I’m glad I overcame my fear of fun in music. Otherwise, I might have never enjoyed The Hibernauts. I still haven’t quite figured out what it was. I came into being a consumer of music from a steady diet of “oldies 103.3” outside philly, which is pretty much what my parents chose to have on in the car. But when I became a modern music consumer, I skewed away from musical levity. The first CD I got was Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other.” The second was Powerman 5000. Part of me feels the need to defend this, but whatever, I was like 12 years old. I was young, kinda angry, and listened to bad nu-metal, and had little interest in “fun” music. Even when young-me started skewing softer, it was to things like Low, Mogwai, etc., not party pop jams. I think fun seemed substance-less?
I’ve changed though. I’ve seen the funlight. There’s a hidden brilliance to good “fun.” Because of course, fun without any substance isn’t really fun at all. And yet that which is fun hides behind the countenance of, “hey man, we’re just hanging out. No need to get serious in here.” But in that pure visceral enjoyment is a link to something very real and potentially lasting. The music in the made-up-genre-I’m-calling-Fun lasts with us because it does something to us, like all music does, beyond just distracting us from traffic for 15 minutes. What on earth does it do?
Fun, of course, is not the true subject of this review. The Hibernauts are. Hailing from Saint Louis, The Hibernauts are in the release period of their new album, Velvet Suit, their full length follow up to 2007’s Periodic Fable. They’re a decidedly talented rock group who accomplish the increasingly rare feat of achieving an indie aesthetic while still exhibiting that yes, they can be precise with their writing and instrumentation.
Pushing play on A-side “Intermurals” drops you right into the fun zone (which I imagine is similar to a Discovery Zone). The major chords start a-rippin’ and some jovial little note bends get your head bobbing. Two seconds in, the beat kicks and this song is off to the races. We’ve got lead singer/guitar play Tom McArthur oh-oh-ohhing through the verse. We’ve got guitarist/vocalist Jack Stevens coming in from the left, Mr. Chad Rogers with a deceptively funky grove on that chorus kick, Bill Vehige on some light tinkly keys and Brett Ramsey driving the song forward with classic pop finesse.
“I’m gonna put on my velvet suit. I’m lyin’, I don’t have one, I think its fun.”
Very astute, Song Lyrics. It is fun. Jesus, its fun. The guitars wash in and out. The bass scales up and down until clannggg, the pick scrapes and it’s over. But there is a human passion to the fun being had here, most musically apparent in the continual forward march of the drums and the schwika schwika wahhh guitars.
“If you knew the fire…and the thunder…that I feel.”
Yes! Though the primary mood is fun, this song, and all successful funpop music retains its human essence. I have trouble with things like, oh, let’s say, Chromeo (why not? I need an example), because sometimes I forget that there’s people making the music. Precision is one thing, but take a Ratatat-just as precise, but much more FUN and much more HUMAN; in fact, much more of both because of the other. Much more fun-man.
The Hibernauts never let you forget that there are five dudes playing this music. Five dudes with beating hearts and maybe beards and possibly girlfriends, and apartments and bus passes and too many dishes in the sink. This is my favorite thing about rock music-sometimes I like music because it’s reaches an inhuman place, inhumanly smooth, inhumanly vicious, inhumanly robotic, but rock music is music made by people you can instantly imagine with itchy faces and nylon stringed acoustic guitars in the corner of their tiny 4 person apartment, just like me, just like you. (Ok, I’m lying, I don’t have one. But I think it’s fun…)
I like this thesis because I think the B-side “Villain” supports and strengthens it even though, at face value, it should undermine this little party I’ve got going here. But follow me anyways. “Villain” is not a party title. And the song is gentle. It has an emotional edge to it. It uses a robot for beats. There’s some slow keys. Oh, and strings, strings can’t be fun, right? Strings are in orchestras, and those are very serious. But something awesome happened after I heard this song, oh, I don’t know ten times. I started having an awful lot of fun. The low organ three-note progression is deceivingly groovy. And sorry, Hibernauts, but that’s a catchy chorus! You cannot escape! It’s soft and mellow and the lyrics are you lied! But gosh darnit if that isn’t a fun lick! I feel almost guilty getting a little groove on to this song, but when you can write songs and craft melodies, that’s what happens, even when the mood is tempered.
Look, we love music. And when we hear humanity in it, we have a bit of fun. Listening to sad songs is, underneath the surface, kind of fun. I think a lot of the times people forget that when they just set out to “rock.” No one wants to hear you just “rock” because, geologically speaking, that sucks. You need to convince us that you’re just rocking, while actually doing more. The whole rock and roll imagery is built into this deception-the carefully arranged cover shots of everyone looking super casual, the million dollar videos of the guitar player just doing, “whatever he feels.” This is why rock and roll is difficult; this is why rock and roll is more fun than Chromeo (no hard feelings, dudes). This is why rock and roll is American and this is why rock and roll really isn’t going anywhere.
The Hibernauts clearly understand all this, to the point that even when they aren’t rocking out, the lessons they’ve learned are still present. Being fun is serious business people. Now, doff your hats and commence the rocking.