Adult Problems - Don't Fear the Reaper with Family Curse's New Album, 'Twilight Language'
I like death-obsessed music. It’s a way to deal with the inevitable without, you know, having it foremost in your mind. Joy Division or Black Sabbath or Leonard Cohen all make gestures towards the awareness of death, but they keep it sexy or danceable or heavy. You listen to them and it’s not like you don’t know what’s up, you’re not avoiding the subject entirely, but you can bang your head, or light a cigarette in the mirror, or think about fucking. You’re not just staring at the calendar. It’s real handy music in that way.
The new album by Family Curse is about death. Deaths in the family, death of ideals, death in the trenches of WWI; it’s swimming in the knowledge that we've all got to go, and probably, all things being equal, pretty soon. Eric Bradshaw, the singer and ever-bruised soul of the group, calls it “doom pop.” Though the name of the album, Twilight Language, is a term sometimes associated with conspiracy nuts and Holocaust deniers, it has more to do with the idea that, in the end times, all that’s left is the spectacle, death being the only viable art form. Eric isn’t espousing that idea, since he’s neither a lunatic nor a college freshman, but he uses it as one of the themes of the record. The other themes are the death of his mother, the Khmer Rouge, and the ultimate truth that New York exists solely to destroy your dreams so best get into it, kid. Obviously, I find it to be far less a bummer than most the (indie and non) pop out there and obviously, I think Twilight Language is a fuck-ton of fun. Fun, obviously, being what you make of it.
The other night, when Eric and I were talking, he brought up something that touched on what I’ve been thinking about a lot. He was discussing the songs “Trench Warfare,” with its lyrics about just that—a young soldier in the first World War, and “Arcane Radio,” with its references to both the Shadow and Jules Verne, and about how the past and the present are the same, the violence and suffering no worse (or, mind you, better). We talk like we’re going through some sort of pre-apocalypse, but really, this is just the world. It’s awful, but not necessarily any more tragic than the Spanish flu was “tragic.” Okay, maybe the Spanish flu was tragic, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t have to work in a glue factory by gaslight when I was 8, but I feel on a gut level, what Eric is trying to work through. It’s not fully cohesive—this is, after all, rock 'n' roll—and this train of thought can easily be read as deeply nihilistic, but trying to grasp at a larger picture or narrative, if one is even possible, is not cynical, it’s not cheap.
Photo by Eric Phipps
Like Eric's previous band, Golden Error, Family Curse gets a lot of comparisons to the Fall and Monorchid, and Twilight Language isn’t going to entirely change that. Bradshaw is a ranter and his jeremiads are very much of the post-punk variety. But the band is opening up. They wrote the album not just aiming for “doom pop,” but also “hypno punk,” meaning, basically, shit gets real psych at times, though not so much in the "summer of love" sense—more in the “forty-odd years of coming down from the ‘60s” sense. The record sounds mean, like the speed is still working but the visuals have gone sour. And like the music made by death-fixated bands I mentioned earlier, Family Curse feels fully breathing. The entire record is adolescent energy and fury. It’s the anger less of a punk band making gestures towards other punk records than the sound of aging men fighting obsolescence and then death. I can relate. If you can’t yet (and, hey, good for you!), you’ll be able to soon.
Twilight Language comes out in January. You can listen to it in its entirety below. I don’t doubt it will be on most critics' best of lists. Haha. Just kidding. It will be totally ignored. The critics will pick some band that sounds like Family Curse, just watered down, probably English. Something prepackaged-ly savage, with better cheekbones, that sounds exactly like the Fall or Joy Division (maybe Iceage, if Matador can manage to scrub all the fun off them), and has lyrics that are vague and ahistorical enough to be entirely muted. Something unembarrassing, ‘cause people hate to be embarrassed. This isn’t that record. This record is completely, embarrassingly alive. So my expectations for it are reasonable, because alive is always out of fashion.
Their guitarist, Ken Edge, made this video for “Julia Armant,” a song that was written about—surprise surprise—the fictional lives of a bunch of names Eric found on headstones in a New Orleans graveyard while on acid. Dude has his interests.
Follow Zach on Twitter - @zacharylipez
Previously - A Conversation with Nathan Larson