Throw Me the Statue's most well-known song is a great example of what the band does best: It's immediately a pop song, its melodies and arrangements (heavy on strummed acoustic guitar and rolling, hand-clap-happy backbeats) inviting and catchy, but it's also slightly obscure. Those arrangements are deceptively crafted, from the first drum-machine pattern to the final hectic chorus; its subject isn't so much an object of infatuation (a girl) as it is the feeling of infatuation itself ("the hunger"); and songwriter Scott Reitherman's best lyrics are just slightly off ("I wanna make you lose your brain," "I got the bullets in my head/And she asks me why I came," "She was 19/And we all rearrange," the lonely, unlikely chorus "Every night I pray/She comes around my house to stay").
Critical hyperbole aside, no song is perfect, and the small imperfection in "Lolita" is its opening couplet: "Lolita/I gotta see ya." The rhyme just rolls off as so easy, so pat, the literary reference just a little too freshman year. The next line, "I got a fire/When she pulls me in" adapts Nabokov's text directly (first sentence: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins"), and a colleague has suggested that there's something fun and playful about the casualness of the first couplet contrasted with the second's more literal borrowing, about the way singer/guitarist Reitherman is sort of conversing with the book. I only mention the obstacle of that first line because it highlights how nearly flawless the song is as a whole. The clincher is the moment just after the three-minute mark, where the song doubles back on itself, folding into one last chorus with vocals and drums and glockenspiel all echoing and tumbling over each other as the song rushes toward its too-soon end. You find yourself skipping back to the start of the song to hear it again. EG
Out of an electronic organ drone comes a sneaky melody, pinned down by a forceful beat. The beat takes hold of you, the way Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" is all beat—a horizontal, stretching-toward-the-distance feeling, like it would be really good to listen to while driving between fields of crops, the rows of green stuff making rippling patterns. It's a road-trip song. The chorus goes: "Puuuuuuuuuull me in. Puuuuuuuuuuuull me in." The other weekend I was driving home from Portland with a couple passengers, and we listened to Creaturesque, and everyone kept saying, "Who is this?" and "I love them," and I kept saying, "They're a pop band. They live in the Central District. I love them, too." It seemed like the best song ever written coming through the speakers of a car going 80 miles per hour. According to an interview with Reitherman, the lyrics are about the long drive between his hometown in California and the affluent peninsula suburb where he went to high school, a drive sometimes accompanied by one of many "sweet but oblivious suburban girls." The song begins with a hint of deception ("Annie, does your boyfriend know?"), a bit of affectionate knowingness ("You seek a habit and a small feeling of danger"), and some bitching about the sorts of shit you find on the radio when you have the misfortune of being on a highway in California ("If that's a DJ, I'm the pilgrim Mona Lisa"). It was an easy song to write lyrics to, Reitherman says, akin to freestyling some scattered ideas on top of a beat. Throw Me the Statue's first two albums are riddled with excellent slow songs, but this is the king of them all. It pulls you into its tight, mysterious velocity, and then it vanishes in a long tail, cometlike. CF
"Lolita" may be the most popular track from Throw Me the Statue's first album (and therefore their most popular, period), but I always thought this ought to have been the band's breakout single. It's got a lot of the same (signature) elements—acoustic guitar, softly rocking backbeat, Reitherman's flat yet tuneful voice, affectless and charming, lyrics simultaneously vivid and vague ("Favorite space is a palindrome/Where I tuck in a cannonball/And I never have to share/And where nobody can see"). But it's also got some slightly Spanish guitar at the start, a little subdued trumpet toward the middle, and a funny answering-machine recording played out over the coda. Not to mention "About to Walk" has the better chorus, just as lonely and odd ("Strange nights locked inside/I was waiting for a road ahead"), and leaping up and out from the musical bed of the track, all soaring echo and strained highs. EG
The electric-guitar riff that starts this song—the riffiest riff on this album, and maybe in all of Throw Me the Statue's catalog—sounds slightly sinister in tone but bounces with such energy that you ignore it and just bop right into the verse, which takes you to a warm and gusty rooftop dusk at SXSW: "Austin breeze/You pack some punch/We were having such flagrant fun." It's all bright, open guitar chords, strummed so as to sound each note in cascading sequence, and calm vocals, both drifting off over a lightly buzzing bass line. Then: "You blew straight through my heart/As my phone lit up." On first listen, it sounds like it could be a love song, the phone lighting up like fireworks ("You blew straight through my heart!"), but it's not. It is, according to Reitherman, about good times interrupted by the bad news that your best friend's dad has died. Still, even with such a sad subject matter, Throw Me the Statue can't help but write a sweetly sticking (if, as always, slightly askew) pop song. The lyrics delve further into the awkwardness of feeling empathy for a loved one's loss while at the same time feeling self-conscious about how you can't really feel what they feel, while at the same time again feeling their loss largely in terms of what you stand inevitably to lose yourself—but the song just keeps ambling along, almost oblivious, poppy as anything. EG
You know the alleys of Capitol Hill east of 15th Avenue? The ones that run between the backyards of well-off families? These are all houses that, when you look at them from the front, have nothing to say to you, but when you ride your bike through the alleys behind them, you're overwhelmed by information: the money on display, the cars rich people own, the way they keep their garages, the bright crap their kids have, the big leaves of old trees growing in their backyards. This is a quiet song about the people who did well for themselves, the kids who conquered—although only vaguely, because half of the words you can't make out. How are the people who excelled so much in school faring now? Are they happy with their spouses and the children they made, or are they at least not unhappy? If you take an interest in the lyrics, you discover it's a song about going west, about pioneers, about the loneliness a city can inspire. Whatever. It's one of those songs that you're never not in the mood to listen to, that seems to add meaning and depth and context to whatever you're looking at, but riding your bike through that part of the city, with all those big and not needy houses, in the shadow of St. Joseph Church and the radio towers, is especially perfect: The song sounds like contentedness. Throw Me the Statue live just a short ride south, where they're practicing their own kind of conquering. CF
The first song on the first album, "Young Sensualists" is a fine introduction to the band's sound and some of Reitherman's common lyrical themes (friendship, romance, and the strains that one can put on the other). The song reads like a journal, a travelogue, just edited down to sometimes rhyme: Two friends land in a foreign city, take everything in, indulge their senses in the safely exotic, fall in love, and fight. In the background of the picturesque postcard is a chugging, chintzy drum-machine rhythm, a muted but ear-worming guitar melody, some soft humming synths, and small flourishes that sound like synthetic and heavily reverbed steel drums but which are probably just smartly treated guitars. Reitherman's voice is typically impassive but his lyrics are plenty expressive, centering on the final, telling, almost apologetic line, "You were an honest pal/And I wasn't always right somehow." EG
"I know your noises," goes this song's central lyric, delivered in a kind of inscrutable plea, and even though the lyric only means one specific thing, I like to hear it two ways: first (and this is the reading supported and solidified by the whole chorus), as a familiarity with the reckless talk of someone who falls in love too often and too carelessly ("I know you're always in love/You talk [a lot? about? him up?]/You can't afford what you take"). Secondly, though, I like to hear "I know your noises," the first, sighing line of the chorus, as being about knowing a lover so intimately as to recognize the little noises they make, those that others' ears don't get to hear. That chorus plays out over big, round guitar chords and crystalline keyboard trills that hang in the air, refracting light like a fine mist. Elsewhere, that guitar is bolstered by steadily plinking piano keys; throughout, everything is anchored to a clockwork-tight drumbeat. Another great line from this song, and one that illustrates Reitherman's odd temperament, gloomy yet full of the future, always lingering on the littoral: "Throw the ashes on my shore/I'll return in time." EG
This is the first song on Creaturesque, and it begins far away: a rumbling, a dawning thought, an approaching thing. And then Reitherman's voice—a drawn-out "s" cutting through the air, to make the word "staring." It opens into a mellow melody, and then, a minute and 40 seconds in, it opens up again, to a giddy melody within a melody—an instantaneously cheering collection of keyboards and horns and hand claps that will make you want to take off your shoes and dance around in your socks (Reitherman calls it an answer, a cure, to the melody of "Lolita"). It's one of the catchiest songs on the album and a pretty good indicator of what's to come: a summery, energetic, not-brooding bunch of songs about, essentially, happiness. CF
Sometimes the great things that happen to you in life are as bad as the horrible things—unexpected, terrifying, revealing. There is a kind of violence to anything sudden. I remember a great thing happening at work (a promotion I didn't expect)—and the feeling it inspired, instead of pride, was panic. For months, I would come home from work and, to untangle my brain, cue up this song, crank the iPod volume, and listen to the words while the very old elevator—no door, just an accordion gate—passed floor after empty floor. "It summed up the anxious way I am," Reitherman sings a few lines in, the last three words drawn out, ascending notes in a satisfying chord. Last line: "I took a hit and I tasted mistakes." The words are all about grappling with anxiety, but the song itself? Blissful. It begins and ends with tambourines and wind chimes and a heavily sedated beat. It has calm bones and muscles made of Xanax. CF
"Groundswell" is Throw Me the Statue's longest song at 5:24, but it doesn't feel like it. The easy electric-guitar riffs speed and corner around the song pretty relentlessly, only giving way to a bass-and-drum groove just before the chorus and stopping for a skin-tingling split second just after. The second time that groove comes in, at the 3:30 mark, it gathers tension-building up-picked guitars, mumbling and layered background vocals, and a catchy little keyboard riff that play and peter out for two minutes while Reitherman repeats, "Walking with your aims low/That's a part of it," punctuated here and there by an enthusiastic "hey!" and "c'mon!" (Also: How great is it that this album contains both "palindrome" and "pantomime" in its lyrics? Great, right?) Throughout the song, horns swell up and burst into perfect little geysers of brass (of the many songs that TMTS perform with a horn section when they play live, this is the one that most demands it). EG
A rock beat, wall-to-wall with lyrics, all about loops and holes and sinking and rolling, sung by a sinking and rolling voice: "I run, but I can't outrun/Each tug just pulls me deep/Is this how I go?/Is this where I sleep?" It's one of those songs that seems to be made out of rubber bands, tightly contained in its own containers, a ball of energy. CF
If you put this song on a mix between two New Pornographers' songs, you might not notice the switch—similar tone; similar energy; bright, changing rhythms; a melody with lots of recurring components. Or does it sound like first-album Shins? The lyrics, naturally, make almost no sense: "Crazy for the chase/But taken to some devil's luscious place/You're hiking in jungles, baby/But the jungles change." But there's a kind of dorky playing around to the nonsense, and the repeated image of a girl falling through the air ("If you could see that she's falling, falling") is satisfying to contemplate. I picture her high in a castle somewhere, listening to Throw Me the Statue and brushing her hair, and then flying through the air, into someone's arms, though it's a different person than she expects by the time she lands. CF
"The Happiest Man on This Plane"
A brooding, torpid, kind-of-whiny song with melodramatic lyrics and a discomforting horn section. CF
This song turns out to be pretty great, but it's almost impossible to get past the anxious-making chord progression and falling-through-a-bad-dream percussion of its first few moments. Just skip the first 15 seconds. EG
"If This Is It" (Huey Lewis cover)
Stick to Guided by Voices, guys. EG
"Written in Heart Signs, Faintly" (Live)
An energetic, drum-circle-ish reinterpretation of a song whose whole point (on Moonbeams at least) is its non-frenziedness. It was already a good song. Give the drums a break. CF
"Your Girlfriend's Car"
Would it have killed you to write a second verse? There are only, like, eight words in this whole song. EG