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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Craig's Brother -- Lost at Sea


When you've already written a tribute to something, it seems redundant to review it. I've already made it clear that I believe Craig's Brother's Lost at Sea is one of the finest albums of the last twenty years. I've already detailed my personal relationship with the record.  So instead of going on for thousands of emotionally charged words, how about I quickly break down each song? I think this will reveal another side of Lost at Sea's greatness.
1. Glory: After some fun helicopter sound effects, Craig's Brother quickly remind the listener who they are, blazing through a nice intro into a full-speed punk song. Some of the main themes of the album are highlighted immediately in Ted Bond's excellent lyrics: the world is crazy, it doesn't make much sense, it can make one feel lost, and in our confusion, we fight against each other.  A little under three minutes in, Craig's Brother reveal their musical intentions, as well.  The blazing chorus fades into a quiet, reflective moment, the distant sounds of war are heard, the drums come back martially, and here comes a choir. It's a pretty stunning sequence--stuff like this can feel tacked on, but Craig's Brother appropriately build to it to the point that it's the only reasonable thing that can happen.  The message is clear: this is not going to be any ordinary punk album.
2. Lullaby: And with the pleasantries out of the way, Craig's Brother are ready to bend your mind. On Craig's Brother's debut, Adam Nigh and Andy Snyder's team of guitars and backup vocals were a pretty good match for Ted Bond's lead vocals.  On Lost at Sea, Adam and Andy are replaced by Dan McClintock, and for this one album that the two worked together, Ted and Dan are a match made in heaven.  Dan's vocal harmonies with Ted are excellent and absolutely one of a kind throughout, and his guitar work is also the perfect compliment to Ted's voice. Dan's ebow usage on "Lullaby" has been oft-discussed by fans of the band, but the truth is, when something is perfect, you want to talk about it.  The slowed down-tempo is also brilliant.  Craig's Brother could have worried about their punk-rock cred and played a breakneck version instead, but that wouldn't have served the song. Though only having one album under their belt at this point, Craig's Brother have already perfected that art.
3. Masonic: Considering his considerable (see what I did there?) efforts on Lost at Sea, Dan McClintock definitely deserved a song to sing lead.  Though "Masonic" exists on a smaller scale than the rest of Lost at Sea--it's about a guy using a cinema metaphor for losing a girl--it still works perfectly within the framework.  Dan and Ted's harmonies are blissful, and the song actually works to give the larger topics of Lost at Sea a more personal touch. Also, the loping tempo is about as far from speed punk as one can get...outside of silence, I guess.  Or country music. Or rap.  Or disco.  Polka.  Waltz...
4. Divorce: I love that this very intense song of marital strife immediately follows the optimistic melancholy of "Masonic." It's the fastest, possibly angriest song on the album, and it ends with a metaphorical door slamming.  Perhaps the greatest element of "Divorce" is that, 2:25 in, the tempo breaks down into indignant, righteous anger just like the marriage in the song does. "Tired of trying to talk/nothing left to say/tired of going off/so I'm going away." Ouch.
5. Head in a Cloud: After the grief of the previous track, Craig's Brother really needed to place their most optimistic song here. "Head in a Cloud" might be Craig's Brother's best work ever.

On the simplest level, it is about failing miserably, but determining afterword not to give up. On a more complex level, it's about losing that childhood confidence that one can do anything, yet still carrying on with life anyway. This song features Ted and Dan's best harmonies by far (and every song on Lost at Sea features great ones).  I love that, to contrast with it's predecessor, "Head in a Cloud" actually picks up the pace at the same point in the song that "Divorce" falls apart.
6. Back and Forth: This song is famous not only for it's tough topic of Church hypocrisy, but also for Sean Mackin's violin playing in the final section.  The fact of the matter, though, is that "Back and Forth" has a secret weapon: Craig's Brother's bassist, Scott Hrapoff.  Though the band is technically named after him, Scott deserves far more credit from fans than he gets.  His solo, linking the two halves of the song, truly makes the final section work. The classical fills he plays actually justify the violin's existence.  He builds up "Back and Forth"'s clash of stodgy, old-fashioned, hypocritical church versus the real, actual world so well, when the two smash together later in the song, it seems there could have been no alternative.
7. Falling Out: Things falling apart, whether ideologies or relationships, are a constant theme on Lost at Sea. Here it's the dissolution of the link between someone who's had to unfairly carry someone else.  It's the least noteworthy song on the album, yet it's perfect.
8. Set Free: And here is the mackdaddy of breakup songs.  "Set Free" comes from the perspective of someone who knows that to better both parties, he needs to let go of the relationship.  It starts out as an acoustic track, but this album's too great to ever be ordinary.  It builds up to the whole band playing, which in turn builds up to as close to screaming as Ted Bond gets on a Craig's Brother album. The song ends bouncing between two electric guitar chords over a lead line, giving a feeling that the end is coming soon.  A perfect segue into:
9. Prince of America: The last fast song on the album sums up everything.  On one hand, the song is simply about American overindulgence and ignorance of the pain of most of the rest of the world.  On a deeper level, it's a critique of the unsatisfied perspective Ted himself has had throughout the album. "Not satisfied," even though most of the rest of the world doesn't even have the wherewithal or time to contemplate his type of existential quandaries. It's the perfect penultimate track.  Also, a shout out should be given to Heath Konkel and his drum playing abilities here, and throughout the album. To truly make "Prince of America" work, the drums needed a "Wipeout" feel, and Heath nails it perfectly.
10. Lost at Sea: There's nothing worse than a three-minute closing track that doesn't sound any different from all the other songs on the album. Actually, as the lyrics from the previous song laid out, there are a lot of things worse than that.  Still, it's pretty irritating, and thankfully Lost at Sea doesn't go that route. In fact, with all of the previous songs sounding so differently from each other, how could it? "Lost at Sea," the song, is a fitting conclusion for Lost at Sea, the album.  It reflects on the relationships the album has already discussed.  Someone is lost, confused, and isolated, and someone else is calling out to and searching for them, but from where they are, the lost person cannot hear the calls.  The song epically travels through several tempos and chord progressions before finally dissolving into the sounds of distant rain, seagulls, thunder, and waves.

2001 Tooth & Nail
1. Glory 4:53
2. Lullaby 3:10
3. Masonic 3:53
4. Divorce 3:13
5. Head in a Cloud 3:20
6. Back and Forth 4:19
7. Falling Out 3:29
8. Set Free 2:55
9. Prince of America 3:04
10. Lost at Sea 7:09

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