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Reaching Quiet - in the shadow of the livingroom

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Artist: Reaching Quiet

Album: in the shadow of the livingroom

Label: Mush

Review date: Jun. 25, 2002

For holding my breath, that is, the Reaching Quiet album is longer than that. Well, not actually—that’s Why?’s record, as he announced it at the end of Reaching Quiet’s set last night, at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on the Bay Area stop of the Mush Records tour. “Just do a dead man’s float. / Let your limbs drift. / Don’t count in your head. / Ignore your pumping blood. / Focus on the quiet,” was the subsequent advice, and perhaps the most lucid window into just what the hell Reaching Quiet as a sonic experiment is, or stands for, or might be… Who knows, really? On this particular opus through the minds of Odd Nosdam and Why? of cLOUDDEAD/greenthink/various other anticon projects fame, suggestively titled in the shadow of the livingroom, the sound ranges from commercial jingles, disturbingly distorted by Why?’s creaking vocals playing a nearly non-verbal counterpoint, to what sounds like an indie-hop version of the power ballad. I won’t even begin to put this collection of noise and music into some over-arching category though; I honestly don’t think it’s possible. The CD player on my computer has an easier time of it, calling it simply “rock,” which might be closer to the truth than the Mush label and anticon association would suggest—Nosdam is a big indie rocker, and they did play with a full band in their live show—but I’ll leave it in the nebulous space that anticon and Mush artists tend to inhabit anyway.

I will say that Reaching Quiet is a more ambitiously singular project than I’ve seen from anyone in the emo/weirdo/dirt-hop world since greenthink’s blindfold album. The disc is divided into four movements, each consisting of 5-8 tracks. The movements are surprisingly coherent, both musically and lyrically. The first section, “Out of the Cold / Into the Cabinet,” seems to be dealing with Odd Nosdam’s perennial theme (both sonically and in his visual art) of the brainwashing/programming of the kitsch Americana, which is then deconstructed by the end, the MTV logo being changed into a housefly on a mirror, which then becomes a spaced-out moth by track 8, the final scene of the first movement, a personal reclamation of a symbol that recalls the burning moth of Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm.

The second movement, “At Home Costume,” is much more staccato than the first. The Americana of the first movement has a faint echo in the Addam’s Family-esque gothy production on songs like “Her Little Office Watch,” but in general the sound of this section is significantly different. I think this movement is exploring themes of identity (though with lyrics like “You left for work / with a dozen dead / snakes in your hand / while I searched for a / peanut butter cookie, / or one with raisins and oats,” it’s hard to know what exactly Why? is trying to communicate), and specifically how one’s identity is reflected in interpersonal relationships. In my interpretation then, the “at home costume” is theoretically one’s “true” self, where one can really “be themselves.” But then, the possibility of any “real self” is called into question by the fact that even at home, it’s still a “costume.” By the end of the movement, the relationships that at first seemed to be of a more mature type (between passengers on a bus, on “Salad Days,” for example) have (de?)evolved into something of a more childlike sort, where “[t]he horse you choose to ride on the carousel / reflects your self-image or what you want to be.”

The third movement, “Slashed Tire Reprise,” takes a very different tack than the previous two, but sticks to the theme of relationships, though this time it’s specifically a single relationship between Why? (presumably) and a girlfriend, or what seems to be a girlfriend, but by the end of the movement, again, it isn’t really clear. The first song, “Slow Polaroid,” opens with a very dark two-note bass-driven track that emphasizes each of the discreet images being presented, where the photographs call attention to the lack of interaction between the speaker and the “you” subject. About 1:30 in, however, the “beat” (if it can be called that, being entirely drum-less) switches up entirely, moving to a light piano loop that sounds almost playful. The next song has drums, which is a drastic shift after 2 ½ minutes of only a piano, bass and guitar. The song, “She Ain’t Gonna Call You Back (part 2),” is one of the more melodic on the album, and by far the most “normal” sounding song of the third movement, if any of Reaching Quiet’s tracks could be called normal by any standard. The last song complicates a reading of the movement as being about a girlfriend though, clearly being addressed to a man who would “jerk off to the lingerie ads / in the J.C. Penny catalogue.” I can’t really say what ultimately is going on in this movement; it is, in my opinion, both the most interesting and most opaque on the album.

The fourth movement comes full circle, the “Silver American Nickel” that traces the relationships between the various characters back into a generalized picture of Americana, which then makes the leap across the Atlantic (via a focus on religion) to an “Elizabethan setting” where the speaker is “an official / in the Vatican army.” It seems to me that “You Choke” is possibly the centerpiece of the entire album, beginning at the start of the universe and ended in Anywhere, America. But my powers of interpretation are taxed to their limits at this point. I’ll leave it to other courageous listeners to put it all together.

In the end, Reaching Quiet’s in the shadow of the livingroom, a year-long project recorded by two art-school drop-outs in their parents’ bedrooms is a fascinating piece of work, both for it’s ambition and for the sonically challenging results of that ambition. I certainly hope I will get another chance soon to hold my breath and focus on the quiet, in that spaced-out low-fi underwater way that only Odd Nosdam and Why? can create.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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