Tuesday, February 5, 2008

i made a wish, but the match never lit

Before you begin reading, allow me to apologize for two things that likely will impact the quality and clarity of this post:
1. I am in a fragile emotional state.
2. I am unable to see the forest from the trees when it comes to loving these songs.

OK - we're now ready to embark on the emotional roller-coaster. If you haven't heard (and if you haven't heard by now, we're obviously not close friends), The Format broke up yesterday. Let's pause for a moment of silence.

I could now go into the band's background; how the duo formed in Arizona, released Interventions and Lullabies, created their own record label, Vanity, to release their second album Dog Problems, and toured with a number of high-profile bands while supposedly working on their new album (LIES, all lies). But why bother when you can head over to The Daily Iowan's website and read the article co-written by myself and the fabulous Anna Wiegenstein (shameless website plug, check!) prior to the band's last appearance in Iowa City back in September (the above picture was taken at The Picador during that show).

Now into the good stuff: The music. That's the only thing that matters anyway, right?

The Format have the ability to tap into each end the emotional spectrum — from the crazy high of falling in love (try "Janet") to the crippling regret of a break-up that you initiated ("Dead End") — without ever becoming cliche. Lyricist Nate Ruess is able to express perfectly the most complicated emotions and Sam Means was able to put those sentiments to music — often a bopping pop number accentuated with horn flares and pounding keyboard. The heartbreaking lyrics juxtaposed with joyous melody created a semblance of reality few bands ever come close to. Hiding your true feelings — that's real. Don't most people expect the response "good" when they ask someone how they're doing? What if you said, with a smile on your face, "I couldn't get out of bed this morning, and tonight I'm going to drink until I can't feel feelings." (No, only me?) But that's closer to reality — and The Format's music is able to capture that fake version of happiness most of us walk around with.

For those unfamiliar with The Format,
I've prepared a handy dandy listening guide:

Songs available on The Format's purevolume page:

The Compromise
The song that officially led Atlantic to drop The Format. After presenting an early version of Dog Problems, the label execs felt there needed to be a surefire radio hit on the album. Ruess went back and penned "The Compromise" — it's a pretty harsh look at the music industry. Oops.

Ruess penned Dog Problems after his relationship with his long-time girlfriend fell apart (the couple bought a dog every time they hit a rocky patch to bring them closer together. Guess it didn't work). Needless to say, it's a bit more desperate than Interventions and Lullabies. I thought this was the only bona-fide "happy" song on Dog Problems, until I read an interview Ruess did with Alternative Press about writing the album. He began writing the lyrics to get over this girl and move on — using the music as a ramshackle form of therapy, in essence. When he was almost finished, Ruess realized he was still miserable, and thought maybe writing songs about this girl actually had the opposite affect — thinking about the failed relationship all the time was actually making the pain more real. He challenged himself to write this "happy" song (while lying in bed with a bottle of whiskey, no less) in hopes it would make him feel better. No surprise, it's one of the weaker tracks.

I challenge you to find cuter lyrics than "I love waking up to your laugh."

Songs available on The Format's myspace.com site

Dead End
Asking me to name my favorite Format song would be like asking my mom which child is her favorite (umm, me. duh). I can't even attempt to write objectively about these lyrics; if they don't break your heart, you clearly don't have one. "She lays crossed upon the bed / We are puzzles making shapes with our hands / I take my finger, turn into a pen / Then I run my hand down your spine / You guess I wrote something profound / something like: "our love will last 'til we die" / I say "you're good at this game" / But what I really wrote is: "how I've yet to be saved""

She Doesn't Get It
This dance-inducing little number was the second single off Dog Problems. The video is presented as a junior high musical — it's adorable, and worth checking out just to see the cute little boy that gets to play the wood block. But once again, it ends sad, with Ruess simply stating "I was the only one that got burned."

Tune Out
Sadly, this is the only song from Interventions and Lullabies available on either website. It's not representative of the genius of that first album, which had a slightly more acoustic, alt-country bent to it than the heavily produced, instrumental Dog Problems.

If you like what you hear, I'd suggest downloading the following: "Time Bomb," "Oceans," "Sore Thumb," "Give Up," and "Dog Problems." If you don't like what you hear, don't tell me. I'm not sure we could still be friends then.

— Susan

PS - I'm currently accepting applications for a new favorite band.

1 comment:

Jon Gold said...

Seriously, people; Susan was weeping pathetically all day.