Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Activate The Falcon

The Falcon is your cool uncle. You know the one - young enough to be your older cousin but old enough to buy you that first can of Milwaukee's Best. He's the guy who is always holding at a family function, all too eager to share the experience with his younger relations. The hair goes gray and the gut grows but those gnarled fingers clutch tightly to the youth you represent. He's the best guy to hang out with at the holidays but the twilight of happy drunk and overdoing it shrinks every year.

The Falcon is a punk supergroup of musicians who are intimately aware of their own mortality and it makes for an intense musical experience.

It's odd that I the band struck a chord with me when it did. When I found their music, I wanted to think of anything other than the end. I was trapped in a situation and sought refuge in the culture I so desperately wanted to embrace me. A deep dive into the catalog of the Lawrence Arms and scrounging of the internet for anything related to their unique take on the wide world of punk led me to The Falcon. Brendan Kelly's vocals help carry both bands and fell into the kind of love you only hear about in high school dramas. 

The chugging bass at the start of this song combined with the "woah ohs" in the chorus spoke to the ska part of my soul. The rasp and gang vocals pulled me in; I was hopelessly hooked. 

The structure of a song pulls me in. I can't get enough of a simple major scale progression punctuated with gang vocals. You scroll through my favorite songs and the word "anthem" should come to mind. So I was blissfully unaware of the dark recesses of The Falcon's soul. And then I heard "Unicorn Odyssey."

The same ska rhythms are there - the focus on the 2nd and 4th beat of a measure as opposed to the 1st and 3rd. We also have the woahs I love so much. But there's something else in this song - pain. The song goes on and the characters grow older. 

But punk and ska aren't about growing old - the genre is about rebellion and the fire of youth in many respects. Here, though, at the end of the song we are transported to that moment when childhood and adolescence dies. The second when we get Old. At that time in my life, I didn't want to hear about this moment. I wanted to hear about unbridled hope and the possibility of something better. Yet the anthems of the end were what I fell for and somehow it made it everything better. 

The fact that in the end it didn't matter that we aged but rather how we got there, that's what I took away from The Falcon's first record almost ten years ago. A few weeks back they released a second album, Gather Up the Chaps, with a lineup consisting of Kelly, Dave Hause (The Loved Ones), Dan Adriano (Alkaline Trio), and Neil Hennesy (The Lawrence Arms). The Falcon takes every ounce of their age and squeezes it into 30 minutes.

The record is less optimistic than some of the artist's work on a similar subject matter. "Player Hater Anthem", the closing track from Keep Your Heart stares the progression of time in the eye and raises a blistered middle finger to the entire concept of getting old. 

The Lawrence Arms' "Seventeener" off of Metropole is distilled reflection on the realities of a body physically succumbing to the tick of the clock and trying to find solace in the actions of youth.

Gather Up the Chaps is raising that same middle finger but it is gnarled like birch. Every song on the record is played full bore as if the speaker's vibrations are going to ward off the Reaper for a few minutes longer. 

"War of Colossus" expounds on this point. "But you hate that boy in the mirror/You hate that boy in your clothes/I'm kinda starting to hate that boy too and I don't give a shit if he knows." This reluctant acceptance of change goes hand in hand with getting older. The song progresses and we find that the character is defiant in the lurch forward "Let's get some liquor and set it off right/I bet that we could get higher/I bet that we could get higher/They say dying's for cowards and liars/But I wanna try." Defiant, sure, but in the end the song continues and no one dies. 

The Hause led "If Dave Did It" is a substance fueled rampage in a bar where the enemy is one's own demons - "Whatever he's got that I ain't got/It's only in my head." Again, we have the confrontation between someone and a male other, a potential younger self. 

"You Dumb Dildos" is a full band vocal masterpiece where Adriano implores the world "Punched me in the gut/Now I'm bleeding inside/Put a needle in my arm/And pinned open my eyes/Are you ever gonna let me die?" Kelly ends his verse with "This world was so beautiful/But I stopped at the bar." The haunting final bridge sounds like every internal monologue after three too many beers as you try to blink back the oncoming nausea. 

"Black Teeth" ends the romp of an album with the invocation:

When we all fall out, the crowd will be shouting 
When we all fall out, the blood will be pounding 
When we all fall out, you'll be crying about it
What you crying about?

That's the thing, of course - there's nothing to cry about it getting old. The Uncle knew it, and so does The Falcon. 

A funny thing happened as I was working on this piece - I got old fast. I'm 32 years old and thought I was in good health. Some tests revealed I actually have Crohn's Disease and I'll be starting treatment in a few weeks. Very little in my day to day life is going to change, but as I digested the news I kept listening to this record. Nothing was the same - the body of my youth had started to betray me. In The Falcon I found solace. Yes, we all get older, but that does not mean we have to let time go unchallenged. You raise up the birch branch and plow headlong into the future. 

That's the ultimate message here: there's always tomorrow. 

Until there isn't.

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