences on all of these songs, to greater and lesser effect throughout. "Turn the Fan On" is technically four minutes, but the song part ends at about 3:15, with the rest being a guitar riff repeated and the sound of a dripping sink. It's effective, and while the game of spot the influence becomes tedious (and reveals how narrow my comparisons are), I remember BLACKLISTED employed a similar trick on No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me. This is not to say BLACKLISTED invented it…

"Mistress Appears At Funeral" sung by Caroline Corrigan is an unexpected highlight. Her voice, as the lead, is a surprise and the cooing harmonies help everything glide along. It's about the discomfort of a mistress at a funeral and being unsure what to do with the emotions and the prying eyes and judgments of the other mourners.

I understand how to process the shorter songs, so I therefore believe I like them more. I prefer "Weird Fingering" to "Aletta," but I know better than to think SELF DEFENSE will play "Weird Fingering" live. 

There is also the sound of a cell phone notification going off somewhere on the record that takes me out of the experience.

I cannot listen to Try Me like a traditional Deathwish record. It is ugly. It is uncomfortable. It is worth a $6 digital download, I believe. It is worth something more than money: your undivided attention.

- - - - - - - - -

I ought to talk about the packaging.

It includes photos of Angelique Bernstein or Jeanna Fine at different stages in her life, one as a fifteen year old girl, others as the woman she is today. Both show nipples. 

After hearing the interview, I understand why they are there.

I am made uncomfortable by the inclusion of the photo of the fifteen year old Angelique Bernstein or Jeanna Fine with her visible nipples. I'm aware discomfort and an absolutely bare projection of personhood is the point of Try Me. I wince and cringe at it. I avoid looking at Try Me's packaging for that reason.

As for the ethics of the use of the interview, I have no idea. Angelique Bernstein or Jeanna Fine is credited as a SDF member, the interviews are not catty, and what's said is direct. Her voice appears to be authentic. Given how centrally she figures to the art, is she entitled to whatever meager royalties Try Me will generate?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Try Me is a good record, where good means effective. I can think of nothing like it in what I listen to. Deathwish Inc. owners Jake Bannon and Tre McCarthy are right, I won't listen to the interview more than once. But Patrick and guitarist/producer/engineer Andrew Duggan are also right, I won't listen to that interview more than once because I am scared of the interview's power.

In short: Try Me is the first Deathwish record to inspire genuine fear and actual panic.

Try the song, "Turn the Fan On." It can work as a single. It's very, very bleak, but it gives you very much the tenor of the record.

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