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It’s near impossible to simply skim over the work of Gatsbys American Dream, their dense, often literary-inspired writing ripe for in-depth analysis. By the time one gets to their self-titled work, originally released in 2006, you’ll pour over the words, plugging song titles into Google, looking up lyrics if you’ve since lost the CD you picked up at the Fearless tent of that year’s Warped Tour, and even digging into the Lostpedia to remember what station “The Pearl” was in regards to the DHARMA Initiative. And for dedicated listeners, it can border on the edge of excess, a song like “The White Mountains” leading this writer to Amazon, where a book by John Christopher details “three-legged machines” that descend upon Earth and enact thought control. But, that is in fact directly what they’re referencing:
The thing is we live in fear — fear of the monsters in control
Three-legged machines that haunt my dreams
Machines made of metal so cold
Could there be something to believe?
It’s this breadth of source material, this assurance of knowledgable, well-read musicians and songwriters, which makes for an increasingly engaging experience. Because Gatsbys isn’t simply dropping in references for face value, they’re utilizing them in a specific thematic quest. “The White Mountains” may begin with talk of these tripods, conjuring up an image more suited to that of Spielberg’s underrated work, but it’s more the capper on an album-long attack regarding their corner of the rock world. Frontman Nic Newsham refers to these machines as “cold” and fueled by “ugliness and greed,” while longing for a world where “we can live the music that we breathe.”
In “You All Everybody,” a track referencing the smash, yet hollow hit from fictional Lost band Drive Shaft, they take on this ideal once again, referring to their hate for “this place and all these guys and their fancy clothes.” Knee-deep in the Fueled By Ramen and related explosion of bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco and even outfits like Boys Like Girls, Gatsbys seems especially discouraged by the process and those surrounding, further explaining, “This place is built of men/People who crush your hope and the things/That make you different/And my art is no art at all.” An obvious attack on the industry reminds of other, now-defunct bands (The Starting Line’s Based On A True Story) and their similar outlooks in similar environments.
And perhaps this focus is why, despite being like Volcano in so many ways (the literary focus, the bizarre, yet endearing song structure), it feels like a distinctly different brand of authorship. No longer is their brand of concept album focused on something deeply personal — with Volcano, the launching point was Pompeii, yet it stands as a metaphor for overflowing, uncontrollable emotion — the self-titled broadens the scope, looking at the band’s place in a greater scene. Another Lost reference hails from “Station 5: The Pearl,” a location in the show used primarily for surveillance 1, perhaps referring to oversight or less directly pressures to sound a certain way. “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” can be seen as yet another meditation on the music industry at that time, as “we’ve raped the nectar from patches deep,” the economical portions of music — necessity, rarity — being destroyed by downloading culture. And as Newsham sings “‘Cause if it tastes like honey, then it must be sweet,” the artificiality of certain bands comes to mind.
Meanwhile, in “Margaritas and Cock,” we get the opposite of a radio-ready jam, the deep, deep bass accompanied by near tribal-like drums in the pre-chorus. It’s a Gatsbys brand of big hook, the vocal pacing slightly ajar, with lyrical integration of an earlier track (this time it’s “You All Everybody”). But again, the highlights are in the writing, with the band dropping further hints of an eventual departure in lines like, “We stepped into the ring with a matador/There is no way to win/But we can try to gore the shit out of this motherfucker and leave a scar/So he’ll remember who we are.” And in “Filthy Beasts” they directly refer to the fact that they could be “dinosaurs,” in this scene, a band actually taking risks, investing real time into their lyrics.
It’s these albums, the ones that require our full attention, that require a sprawled out reading of a lyric insert, that ring perfect for our namesake format. And I’ve been so caught up in the writing that we’ve yet to even touch on the possible sonic enhancements a proper pressing could accomplish. The percussion, always a standout in their work, is incredibly intricate here, songs like “Badd Beat” living up to their name, a barrage behind the band’s “wicked plans.” The range of tones present is vast, the keys often bright, positive occurrences, needing further separation from their low end opposite. Just take in “The White Mountains” for your most prominent example. But for me, someone who listens more closely to the muted outro lyrics in the opener, it’s all about the writing here.
Fearless released the album back in 2006, completing a two-album partnership with the band following Volcano. Unfortunately, neither has been pressed, but there’s hope! Fearless recently dug into their catalog to press Sugarcult’s Start Static, but that was certainly a more popular album upon original release. A smaller label may have to pursue the records. Meanwhile, a band reunion, which often preludes these types of reissues, seems to be out of the question. Two of the band members, frontman Newsham and Bobby Darling (guitars), have recently formed and recorded an album under the name Cannons, and actually “toyed with the idea of calling this new project Gatsbys.” According to an interview on the Voice and Verse podcast, the new project sounds very much like a Gatsbys album, and in regards to the almost reunion a few years ago (that flamed out):
We tried to reform like five years ago; we set up a website and said we were coming out with a record. It was such a huge disappointment to us, and I’m sure certain people were bummed, too. It made us look really shitty; I felt really bad about the whole thing. Bobby got really sick in the meantime, and a lot of shit went down. We talked about doing this as Gatsbys, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen … it just can’t happen.
At that time, they even had a new song called “Modern Man,” but again, an album and press cycle never materialized. So again, a small label may just have to be a superfan and go for the rights. Fearless might not have it on top priority right now. For an eventual reissue, I’m thinking a nice yellow variant to match the bright light behind our tripod. The artwork doesn’t exactly lend itself to an expanded packaging, nor would the resulting price tag be worth it. Just go standard here.
Please Press Gatsbys American Dream.