By Dr. D and Sean Deveney
Some time last fall, I was doing late night research, or, as it is commonly referred to in most academic circles; procrastinating. My procrastination toolkit, as all essential toolkits should be, was rather simple: Speedy Ortiz’s “Taylor Swift” b/w “Swim Fan” and “Ka-Prow!” b/w “Hexxy.” My Speedy Ortiz addiction began as any serious addiction does – as an innocuous habit. I was in the right place, at the right time, suffering from the right heartbreak. On this night, I was listlessly browsing Speedy Ortiz’s discography sidebar trying to psychically will new sonic material into existence, when a never-before-seen Bandcamp feature offered me recommendations based on my browsing history – SPORTS’ album Sunchokes – it had worked.
The band SPORTS, originated as a dorm-room quintet at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. It was among the first bands I shared with comrade Deveney after reconnecting last fall at college. Almost a year has passed since that fateful evening and Sunchokes is still queued up rather frequently on our respective stereo systems.
Artist reviews on Autonomous and Loud are typically written by the person to discover the band. However, under certain circumstances, when a band holds special meaning to both authors, a joint effort, such as this one, is undertaken. Please enjoy and don’t forget to comment below!
Dr. D’s Prognosis
As Apollonius of Tyana posing as Hermes Trismestigus once said: “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.” I firmly believe that this maxim can be applied as a framework for understanding the universal appreciation of music. The motivations and experiences of the individual can be empathized and understood by the many.
For me, Sunchokes is about one thing: abusive relationships and heartbreak. However, the side-effects of heartbreak, such as, struggling with PTSD from abuse, feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear, and depression, etc. are so universal in nature that they can also be felt and interpreted by the listener without relating to the direct theme of the material.
Certain types of projection performed by a listener who does not take an objective view and or place themselves in the role of the author can sometimes be damaging to the author of the music and result in their narrative being appropriated for causes they do not believe in or subscribe to. Continuing with the theme of Speedy Ortiz and Pavement on this blog, I will cite two examples from both bands:
Speedy Ortiz “Raising the Skate”
“Naw, you never knew me, man, not even a fraction
You just glimpsed your own reflection in a gold sheen”
Pavement “Embassy Row”
“I’m sick of the forms, I’m sick of being misread
By men in dashikis and their leftist weeklies”
However, for both Sean and I, our intention is not to appropriate or diminish, but rather to relate our individual experiences and find comfort in SPORTS’ music even when there is no logical or causal relationship to the direct theme of the album Sunchokes.
Sometimes a piece of music comes along and it perfectly describes a malaise or emotion you didn’t even understand you were experiencing; this is how I would describe Sunchokes. I still remember queuing up “Tiny Planets” for the first time and thinking, “oh great, lo-fi and four chords…” remaining rather incredulous as to the quality of the music I was about to hear, after all, it is Bandcamp and anyone can post anything… But as soon as Carmen Perry’s voice cut through the mix, I was sold. It was simple, it was clean, and it was gut-wrenchingly honest.
If I were to try and go through this album giving an analysis of each track, it would be futile, for the very reason that I would have to name each track chronologically and comment for each one, “someone has managed to write down exactly what I’ve thought and felt and not only that, they’ve done it well.” Instead I’d like to focus on one track in particular, “Where are you.”
While perhaps one could boast that this song is the catchiest of all of Sunchokes, it is also their most lyrically and stylistically advanced song of the album; finding refuge and maturity in its vagueness, its hooks and layering, and its cascading intermezzo before the coda. This song is perhaps my favorite because of how one can approach the lyrics. One can easily interpret the lyrics as accusatory. What exactly happened in your life that gives you the self-justification for behaving the way you do? Who are you? What do you want? Do you even know? Do you love yourself?
No, you don’t. You don’t have any reasons or justifications.
However, instead of taking the Personal Pronoun “You” at face-value, I tend to enjoy this song even more if I view the author as taking a Third-Person Omniscient approach, whereby the object remains the accused lover but can also become, interchangeably, the author his/herself.
Sunchokes is a painful journey about growing up and how much it sucks to fall in love with someone who doesn’t appreciate and requite your love. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
P.S. “You’re jerking off to Al-Jazeera and making your bed, and I could be at CrossFit like you but I’d rather be DED,” are potentially the greatest lyrics of all time.
 Scully, Nicki. Alchemical Healing: A Guide to Spiritual, Physical, and Transformational Medicine. Rochester, VT: Bear &, 2003. 321.
It didn’t take me long at all to love their album Sunchokes. It still feels like the album grabs onto me as soon as I put it on and doesn’t let go until it’s over. It’s remarkably easy to listen to it in its entirety without realizing it.
“Tiny Planets,” the opening track, has a strong feeling of urgency and desperation and is an incredible hook for the album. The riffs are simple, the drums are basic, and the lyrics are well-crafted and very relatable. This is actually pretty much true for all of the songs on this album.
Even though I say it’s simple, it is simultaneously original and captivating. When I first came across it a year ago, I listened to it as much as I could. For some reason, it seemed like it was exactly what I needed to hear, and I can’t help but think back to that time as I listen to it now.
Last fall was stressful and the constant effort I put into schoolwork frequently felt pointless. I listened to this album as I walked back from work and as I headed out again ten minutes later to the library to write some paper due the next day about Freud or Marx and how the ideas we discussed in class resembled something that I saw in my own life in order to demonstrate my understanding of the material. A lot of those days involved going from one building to the next all in one rather small area, trying to support or critique an idea I wasn’t that passionate about in the first place for someone who had been studying the subject for longer than I’ve been alive, and trying to get away with doing the least amount of the assigned reading as possible in order to retain a vague understanding (if not the feeling itself) of happiness.
I didn’t go to any shows last fall. I guess I was busy doing all of that and forgot who I was. The only real contact I had with music was when George and I would send each other bands and also when we would occasionally jam. Music is basically everything to me, so this was not a happy time overall.
This band helped me deal with all of that. Putting on one of their songs genuinely felt like a breath of fresh air after being trapped in a musty basement. I don’t know if George remembers this, but we listened to what I’m pretty sure was the song “Where Are You” in his apartment with his roommate one night. In that moment, I remember feeling as though we were at a show because there was beer, great music, and people to appreciate it.
SPORTS somehow seemed to understand what I needed to hear and how to say it in a way that kept me listening intently until the end. The song “Clean Jeans” starts with “You take the same walk home from school every day, and I’m staying inside watching TV and hiding away. You’ve got a death wish. That’s not my problem. Whatever, so what if I’m boring? I like it that way.” Some of the lines in their lyrics just made me feel like they got it even if I was completely misunderstanding the real meaning. It honestly didn’t matter.
Their music is the perfect antidote to campus life. Just in that one song, the notion of taking the same, repetitive walk across campus every day and hiding away in your room are both addressed. If it’s not clear already to you why one would hide away, I can explain by saying that campus life gives some people a lot of anxiety. Especially on small campuses, you may often find yourself in situations where you really don’t want to encounter certain people or you just get extremely anxious for a wide variety of other reasons including the impossible amount of work you have to do, which leaves you no free time and eats away at your sanity.
SPORTS formed at Kenyon College, so I can assume that at least in some cases I may not be too far off in my lyrical interpretations. The song “Nowhere to Be” starts off, “Spend an afternoon on freaking out or staring at a screen. Something dull to cut my teeth on. I try to tell you I’ve been dying here, but I can’t put it into words. You’re not listening to me.”
It can be very hard to put into words without sounding annoying or lazy (as I’m sure I did). Having the privilege of going to college and all that shit does make you seem less entitled to complain when you compare your struggles with those of others. I’m just saying I found it to be a very isolating experience (despite being surrounded by tons of people) a lot of the time because our campus was filled with a lot of sports people, and there did not seem to be much of a space carved out for the freaks and weirdos.
I can only postulate that SPORTS gets their name from noticing something similar either on their own campus or just in general. Playing sports seems to be quite accepted in this culture. Our landscape is covered in various fields, courts, courses, and other such places, while independent music venues, record stores, etc. can be hard to find or are completely absent in some towns. It could very well be that they named themselves that because all of them do like sports after all. Their lyrics, however, suggest a mindset that strays away from those accepted activities thus making their name some sort of critique or comment about them.
SPORTS very quickly became my go-to band for the rest of my senior year. I was listening to them the other day and naturally started thinking about the circumstances I found myself in when I first discovered them. Things are different now of course, but the music still grabs onto me the same as it did a year ago.
June 5, 2014