"Perhaps human beings weren't made to be happy and free all the time, we're always trying to enslave ourselves one way or another, if it's not through a career it's through a relationship or it's through kids. It just doesn't seem to be the natural human state. We go through a good phase then we regress. I'm really glad you're happy just be prepared because tomorrow you might be thrown on the scrapheap." - Richard Linklater's Slacker.
Bitter Homes and Gardens' single album is dark gray. A dark gray manifesto in favor of admitting reality during the mid 2000s reign of unreal happy punks. It's music for those that refused to drink the Kool-Aid of folk-punk and bike rides and holding hands. The sound is bass heavy and shitty. The lyrics are saturated in self-loathing; personal excoriation permeates each and every song - a total rejection of the affirmative utopia that Bloomington signified on message boards across America. The first song on the album is actually called "Bloomington," an appropriate opener as the rest of the album can be thought of as the answer to one of its first lines:
"Do you think a person could just disappear on the walk from Seventh Street down to Town Square?"
What happens when you disappear? We see the protagonist's comfortable routine of coffee, donuts, part-time jobs and checking mail at the library suddenly ruptured with existential/relational breakdown.
"Waking up gasping for breath, in the fetal position right under my desk, in the middle of the night, just wondering what it's like, to be alone for the rest of your life. In the frozen waste of ninth street park, I saw a kite stuck in the tree, tail flapping in the wind, I said that's kind of like you and me."
And that's probably as happy as it gets as the ensuing spiral into the psyche continues on track two, "Restless," which holds feel-good lines like:
"Peering out from a dust covered bed. Staring at all the books that I haven't read. How can you describe the dread when you're too depressed to lift the pen? Is it held inside you like a little black coal? Or is it vast and all consuming like the mouth of a black hole? Does it seep into your life - paranoiac nerve gas, odorless, innocuous? Or does it hit you like a train, the moment that you die you watch your life just past?"
I should clarify why this melancholia is important. As punk should be regarded as the negation of prevailing society and as punks live amongst prevailing society, it makes no sense for punks to be blithely elated all the fucking time - we live in what we hate. And what Plan-It-X meant in the mid 2000s was, at its base, a sort of regression into childhood euphoria, like Bush could be brought down if we all played four square hard enough and long enough. It's the sensibility that let thousands of people play remarkably bad acoustic music since no one in the audience was too impolite to tell them it wasn't any good. And this was a punk scene?! Alienation, anger, depression, negativity - everything you could see floating on the surface of grunge and hardcore - was sublimated in Plan-It-X, which is an insane reality to confront - our reaction to a leader, worse in many respects than Reagan and certainly worse than his father, was to make vegan cookies and give workshops on proper transgender nomenclature. Bitter Homes and Gardens - for me/to me - cracked the seal on that facade of zen-like communal(cult) bliss. It is probably not coincidental that this album came out as Plan-It-X left Bloomington, as PIX fest stopped happening, as acoustic acts became pop-punk acts, and as folk-punk became passe to the cognoscenti.
Brian Deller in full 90s punk regalia.
Part of the charm of the record is its comparative eloquence; there are "evocative" and wordy images in nearly every song (the lyricist by the by makes this zine). But unlike a lot of the overly English-professor Jawbreaker or Weakerthans songs, these work - mainly because the music is so shitty that it can only cope if it keeps going faster and faster, so the ensuing effect is like someone spitting out all their bile, spilling their litany, and that actually sounds pretty good.
This is the description from their defunct Myspace:
fires in the backyard
death of folk punk
life of errands
doing new things
the early to mid 20's
That's about right. But you can add neuroses, nostalgia, anhedonia and resurrecting and recontextualizing grunge for a 2007 audience. This last one actually turned out to be pretty influential; for a period in 2007-2008 it seemed as if Kurt Cobain was everywhere. Bands like Landlord, Pink Houses, Batrider, and uh, Amelia, played around with fuzz and plodding rhythm. For a second, an ongoing re-evaluation of the status of the idea of grunge was pretty apparent - Delay played a Nirvana cover set, Defiance, Ohio was constantly covering that Vaselines' song Kurdt did, etc. Flannels were in. And if you're "going to get political" that type of uninterested disaffection and personal introspection made sense in the face of a changing national political landscape where it looked like MAYBE we'd have less to complain about. Grunge got popular as a Democrat took office last time too.
I guess it shouldn't be surprising for a band whose song "D.I.Y" proclaimed:
"Disillusioned. Burnt-out. Appropriated."
But Bitter Homes and Gardens broke up - or something - before they got to Columbus on their one and only tour. They had a summer date at the storied Stinkhouse. And they broke up, or something, right before. So instead of playing, I think Aaron threw a beer bottle at Dragonfly and Brian Deller, the fill-in bassist, threw a bottle at Jeff Love or something. Great. And appropriate.
I'm probably biased because I also have Bitter Homes and Gardens to thank, I think, for Kari Jorgensen moving to Columbus, which was a high-light of the last few years.
I should also say that this album appears to be all about a broken relationship and not really anything I said it was. But who wants to talk about heartbreak? And there is a Circle Jerks cover.
The other four (and we're talking strictly punk done through the traditional punk idiom):
Bent Outta Shape - Stray Dog Town
(In twenty years there will be a 500 page book written about this album and 16 year-old kids will consider 2005 as some sort of punk camelot. This will be re-pressed ten thousand times and every 19 year-old drinking his first 40 being pulled between failed relationships will go to sleep with it at night. Mark my blog's words. Creme de la creme bar none.)
The Ergs - Dorkrockcorkrod
Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic
Pink Razors - Leave Alive