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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Five Iron Frenzy -- The End Is Near


Well, let me tell you about me and Five Iron Frenzy. Nah, I'll save that for last. Let me review their "final" studio album, The End Is Near, first. The End Is Near is, sadly, an album in need of an identity.
Five Iron Frenzy achieved musical perfection on their previous album, Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo, packing their songs with pain and joy and awe, while discovering how to employ their humor without destroying the flow of an album. They also found time to work in protests against various things they stood against, but these songs were personal and kept consistency with the rest of the album, These songs did this by continuing the developing band ideal of the weak versus the strong with Christ as the weak's champion. The best possible album to follow Electric Boogaloo would have furthered those themes, and indeed, The End Is Near's best songs do.
"Cannonball" isn't Five Iron's strongest opener, but its triumphant tone is welcomed. "At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys" and "Wizard Needs Food, Badly" show that the band could have mined humor out of the foibles of aging for a very long time. "New Years Eve" pushes the emotions of Electric Boogaloo to a new level.

"It's New Years Eve and I feel my insecurities, are haunting me like ghosts, this sinking quicksand. And then with thunderous praise and lofty adoration, a second passes by, yet nothing changes. I hate my skin, this grave I'm standing in. Another change of years, and I wish I wasn't here." The song deals with extremely difficult and very real emotions, yet still believably ends on a hopeful note. This is Five Iron Frenzy at its best. "It Was Beautiful" is a thankful celebration of the joys of being in Five Iron Frenzy. This is just what you want to hear from a band you enjoy, as they ride into the sunset. "Something Like Laughter" is a fitting ending to Five Iron's female protagonist songs like "One Girl Army" and "A New Hope." The first 3/4 of closer "On Distant Shores" is appropriately epic. With all these positives, this could really be a great album, but there are some black marks that make it merely pretty good.
The first is something I'm sure the French have a word for. Let's just call it over-humility. "So Far, So Bad," "See the Flames Begin to Crawl," and "That's How the Story Ends" all argue Five Iron Frenzy's existence as meaningless. On an Ecclesiastical level, this is true. But I paid for this album. Don't make me feel stupid for liking you. When Reese sings "Ten years from now, you won't know my name," he is short-changing his fans' tastes, let alone their memories.
Another problem I have with The End is Near are the protest songs. "American Kryptonite" makes some good points, but its screamed "Buy, take, break, throw it away!" bridge sounds like something a college freshman would write after reading "Das Kapital" for the first time. "Anchors Away" is equally over-dramatic. These songs see the band moving from "the weak will be made strong" to a less sophisticated and equally less enjoyable "you all suck." As this album was supposed to be Five Iron Frenzy's last statement, it would have been nice for them to go out on a less cynical, angry note.
Speaking of going out, "On Distant Shores" builds up as a great finish to the album before suddenly shifting into the band's 1997 song "Every New Day." I get that the writing of "Every New Day" was a huge emotional moment for the band, so much so that they ended every single show with it afterward. But The End Is Near is already an album in search of an identity, and ending it with an old song robs it of a unique personality even more so.
So while The End is Near's pros do outweigh its cons, Five Iron Frenzy's first break up album is a low point in the band's career. I'm excited that we'll soon be getting a new album, and I hope this one showcases a band energized and happy to be making music again.
And now a story about me and Five Iron. Five Iron and me, if you grammaticists will. I hope "grammaticist" is a real word because spellcheck doesn't recognize it. It also doesn't recognize "spellcheck."
The first time I saw Five Iron Frenzy live was Cornerstone, 2002. What a great Cornerstone. It's the only one I've been to, so I don't have any other point of reference, but man was it great. Five Iron put on an extremely enjoyable show. Reese wore a "Fat Elvis" costume with the butt as the crotch. I took a picture.

I met Reese at Five Iron Frenzy's merch booth, while I was buying an awesome t-shirt I still have. Reese was funny and kind. He always made it a point not to sign autographs, but was very polite in his explanation to those he denied, never making the fan feel stupid. The merch guy had an awesome old school SEGA hat, and a buddy of mine bought it from him for $5. Half the time you'd spend at Cornerstone was occupied by randomly running into people whose music you enjoyed. It could get awkward after a while. Speaking of, I randomly ran into Jeff the girl and took a picture with her, and the Rabbit awesomely photo-bombed it.

This was taken with one of those awesome early 00's disposable camera's that came with a "landscape" option. Back when things were cool and stuff.
The next spring, Five Iron Frenzy announced that they were breaking up. They planned one final fall tour, titled "Winners Never Quit" with Bleach and Holland as support. David Loti and I ventured to Houston with a much younger friend of mine, Shawn. Shawn you made the Nicsperiment, and I am about to make you look good.

Five Iron's show was pretty fun, but maybe not as much fun as the one from the year before. This was mainly because Reese only chose to wear Elvis' little known "outback safari" hat, instead of one of his more well-known wardrobe innovations.

The three of us were staying at Dave's sister's house that night, so we weren't in any rush to leave. Not that we didn't want to hang with Dave's sister, but we didn't have any pressing issues to attend to. After the show, I ran into Five Iron's trombonist/backup-vocalist, Dennis Culp. I asked him about the future of Five Iron's side-band, Brave Saint Saturn. Dennis, you need to give me like $5 or something because you were mean to me. After Dennis told me that Brave Saint Saturn was probably never going to tour, I said, "That's fine. As long as you guys keep making music, I'll be okay." What I was saying was, "I don't care if you tour. I live in a swamp and no one comes to play shows there anyway. If you keep recording albums, though, I'll probably buy them." For some reason, maybe because I look far younger than my age, maybe because Dennis was burnt out on life, or maybe who knows, Dennis took my comment as, "My life completely depends on your music. I need it more than food, water, and sleep. If you do not release more music, I will kill myself, maybe now."
"You know what?" Dennis answered. "Find another band to listen to. We suck. You need to move on and find some other bands to listen to." My brain froze over in sudden rage. What I wanted to say was, "I'm a DJ, dude. All I do is listen to other bands. I'm in my 20's and well-adjusted, and I am about to kick you square in the nuts." Unfortunately, the moat of Five Iron Frenzy scene kids standing around Dennis immediately chimed in with, "Yeah, Brave Saint Saturn is terrible. Listen to -X- band instead." They didn't really say "-X- band," though. These kids just started spurting out a bunch of names of bands that middle and high school-ers liked at the time, and suddenly, their numbers seemed to grow and swell until I couldn't even see Dennis anymore to retort, and then I was walking out of the auditorium dejectedly.
I found Dave in the lobby, having a pleasant and animated conversation with the members of Bleach. We had spoken to their guitarist, Sam, for quite a while before the show, and found we had a lot in common with the him. I joined Dave's current conversation, and it was going great until Dave from Bleach asked Dave from David Loti if Dave from David Loti liked coffee. The obvious implication was, "Dude, you guys are cool. They're about to shut this place down. Do y'all want to go talk someplace else?" David Loti's response: "I don't like coffee."
I was too shell-shocked from my previous encounter to offer conversational assistance in such an extreme situation. Dave from Bleach made a disappointed face and the band told us to have a good night. I immediately explained to Dave what other Dave meant. I bring this story up in every single conversation Dave and I have to this day. Both of us sat dispiritedly on the two-hour ride home to his sister's apartment five miles away. Two hours because of a chemical spill. Awesome. Meanwhile, Shawn smiled happily from the backseat because Shawn got both these girls' phone-numbers after a night of sweaty dancing.

Shawn wins.

2003 Self-Released/Five Minute Walk
1. Cannonball 3:44
2. At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys 2:09
3. So Far, So Bad 3:03
4. New Years Eve 3:53
5. American Kryptonite 3:15
6. It Was Beautiful 2:47
7. Wizard Needs Food, Badly 3:12
8. Farewell To Arms 4:03
9. See The Flames Begin To Crawl 3:16
10. Anchors Away 3:32
11. Something Like Laughter 3:13
12. That's How The Story Ends 3:38
13. On Distant Shores 10:15
14. Hidden Track 6:31


Anonymous said...

I don't like coffee.



Nicholas said...

Uncontrollable sobs!!!

Neal said...

Different instance, of course, but that story reminds me a bit of the Seinfeld episode where George is invited into a woman's apartment... she's obviously attracted to him, but he's so hung up on being like this woman's boyfriend that he doesn't take the woman up on her offer. Read the signs! Heh.

That's kind of too bad about Dennis, but... I think they've dealt with some super fans then and since then that make them want to remind people that they're just people. Too bad that he took you that way, though... definitely not a good moment for him, I think.

I can kind of see how that experience plays into your review of this album, interestingly enough. I don't think The End is Near is as good as Electric Boogaloo, but I find it stronger than you do. I personally like the screaming in American Kryptonite... I'm more bemused by what it is shouting about than angry, at least at this point (wait... why are there swimsuits for sale when it's 10 degrees above zero?), but I can get angry about it, and the feel is in line with a lot of songs on the album.

Also, I don't think the message overall is that "we" as in the fans, suck, but we all do, including Five Iron. To the point where Five Iron is over humble, of course(the irony of them making a fan-funded album almost ten years after Roper said we wouldn't remember him after ten years isn't lost on me, and it's also why he ate mayonnaise... blech). It's a fault, but hey, not everyone can be perfect--I prefer this over arrogance from a musician.

I do think the album is a bit all over, if more enjoyably than some of their other "all over" albums. I actually hate the goofy parts of "This is How the Story Ends," as the other parts make for an interesting song (partially just for how it sounds), and I find the others distracting. Still, there are enough individually strong songs on the album for me to like it overall.

Nicholas said...

Yeah, I should have chosen my words more carefully(regarding the "you suck" line). "Over humble" really hits it on the head. Joking that your band sucks can be endearing, but once it takes on the earnestness I feel from the sentiment in this album, it's just off-putting. If you have fans who want to listen to you, don't make those fans feel stupid for listening to you. That, coupled with the negativity found on some of the other songs I mentioned just turns me off. I already know everybody sucks. I know I suck--I guess I just prefer this band to be a vessel of hope.
I can't discount that my encounter with Denis may have colored my opinion of The End Is Near, which is why I included the story at the end. Then again, I feel like I should be over it by now, and can appreciate the rest of their work, so I don't know. Outside of the highlights I mentioned, this album just doesn't do it for me like most of the rest of their stuff.

Jessica said...

I've often wondered if Culp takes himself more seriously as a musician than perhaps the other band members do, but I have very little to base this on other than speculation (which is, in turn, based on things that I've heard, such as this particular story, from other band fans) and Ascents (which is actually pretty good). Without the goofy parts of "This Is How the Story Ends" there is no song there, as it seems like a love song to fans to finally wrap everything up from their other albums. (Am I the only fan who really doesn't like the song "Combat Chuck" anyway?)

I always thought this album was trying to convince fans that life would go on, which I'm not sure some people thought was possible. (You and I? Yeah, we were sad, but we knew there was life after FIF. Am I happy they're back? Heck, yeah, but we're all in different places in life, which is as it should be.) Consider these two images of the fan, both from this particular album:

"A thousand smiling faces, backlit and bouncing to the beat: it was beautiful. As many soaring voices, forever changed by Your mercy: it was beautiful."


"The crowds recoil, demand our survival, fists in the air, mouths caked with saliva."

I think they were at "we love you, fans, but we're so tired of being 'on' and need some rest/time away."

Back to more important things, this was definitely the tour that my good friend was willing to go with me on to multiple concerts, because she was a huge Bleach fan and actually accused me and FIF of influencing them to quit soon after. ;~) What makes me sad is that we were at C-stone 2002 as well and somehow didn't magically run into you and become friends much sooner than we did. (I didn't know Neal then either, so I suppose that's okay. I met you all when the time was right.)

I don't quite recall, though...was 2002 the year that BS2 played at C-stone, or was that 2003? I hope that you were able to catch it, because it still tops my list of favorite concerts.

Nicholas said...

I guess the combo of the Dennis encounter and the "life will go on thing" were the main factors in turning me off to this album. I didn't need a "life will go on" album (I wish they would have given us well-adjusted fans more of the benefit of the doubt), I just wanted them to rock out one more time, and give me a little more food for thought.
BSF played that show in '03. I was very close to going that year, as well, but I was in a really weird introvert mode and ended up staying home. What would be awesome is if we somehow did run into each other and had a conversation, now lost to time, at Cornerstone 2002. I could have happened! In fact, now I'm convinced it did! I am also convinced I somehow met Neal before, too! It's just like the Star Wars prequels(In only that single aspect!).

Nicholas said...

I mean, "it could have happened!" I'm pretty sure "I did happen," as well, unless this is ALL AN ILLUSION!

Jessica said...

Are we really here? Is life a dream and are dreams life? (I hope not, because my dreams were really weird last night.) Did Nicholas really happen? Tune in tomorrow. (Does tomorrow ever really arrive?)

As far as I'm concerned, yeah, we met in 2002! I think that was the year that I went to Project 86 as well, so assuming you were there, we had multiple concerts at which to meet.

I actually enjoyed "See the Flames Begin to Crawl" and "That's How the Story Ends," but that's probably because I didn't have a Dennis moment. Besides, these lines hit me in the gut: "I've got notebooks full of misshapen words. I'll never speak them anymore." At that point, I was still writing pretty regularly, but thinking it wouldn't go anywhere. They indeed felt "misshapen" to me. And the ending of bringing it back to God as the end-goal of everything really helps it along. "Yeah, we're gone, but we aren't the ones you should be leaning on and looking toward anyway." I'm okay with that sentiment.

"Something Like Laughter" was my theme song for a long time. To this day, that songs makes me tear up in remembrance of that woman that I used to be. Sometimes we need that reminder, the one that says, "You aren't alone. Others feel the same way."

Ditto to "New Years Eve." The "A year goes by and I'm staring at my watch again, and I dig deep this time, for something greater than I've ever been..." catches me, because I've done the It's a new year, a new day, a new me, and things will change! They will! only to turn around and remain the same for another year. The next NYE come around's the same. I gave up NY resolutions, because I decided that if I need to change, I need to change now and not wait for a random changing over of a calendar.

(Side note: If I had had such a Dennis moment, especially at that point in my life? I wouldn't have been speechless. I was pretty freakin' mouthy at that point in life, so I would have retorted, "Don't flatter yourself that my life revolves around you. I prefer Roper, and we know he's got other things in the works" or something like that. ;~) It's not necessarily how I really felt about the matter, but...yeah, I was kind of feisty and very much so ENTP-ish (i.e., arguments for argument's sake).