I work in a manufacturing/packaging environment. The days are long and the tasks are mundane, but there is a silver lining. MUSIC — ringing out from speakers poised high over the workmen, coloring their drudging days with its sonorous gifts. However, the tunes are not as hand-picked as certain employees would prefer; for the sake of sustained playback and general appeal, Pandora Radio has become king. This has its ups and downs. The main “down” is that when someone launches a station based on a questionable or downright shitty band (as happens OFTEN), Pandora traces out the entire awful iceberg, regurgitating a stream of insufferable songs best left for the private listening of people with BAD TASTE. Pandora also has a tendency to play the same few goddam songs over and over again (like the real radio, which it is supposed to transcend!), ignoring both a vast body of similar but lesser-known artists and a rich repository of album cuts by popular artists, both waiting eagerly to be brought to light.
There are “ups” too, and the main one is that if someone chooses a good or interesting touchstone artist, all kinds of wonderful new sounds might just see the light of day. It was in this manner that I discovered an incredible and rather obscure song, which has been bouncing around my head for days…
This song apparently appeared on a split album with Aspera Ad Astra in 2000. Pitchfork calls the Lilys half “a handful of seven-year-old demos” – placing them somewhere in the early 90’s heyday – then dismissively compares the songs to allegedly better ones from their proper releases.
My god man, what about “Coby”? Listen to the way it announces itself with that jangling, unmanicured guitar, then that kick drum and Kurt Heasley’s sleepy singsong vocals. It’s a trip back to that special decade, the one that heard some of the most lovelorn, anemic, confoundingly lovely rock music being made, maaaan.
I’m serious! As I’ve rambled on about before with Throwing Muses and Slowdive, this sound arose alongside a certain zeitgeist moment, then went the way of the slacker (extinct, I mean). Sure, one can point to all kinds of musical quaintnesses that soon became dated – but this one never got very popular, and certainly wasn’t about chasing trend for big bucks… No, those 90s dorks were only chasing after Winona Ryder, and ominous feelings deep within… vertiginous tumbles toward despair that they could only address through song…
What I’m trying to say is this: Lilys and their ilk captured a paradoxical season – the most exquisite, golden, halcyon days, as witnessed by dazed slackers too sensitive to miss their incredible beauty, but too stoned, anxious and emotionally fucked up to truly savor them. This is the fascinating duality at the heart of “Coby.” It’s that second guitar ringing out a furious nostalgia, an idyll burning brightly and unwilling to rest, as meanwhile Heasley mumbles and mewls, weak and innocent as a kitten in the hazed cocoon of his rut.
It could be personal taste at work, but there’s nothing I find more crushing than trauma working determinedly behind a bright or otherwise disarming façade. This is why I love “Hazel St.” This is why I love “Suffer the Children” and “The Reeling.” So when Heasley sings “I don’t want you to dieeeee,” in the midst of what could pass – with slightly different lyrics and inflection – for meaningless alternative garage rock, it packs a tremendous punch.
So there you have it. A song that the Pandora gods dropped into my lap. An average garage rock tune drastically improved by a searing second guitar and heartbreakingly vulnerable vocals. A song that seems droning and repetitive until you fall in love with it and don’t ever want it to end. Thank you Pandora, and thank you Kurt Heasley.