Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chesterfield King / Return To

We don't often think of punk being sensitive, or subtle. But Jawbreaker had a future English professor slash political essayist at its helm, which ensured that its literary lyrics were fit to be tattooed on hordes of flannel-shirted, Prozac-Nation-reading, Doc-Marten-wearing 20-somethings (now in their 40s).

Chesterfield King is first of all, a story with an introductory scene - two young people in a room, feeling some very intense feelings - and a conflict: the narrator is terrified of the change in their friendship. He leaves to ponder his situation in a 7-Eleven parking lot and encounters a homeless woman, who kisses him on the cheek when he offers her a dime and a Chesterfield King (don't smoke, kids). He tells her he's "glued up on some chick". They drink a beer and smoke while he does his thinking, then it's resolution time: he drives really fast to the girl's house and kisses her on the front lawn. Afterwards they watch TV and hold hands.

So simple, and so well-told. Very catchy, too. You get a real sense of time and place (early 90s, normcore parkas, fall, suburbia) and a neat summary of the problem at the root of every friendship-turned-relationship: "I guess I'm not a gambling type/but think of what the two of us have lost". Something always has to die, for another to take its place. It's not wrong to want a little time to mourn, before turning to face the future.

We now travel - figuratively, literally - very far away in space, time and theme from Chesterfield King. #1 Dads is an Australian band comprising one man (Tom Iansek) and a revolving cast of guest performers. I first encountered them on Triple J's Youtube channel, performing an amazing take on FKA twigs' (kids these days and their names) Two Weeks. 

Tom Snowdon's voice is eerily lush on that track, but in my opinion it's better showcased on Return To, off #1 Dads' About Face album (2014). It's a piano-shaped exercise in wintry, late-night melancholy. The lyrics are initially opaque ("There's no love in the ground for me/So I kicked all this earth downstream") but they soon turn clear and heavy as glass: "I'm just having a hard time... living without you here"). The aural equivalent of drowning in your sleep.