I was planning on doing a “Best Albums of 2011” list, and I still might, but there’s an album that I’ve been hung up on recently for reasons that have little to do with whether it’s “best” or not. So, hang with me, I’ll write through this one and then maybe I can get to the other incredible stuff that has come out in 2011.
It’s an indie guy/girl duo from the UK that, this year, came out with their first record; it's called “Lights Out.” The band’s name is Big Deal. They have a pretty and sleepy sound composed of their two voices, an electric, and an acoustic guitar. The first song of theirs I heard (“Chair”) was on NPR. Alice Costelloe sings, “You don’t trust me to sit on your bed, put me on a chair in the corner instead. You don’t trust me. […] Only want me for my lungs, only want me for the songs I write about you about how I like you.” The male half of the duo, Kacey Underwood, is Costelloe’s guitar teacher and a bit older than her. That fact and the implied possibility that she is singing about (while singing with) him colors my whole listening and interpretation of the album.
These aren’t really love songs, and they aren’t raunchy sex songs, but they are somewhere in between. And they seem to come from the perspective of a young woman on the verge of independence who has fallen for an older man. In the song “With the World at My Feet” she sings, “With the world at my feet, and the stars in my reach. But you won’t be with me. You won’t be with me.” And in “Talk,” “It’s okay, I’m just a kid. It’s okay. I’ll get over it.” It’s that voice and perspective that has hooked me on this thing. It has shocked me a little bit how well these songs have resonated with me, recalling emotions and frustrations from late high school/ early college. I feel like they capture part of my experience that I’ve never heard voiced before.
I talked to a friend, showed her the album, and she confirmed my feelings – And first, I should say, we’re talking about that chunk of years when hormones are going, bodies are pretty much grown, but we are still teens mid adolescence. She said that she remembers feeling an impossible barrier between her and being taken seriously as an adult and partner. I think part of this came from her social and relational inexperience compared to the people who were attractive, older men. (And I don’t mean senior gentleman or anything like that. I’m talking about guys two to six years older, which, at the time, was a big deal.) The guys our same age, with the same experience, often looked about like they did in middle school and just had no shot against the dreamy elusive relative juniors and seniors. Costelloe in “Cool Like Kurt” sings, “Take me to your bed. Don’t take me home. I want to be old. I want to be older.” Which impresses me in its honesty and really hits me because I recognize that lack of tact, and really, of intention. She wants this guy, but she may not even like him. Again in “Talk,” “All I want to do is talk, but seeing you fucks me up.” He doesn’t sound like great company, anyway.
But that’s why I like this album. They get the tension right: the conflict isn’t so much over unrequited love. There was never much love in the first place; it’s a collision of hormones, power, and the struggle to be taken seriously – which is more difficult for women and adolescents.
There’s a charming nostalgia to “Homework,” “Can’t do my homework. Can’t concentrate. It’s ruining my grades. I can’t think straight.” (My friend: Oh, it definitely affected my grades.) And creepy carnal undertones in “Swoon,” “Always hungry, I’ve waited so long to feel your touch. […] Do my bones show enough for your love?” This album bends around feelings of passion, inadequacy, helplessness, and newness so completely that I remembered emotions I hadn’t thought of in years. I felt rueful (again) for having them in the first place and also grateful that somebody had captured them in such a lovely gritty simple medium.
And while I’ve seen relationships work and flourish that have started from these beginnings, most end. “You don’t have to say it’s done. I know. I know.” And she gets over it.