Arguing the Good in Bad Writing

Over the last four days I have become engrossed in Moonface’s record with Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery, recorded with the band Siinai. Part of the thoroughly captivating nature of this record is that it is a brutal bitching about a breakup. That’s how it comes across, at least. After several months of living in mental checkout mode, the realization of just how shitty single life is has finally caught up with me. Normally I’d turn to an old stand-by, but I’d been coaxed into branching out in my musical tastes again after an exchange with a friend. I had purchased Heartbreaking Bravery some time ago but hadn’t really given it a fair shake.

It’s a great record. The title track is a masterwork of building to a moment while “Headed For The Door” is soul-crushingly deadpan and driving. I don’t actually recommend the record if you’re trying to use it to get over somebody, but I have a hard time believing anybody else would be able to appreciate it. Unlike my favorite work by Krug, the writing is poor. I really don’t know how else to explain it than that. The first words you hear, rendered in a voice that seems to almost choke out of disbelief, are “Heartbreaking bravery exists.” It’s hilariously bad. Normally when lyrics are bad they just go in that mental pile and that’s it for me. Being that this was Spencer Krug, writer of some of the most interesting songs to ever be written, it seemed impossible to just dismiss his writing so easily. I powered on.

After having listened to the record basically non-stop now for several days, I have to say that I still think the writing is bad as written, meaning that on the surface there are far too many references to an undefined “violence”, a reliance on clichés that’s unsettling and an elaborate hunting metaphor that always makes me feel dirty. It is so far removed from the seemingly haphazard run of thoughts of songs like “Stadiums and Shrines II” or the succinct tale of an ill-fated relationship like “Grounds for Divorce.” Even as a big fan, I thought these lyrical choices were just too big to look past.

Fortunately, I guess, Krug throws a little gem to keep you going, and then something very important and equally painful happens: you want to talk to your ex. All of the hate you want to feel but can’t, all of the questions you want to ask, every single uncertainty associated with giving yourself to another human being gets exposed and with it, your understanding of what makes a good song. Krug has a way of working himself into your thoughts, and is willing to express all of the hastily thought out love letters you would want to write to try to win your love back. He goes to the sappiest places in our hearts, pulls out the most ineffective of word tricks and just lays them all out there. All of the record’s lyrical inadequacy completely encapsulates being unable to rectify a broken relationship with words. He quite brilliantly reminds us just how poor language is at communicating anything of real importance. It’s a devastating moment when you reach it. We go through life doing our best to put our thoughts into coherent communication. We write poems or pick out greeting cards all so things that are incomprehensible can be defined just enough to let other people know that’s how we feel about them. Even worse is that, say we do find the words that express it, that doesn’t even matter, because the odds of those feelings being shared are small, and that we also all know that somehow, some way, the very language that brought us together is going to fuck it all up.

It doesn’t hurt that musically, this record kicks ass. Siinai are formidable musicians and Krug really does a wonderful job of selling his songs with his surprisingly versatile voice (“Lay Your Cheek On Down” in probably the best example of this). There’s a whole lot to enjoy in terms of droning non-melodies, lasery sounds and complex arrangements of sound and silence. It’s a lot easier to get your point across if you know how to do the things that don’t require words, and Krug certainly understands that. Still, this record confuses me. It’s on a fence that is unbelievably pliable so that we might never come off it on one side or the other. It isn’t in the so bad it’s good category because it is certainly good. It’s just also bad. It’s weird. Somehow, I just don’t really see that as being a problem for maybe the first time.

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