There’s always something alluring to a dive bar. Sure when you’re young, dumb, and full of cum; clubs are where it’s at. But after awhile you get tired of that. You get tired of that one guy who wants to fight you because you were talking to his girl. You get tired of having to yell over the loud music. You get tired of trying to dance after a few drinks. You get tired of the 5 guys to one girl ratio at every club.
Eventually you find a dive bar, that place where either some sleazy rock n’ roll, or some melancholy song about a love long lost is being played over the old jukebox. A place where you can smoke without having to step outside. Where the person next to you can spill their entire life story, and you do the same thing of course–because who cares, neither of you are going to remember it anyway. It’s place specifically to get fucked up at–a safe space for nihilists–where the only concern isn’t getting laid, it isn’t your job, it isn’t material possessions, it isn’t your paycheck. No it’s a place to get fucked up and forget about all of that.
Every album has a set piece, and for Zadock Strawberry’s Songs for Nemisis, the dive bar would be it’s set-piece. Take Arlington Hall (I Can’t Love You Any More) the first immediate thing you would notice is that excellent intro with that the lead and rhythm guitars in this track has this melancholy reverbed out tone. Which sounds like something that would be played out in the Vegas strip–back when Vegas had good music–late at night, where only the barflys remain. Then you hear the vocals–which is this beautifully raw raspy voice–that feels like they’ve gotten acid burn from taking down too many shots, or smoked too many cigarettes. So with this voice delivering lyrics about how, “I can’t love you anymore, than I already do.” It adds to the great sense of sadness that this song carries with it, as though somebody had too much to drink and are telling way too much about themselves. The rest of the instrumentation builds up this almost confessional song–then the singing stops–you’re sitting all alone at the bar, nobody to tell your story to, and all that’s left is that deep sadness, that you hoped to get rid of 12 shots ago.
The next song Lady in the Machine provides a different kind of sadness. This is a sadness that can’t be expressed by words, because there’s no one to speak them to. The delayed piano, and frantic electronic blurts, and ambient noise like a car failing to start; provides a sense of isolation that was missing in the prior track. Where the previous track seemed like an emotional outpouring, this one feels more like an anxiety ridden sadness. As though it’s closing time, the bartender is emptying out the ashtrays, everyone is gone, except you, and even though you spilled your heart out to a stranger there’s still that sadness that remains–no matter how fucked up you get. Then as the ambient noise is all that’s left, the car that was failing to start, finally starts. It’s closing time.
Tamorudo (India Girl) [feat. Shisha McKee & Meiko Vocaloid3] is an extremely abrupt change. First off it’s electronic music, using Indian music samples, female vocals, and is glitchy while at the same time maintaining coherency. It’s such a radical departure that the song doesn’t even sound anything like the songs preceding it. Yet with any ebb and flow of an album it has a reason for being there. It can be seen as either the intermission of the album, or something to remove the listener out of their comfort zone. The introduction of Indian instruments is incredibly foreign–yet with the melancholy of the first track, and the isolation of the second–this song provides an interpretation of the sounds preceding it. Say when you join any group, let’s say you’re a goth and you join a goth group, or you’re an alcoholic and you join AA, or you’re in a music scene. Everybody who is on the outside is always called a “normie.” It’s often used dismissively to those who are outsiders, who are able to live “normal” lives, who are able to do “normal” activities, while you can’t. Why is it that you can’t? Well you and your friends can write whole entire books on that, but what you can’t do is reason how “normies” are so normal. They are so far removed from your own existence that it is as though you are in a foreign country. So when Zadock Strawberry introduces this track with it’s Indian sounds, female vocal samples, electronic beat–something foreign–he provides an insight on the outsider looking in. That, or I could be over-analyzing it all, and it was just a fun track he made and wanted to include on the album. Regardless, I’m sticking to the dive bar set piece, because I have fun writing it like that.
So on to the next song Believe, the guitar still maintains that beautiful tone (which seriously makes me want to figure out whatever setup he has) and it plucks these sad strings, that sounds both reflective and mournful. The vocals while before sounded sad, these vocals deliver a sound that is more of a wounded resignation. The acceptance that, yes the relationship is over, and yes it was never meant to happen, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not torn up over it. While the ambience in the background sounds like a saw, severing all ties to the other person, or a head-splitting hangover from the night before. Anybody who has ever been in a breakup has been guilty of those drunk late night phone calls, where you cry and try so desperately to get back together–then when it’s morning–you feel so much shame of the night before, and try to call one more time. If there was any music for that very specific feeling, this would be the soundtrack to it.
The next song, Song for Joe, is another radical departure from anything before it. The only thing tying it together is the Indian conga drums from Tamorudo (India Girl) [feat. Shisha McKee & Meiko Vocaloid3], that and the fact it’s electronically based. As well as also not having any vocals in it as well. This is a very high spirited song, one that is a lot more cheerful as the string synths flurry around, and the congas and high hats add to the enthusiasm. While the song before it was a reluctant sad resignation, this song is almost too enthusiastic, like someone lying to themselves believing that now the relationship is over they can go meet new girls. It’s the type of short lived enthusiasm that makes you hit up the gym, go on tinder, go clubbing, start volunteering, try to branch out, and meet new people. Yet as the final song of the album proves it’s hard to break old habits.
We Sailed You Here is really uses Zadok Strawberry’s great raspy voice to a different effect. Rather than sadness, it first conveys an aloof coolness, like that of a late night Jazz DJ. Yet as the frantic guitars which desperately try to hold on to a melody, it soon loses it’s control, like the guy who goes to a church social gathering and sneaks in a flask and takes one too many shots. The guitars either erratically play a melody, or attempts to solo, as the phased out ambient noise swirls around. Even the drumbeat seems a little out of control. It’s sad when a barfly tells you his life story, it’s tragic when somebody loses all control when they appear to be getting better.
Regardless of what interpretation, impressions, or biases you have. This album is definitely something worth listening to, Zadok Strawberry’s vocal performance is well worth the listen, and it’s just carries an ambience that’s worth checking out.
With that, if you’re tired of the same old sound, and want something new. Zadok Strawberry is your man. With that I give this album my recc.