Picking You Up Just To Put You Down (2005, Kessel Run)
‘Learn To Love Hate’ is what the band Player Hater asks us to do before we enter their website, ‘dontcallhome’. Well, any CD that starts off with a harmonica is already part way to selling me (Hey, harmonica’s been one of my favorite instruments since I fell into obsession with U2’s The Joshua Tree). I will say that I’m developing a serious fondness for ‘hate’, but I am not ready to declare this collection a ‘Joshua Tree’. It takes more than a single instrument to declare an album great. ‘Learn To Love Hate’ is, however, a nice way to spend a lackadaisical afternoon. ‘Lackadaisical’, if that is an actual word and not something I made up when I was eight years old, is the word I would use to describe this music. It’s lilting, lulling, and sometimes depressing. Don’t listen to it while operating any machinery. Do listen to it while lying under a tree by a lake, feeling morose.
Player Hater is essentially one person, Jeff Gomez, though the liner notes list two additional musicians: Dan Keeler and Mark Damon Puckett, the first on bass guitar and the second on harmonica. The tracks were recorded in his apartment on an eight track, and though Gomez is a good musician and a very talented songwriter, the very low-tech approach hinders the production quality. His voice is often overpowed by the music and the vocals tend to be a bit flat and monotonous. Luckily he lists the lyrics on his website, or else there would be some parts of songs I’d never understand. The melodies don’t always distinguish themselves either; sometimes it’s hard for me to remember which song is which. For someone like me who’s logged thousands of hours listening to The Smiths, Joy Division and other ‘mope-rock’ bands, though, a little languishing is preferred.
The music itself is lovely; Gomez is obviously a talented musician. I just wish for some of the songs he’d use other instruments in addition to guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and harmonica. Keyboards can add to a song, (yes, I loved Duran Duran growing up, but they also used drums and added other instruments when needed) but I’ve never been fond of keyboards when they make up the bulk of a track. The violin part of ‘They Might Be Assholes’ ( a great song – hopefully not in reference to They Might Be Giants) would’ve been better served with actual violins, instead of electronics. When Gomez does rely on instruments other than keyboard though, the result is often gorgeous. The most haunting guitar is in the song ‘Something for the Weakened’, reminding me of Red House Painters – clear, yet slightly morose at the same time. The harmonica, I already mentioned, is a welcome addition to the record, and is particularly effective on the first song, ‘Popeye’.
The lyrics are heartbreaking and all follow a theme – the album seems to be about a person who isn’t comfortable just being his or herself. In ‘Popeye’, the person can’t ‘spend any time alone’. In ‘Every Dream Can’t Come True’ (another favorite – and yes it has harmonica), most will be able to identify when he says “I just want you to stay…but I just don’t know what to say.” In the song ‘I’m Upset’, he asks “how sad can one guy get?” (As most of us guys and girls know, the sky’s the limit.)
The lyrics aren’t always knife-worthy, however. Occasionally they are downright funny, as when he begins ‘Let’s Hope This Time Is The Last Time’ by singing “I have never done this before in my life, I have never started a song by repeating a first line twice.” Then he goes on to repeat that line. Cheekiness will go far with me.
The most upbeat song is ‘Who’s Walking Away’, and I must admit this is one of my favorites. It’s livelier than the rest of the tracks, and a bright spot is needed at this point over half-way through the album. The lyrics are still lamenting the end of a relationship, but the melody disregards the pain.
If your Vitamin B is already low and you’re looking for a relaxing, light depression, this CD will take you to that place. I kid about the depression – this really is a very lovely album, and it will benefit anyone who likes sparse, soft indie music.