"Merci" by Save Face

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I’ve written some version of this commentary between 10-15 times, this is the LEAST personal version I could possibly boil it down to, and it's still inappropriately personal. 

So in the past three weeks I started a campaign to bring awareness to epilepsy and lighting in live music, and my good friend and next-door neighbor died of a drug overdose.

Needless to say I was a little nervous for this album, given what I’d read in this sweet interview with The Alternative. Without my giving too much away, the narrative focuses around a couple, their drug use, and how it affects them.

I listened to the album the minute it came out on Bandcamp (because that’s just the kind of girl I am) and enjoyed it immediately. Based on commentary/warnings from the band, I knew that the visual album, which you can find here on YouTube, had lighting that I probably wouldn’t be able to consume due to my epilepsy.

In most cases, I’m not *super* sensitive to light in terms of video, but for some reason I was to this particular format, a kind of separation of between the CYAN colors. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d venture to say that the lighting displays an innate discomfort by having color separated and kind-of forming a split reality. This, on a physical level, bothered me. Because of my epilepsy and my light sensitivity, it made me nauseous and dizzy, and I had to take a nap. (It’s cool. I love naps.)

I went into watching the video with the full knowledge that this could happen, and when it did happen, I stopped. I am so grateful to the band for providing these warnings about ALL the videos ahead of time, because if they had not, I may well have ended up in the hospital. I’m so, so appreciative of their warnings, but I was disappointed based on my own nature—would I be missing out on a big part of an artistic experience based on restrictions out of my control? I sat on that for a while and tried to gather my thoughts for a review of the album.

For the past three weeks I’ve thought and talked almost exclusively about epilepsy, shows, and their interactions-- even at the job that I actually make money at! I’m slowly gathering support for LEAD DIY (the epilepsy project) from both my friends and people on the internet, and I am so excited for that. I bought a laminator yesterday, which to you is a very boring thing, but is a very important purchase for LEAD! Then on Sunday, that project kinda flipped the fuck on its head.

During the first band’s set at a show, the lighting director of the venue used moderate flashers. Not strobes, but every once in a while would flash a pretty intense light. (Soon after the band asked them to stop— one of their members actually had epilepsy as well.) This normally didn’t bother me, but set off a series of sporadic and panic-y thoughts in my head about what would happen if I had a seizure. They were slow and gradual, but sped up so rapidly that I had to leave the show. I didn’t stop shaking or crying or moving or some combination of the three for almost my entire trek across 2 states and 4 trains.

The next morning, I called into question pretty much everything that I’m doing. Was it worth going to shows if there was always the risk of panicking at such simple lighting, or seizing with lighting more intense? Is this going to happen all the time? Do I even continue doing this if it has such a capability to enforce palpable effects on my own health? Is there a place for a person with epilepsy in music?

Then I listened to this album again.

This time, trying to get another level of understanding, I read the lyrics at the same time I was listening to the music. It completely changed my experience. Knowing the general narrative but not being able to SEE it in the same way everyone else did gave me the opportunity to come up with my own story, how it fit into my life, and what it might mean to other people-- as opposed to trying to imagine the story everyone else was seeing.

So, here’s how Merci is fitting into my life, because it isn’t fair of me, a 22-year-old in her dad’s home office borrowing his standing desk at 11:26PM, to tell you how and what you should think of someone else’s art.

The album starts off on what I interpreted as an anxious and panicked note; “Bad” was the one music video I’d made it all the way through, as there were no severe cuts or changes in light that were presented in quite the same way as the other videos. The entire first verse epitomized my feelings regarding taking on LEAD, especially after the panic attack at the show: “Said you got it bad/saw you wrote it on your hands/so when your head is buried in ‘em, you won’t forget/that you never had a chance”

Since the way I processed the visual element of the album was reading text as opposed to video, I weigh the lyrics heavily in this interpretation.  “Blues”, again in my own life, teetered between the idea of not being in control, but not wanting to let other people control you. At the end of the first verse, the lyrics go “Back when I knew what I was doing with my life. And I don’t think that I can go back”. I keep going back and forth on what I want or what I need it to mean—are they yearning to go back to a stability that doesn’t exist, or is that comfortability and stagnation now the scary part?  

Considering my best ideas, stupid meanderings, and most terrifying thoughts come post-1AM, “Weak” really chimes in with “Apparently I’d rather complicate my life than get some sleep”.

While it’s obvious that “I need a crutch/I need a chemical with a name I can’t pronounce” isn’t about my daily doses of anticonvulsants Fycompa and Lamotrigine, the concept of reliance on synthetics resonated in “Jonesin’”.  “I think I’ve hit rock bottom/with translucent orange bottles/and now I’ll never leave”. This song kind of sums up the beauty of interpretation—it’s written to/for/as people who struggle with drug abuse, but somehow still resonates with me ina  completely different fashion.

“Pour” flipped this album for me. In terms of content an lyricism drug use is prominent, but this is the first we can actually hear the loss and sorrow it can cause in the music. It got me thinking about how my friend Matthew, his life, and loss thereof fits into my life now. It’s something that I’m still trying to figure out, and I think I always will be.

To me, the next two songs are the positive effort and attitude that people who are grieving sometimes front; there’s clearly denoted pain in the vocals and lyrics, but there’s also a very distinct chime hit at 0:37 in “Mercy”. On a personal level, “Plans” fits well into my friendship with Matthew—many plans were made, less carried out.

“Nothin’” “Reds” and “Love” sound like dissolving, like everything’s falling apart again. While each of the songs sound very different, it all contributes to this whirlwind conducive to collapse. The concepts of betrayal, looking for vices, and loss of love run rampant, with lyrics like “’Another day, another dose’ has got me feeling comatose now” and “I got nothin’ worth wakin’ up for now”.

After that whirlwind combo of Nothin’/Reds/Love, “Rien” floats in and is a calming penultimate track that makes you take a step back, and we end with “Yours”, a track that I honestly can’t really publically speak on right now.

I’m a little sad that I don’t get to see the visual album. But without the search for another visual element when absorbing this album, I wouldn’t have found the same meaning in it—meaning that I’m currently using as stamina to keep striving to find a place in music and life, even when it’s not comfortable or convenient. There is a place for people with epilepsy to work and be involved in the music scene, and MY place is to make it known. To surround myself with caring people, and make other people care more.

Tyler says in his interview with the Alternative that “the enjoyment that I get from making something is all I really need to do it.” I resonate with his art, and with that sentiment; my commentary on and taste in art is a way to express my feelings to myself. If you all want to read them, go ahead.

 

Just Friends - "Nothing But Love"

Just Friends - Nothing But Love

If I, in some sporadic universe of hypotheticals, were to start a college or university that taught practical life and social skills, I would not hire Just Friends to teach “How to Live Up to Expectations 101”. I would hire them to run the department. 

The amount of intense hype about Nothing but Love had me actually afraid. I knew it was going to be good, but wasn’t sure if it could quite reach the levels I’d constructed for myself. It did.

For anyone who reads through the daily playlists, it is no surprise that I have a particular affinity for brass. My dad is a jazz-trained trumpeter, and I played Mellophone (google it) for years. I am genetically hardwired to enjoy brass. The miracle is, brass isn’t on this album just to HAVE brass; nothing about it feels forced. That being said, the sound of effortlessness it achieves requires weeks or months of hard work to play correctly, let alone compose in accordance with the styling of emo music and, ya know, a band. 

The attitude I get from this album and the artists involved is one I try vigorously to pursue in myself. The quality of the music is intentional and has quite clearly taken months of detailed, focused effort-- Just Friends & squad take their music and art seriously. That being said, they don’t apply quite the same seriousness to themselves; tracks like “107.7 KJFC” let goofy personalities shine through… on the fictional talk radio show on airwave 420.69.

If I had to pick a word, I’d say daring. This album, as a general idea, had a decent chance of failing miserably. An album on the verge of funk, significantly rapped over, and released by a DIY/emo band? Sounds like a plan constructed by your 15-year-old using Garage Band for the first time in 2009. Normal people simplify could not make it work. 

Thankfully for all of us, Just Friends is not made up of normal people. 

Somehow, the opening, “1-800-CHOP-CITY”, is one of my favorites on the album. In a composition reliant on personality, it gives the album perspective from the beginning- just a whole squad trying to get shit done, but also peppering in a little (read: a lot) of fun. Dibs on the phrase “We Chop it Up” for a post-Fest insta post. 

Curious to see his response, I texted my dad the link to the album with the insistence that he listen to “Never Gonna Bring You Down”, one of my favorites from the album given the playfully argumentative guitar & brass. Expecting harsh technical criticism, he responded “Nice Horns!!”. Congrats, JF, your music is New Jersey Suburb Dad Band™️ approved. 

Other notable tracks: “Supersonic” turns me on, I appreciate the emo-ness of “Bang My Line II”, and I didn’t really comprehend just how many instruments I have at least a basic grasp of until I heard the Bass Clarinet in the intro for “Faucet”.

The title track, “Nothing but Love”, is largely instrumental, but I’d venture to say the few lyrics pretty accurately sum up 2018 Just Friends: “It doesn’t matter what you say/it doesn’t matter anyway/because we on top of the world motherfucker don’t you ever forget”. The top of the world, indeed.

Check out Just Friends new album Nothing But Love, streaming across platforms now!