on trace mountains + a painful interrogation of why i can't talk about the music i like best
taking a stab at understanding why i like an album, not doing a very good job.
I started this newsletter to listen to and try to understand the albums people around me love and talk about some new stuff I enjoy. The amount I stick to that format is loose at best. Most of this newsletter ping pongs between panicked personal essays and culture analysis (charitable term). Occasionally I talk about music that means a great deal to me but usually those things come from a root in the important people in my life or leaving the place I’ve always lived. I wrote about the newest Slow Mass EP but that was really about their last show before COVID and how it was the first time in months I didn’t have to leave a show early because of anxiety attacks that prevented me from enjoying music.
What I don’t, and often feel I can’t, write about is the music that truly sits at the center of my life. Stuff I listen to everyday. I have nothing to say about it. I listened to PUP everyday for like a year and a half but I don’t know why I like that band the way I do and I couldn’t even begin to think of something to say about their music. Most of the music I like best I feel that way about.
PUP, Florist, Joyce Manor, Frankie Cosmos, Trace Mountains.. It’s all this music that exists as part of the fabric of my everyday life and I can try to explain what puts them there but it feels futile.
The thing, I think, that marries all of these bands in my head— and usually precludes them from a frantic half review half essay— is that they’re these bands that feel entirely interior.
I don’t have strong live music memories with them. In fact, of the bands I listed above I’ve only ever seen live is Joyce Manor. I once wrote about a Joyce Manor show for a zine. Really it was about how I had a bad time at that show and obsessively listening to a Ratboys song on the way to the venue and back to my dorm.
I don’t have strong interpersonal associations with them as conduits to remember moments with my friends.
They don’t live in the geographic purgatory of being stuff I only associate with time spent in Chicago or LA or Paris. Remember Sports and Charly Bliss will never escape the 12th arrondissement.
These bands and albums just live in my brain free of tethers that stand out. Maybe that’s a more pure way to love pieces of music. I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. It mostly just makes it hard for me to talk about.
Today I woke up and read the Pitchfork Review of
Lost In the Country, Trace Mountains’ newest album. It came out in early April. I first listened to it April 15th and then proceeded to listen to it almost everyday following.
Interestingly, according to Last FM, I listened to TM’s prior release,
A Partner to Lean On, in November of 2018. I don’t remember doing that. I wonder what triggered me to listen to that. Despite knowing about LVL UP for a long time, I never listened to them and I actually didn’t know Dave Benton was in that band until about August of this year. What drew me to
Lost in the Country was just seeing the album on the Lame-O store while scrolling through, bored and jobless, and thinking the art was cool.
That’s how I end up listening to most new music quick after it comes out. I’m quite shallow in that way. The visual aspect means almost everything to whether I’ll listen to something without a lot of prompting. Also helps I find the band name pleasing.
I’m too impatient to listen to an album straight through so I did what I usually do and choose the song with the most appealing title.
Absurdity leapt out at me so I listened to that one. It remains one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s less the lyrics and what they mean that make me like this song and more the way certain lines are delivered.
There are lines that are well crafted and effective writing then there’s lines that feel like they were always meant to fit together in exactly that way— words woven together in such a perfect way it transcends contextual meaning.
it was a complicated mess of history, it was a mystery, it was absurd & it was inhuman to me
It’s an experience I find often in Los Campesinos songs. I find it in my favorite song ever, probably, Tunnel by Frankie Cosmos. And I find it all over
Lost in the Country.
The Pitchfork review uses the word
fragility often to describe Dave Benton’s voice. I don’t disagree with that assessment necessarily but I do think it undermines the urgency throughout the album. For me, much of the album is about a necessary process of leaving and separating. Be it from a place, a relationship, a band, a lifestyle.. And that separation doesn’t feel fragile to me. Especially on songs like
Rock & Roll and
Dog Country, his voice feels more insistent and clear rather than fragile.
I think content of a song can portray something uncertain or painful without being fragile or sad and I think that exact idea is one of the things I like best about this album. It’s intrinsic to the experience of listening to it. Often the songs transform from fragility by building into urgency or a more confident clarity and the way that build occurs sonically and vocally underscores the overall theme of necessary change and loss.
My favorite song on the album is probably
Cooper’s Dream and if I had to pin down a reason I think it comes down to exactly that dichotomy of questions at the front of the song giving way and building into a more urgent statement of purpose. Speed and layers of drums and voices create a new air of confident assertion. It’s a stunning display of sound and I personally think it’s my favorite song that’s come out this year, not that it matters.
I find little appeal in mere fragility and softness. Even less in soft music that relies too much on poetic word choice. It’s why I struggle with the music of an Adrianne Lenker type and can’t identify with radical simplicity in the way others seem to be able to.
Lost in the Country remains open and layered and beautiful without being vague in its content.
Loss and change and relief can and do exist all together here but beyond that it’s easy to see what the songs are about as it relates to his specific life while toeing a beautifully crafted, theme heavy line.
I’d be remiss to ignore that this album came out and hit me at a time when I was thinking heavily about major shifts in my life and all of the regret and relief which comes with moving halfway across a country. It soundtracks both a shift from Chicago to Philadelphia as well as a feeling of being trapped— in a quarantine, in my apartment while I do zoom law school, in a city that I don’t feel comfortable in— that is alleviated in part by the complex calm of the record.
Few albums I like bring real calm in the same way this does. Frequently my mind is quieted best by loud music with an overwhelming amount of words but rarely does that mean a pensive quiet of the kind this album brings me. I think that’s why it feels special for me personally. I realize that isn’t an inherent feature of the album but I never claimed this was a review nor that you should get something applicable to you out of it.
Last night someone I know gave me some good advice about being intentional in where you spend your emotional energy. I think dwelling on change and what could be different had I made different decisions is something I struggle with in that regard. Maybe I like
Lost in the Country so much just because makes me feel more at ease with my decisions and sitting with my life as it exists in the present. Or maybe it really is special and my temperament doesn’t matter.
Maybe that distinction is irrelevant and it’s okay to just think some things are magic for unexplainable reasons.
At any rate, in the absence of live music I’ve enjoyed the Trace Mountains patreon a lot and have found lovely warmth in works in progress and recipes and how-to videos and live streams. I encourage you to check it out.
You can send me $60 to get a limited edition version of the record at @miranda_reinert on venmo. (Please I’m begging.)
Miranda Reinert is a zine maker and law student based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like polling the emo community on where good pizza in Philly is: @mirandareinert. Thanks for reading! There is no goal, only work!
I’m probably never going to make this a paid model newsletter but you can donate to my ko-fi if you enjoyed this and feel so inclined!