I don’t usually think about guitar-driven rock as a duet between vocals and guitar, but 77 Apes’ new The End of Love calls for considering that reality. Showcased in the first and final tracks, eerie prolonged guitar notes – not really riffs, more evolutions from one noise to another – become their own distinct voice throughout the rest of the songs. The album combines lo-fi, alt-country, roots rock, and a smattering of Latin influences in a journey of love, death, and obsession. It’s incredibly dark, in a way that makes a person feel lost in the rain in Juarez. (Yes, that’s a deliberate “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” reference – this album doesn’t claim to be Dylan, but it does have the “we are having a hell of a good time with our influences” feel of, say, Brian Ferry’s Dylanesque.) Think of it as roots rock with a punk aesthetic.
The album also has the feel of one of those Seven Ages of Man drawings, if the seven ages were largely focused on sex, blood, and war (which may well be the human condition). The opening and closing tracks (“Tesselate (From)” and “Tesselate (To)”) are guitar strings of being arising from the void. The music of the spheres here is discordant and makes your back teeth vibrate (which may also be the human condition).
I looked up tesselate and found “pattern of repeated shapes that fit closely together without overlapping.” There are a lot of places this metaphor could go: the vibrations of the guitar strings are repeated shapes, but so arguably are the ways people live our lives. Do we fit closely together? Do we overlap? Or do we just rub against one another, and is this pleasure or is it pain?
Right here and now, we’re going to vibrate into a track-by-track of the remainder of this album. You can follow along on Spotify, gritting your teeth against the way we end up supporting dubious institutions because they offer a convenient service. Before we get too far, here’s the reminder to follow 77 Apes on Instagram for news on upcoming shows.
The Lo-Fi Stomp
I’ve talked about it in detail here, and it remains both lo-fi and a stomp. In the larger context of the album, I have to ask if we’re defining life as a lo-fi stomp, which would suggest vigor and rhythm, but not a lot of clarity.
The opening riff – electric guitar does videogame-style music – carries some reminders of Oingo Boingo’s “Elevator Man,” possibly because the arrival of the elevator (bing boop) is just a thing a person has to do. Like “Elevator Man,” this song is meant to be dirrrrrty, and it gets funnier the dirtier you assume it is. Treat it as a horny teenager’s discovery of sex, and it’s hilariously in character.
The Blood in Your Veins
I’ve talked about this one here, and in context, it’s even creepier. Those long, long notes in the opening now have context from “Tesselate (From),” while going to this song after the contrast of organic (“The Lo-Fi Stomp”) and semi-video-game (“Pelvic Elevator”) gives an uncanny valley feel to this music. Since the song apes a love song on a surface level, but the video suggests it’s something more disturbing, uncanny valley is musically really right.
I love this song from the opening Spanish-guitar-style notes, since it combines the feel of open-highway-to-nowhere song and murder ballad. Early on, I was questioning whether the death the point-of-view character was embracing was the big death or the little one. Though the lyrics subsequently make that clear, I’m not sorry for my misapprehension: the way obsession, destruction, and death are framed, the two continue to overlap.
This is the big art-rock centerpiece, shifting from death-sought (and perhaps deserved) in the prior track to death-unsought and seemingly inescapable. It’s another one where the nature of the sound effects sneak up on a listener: what’s ambiguous at the beginning is unambiguous and disturbing at the end. As with “The Blood in Your Veins,” musical conventions that seem familiar at the beginning shift to being unsettling at the end: in this case, it’s the enthusiasm and energy that we automatically associate with a rock beat.
Far From Home
The elegiac piano notes are pushed forward so that the vocals are a whisper of nostalgia we have to strain to hear beyond hints of chill, distance, and loss. The harmonica, reappearing from track 2, speaks louder, in the style that goes with “Home Sweet Home” type songs. If one wanted to interpret the harmonica as a wail of emotional pain, I don’t think that’d be wrong.
This angry piano rocker is a litany of ordinary-person grievances in the style of a rock opera first-act finale. That whining guitar note suggests the problem is (at least currently) embedded in the order of the universe. Getting “capital gains” into the lyrics is a win with me.
It’s the End of Love, Jason Molina
The eeriness of this song is that it feels like a Jason Molina song heard over a nearby radio: it’s in the same alt-country, lo-fi vein; it’s got the torment; and even at its loudest, it feels like it’s receding into memory and loss. The long guitar note is there, too, arguing that loss is part of the pattern. “Everyone chooses sides at the of love” is a solid commentary on breaking up, but also rings true about permanent loss. “Was just living too much to ask, was being you the impossible task?” is a fair question to ask of Jason Molina.
Straight from the edge of grief, it’s a party with a strong feel of Bob Segar’s guitar and story-telling. The returning guitar voice intervenes in the idea of this as good sexy fun, to the point that I was wondering if our snake-hipped girl was herself La Catrina. The long vocal note on “blew me right away” could go either way on what kind of death she’d be dealing.
The Murderer’s Song
The whisperiness of “Far From Home” combines with the Spanish-guitar sound of “La Catrina” to turn menacing. Around the third verse, the murmur of bad influences slithers forward to question where the urge to destruction comes from. “A few hours without consequence” is pushed particularly far forward, flipping the question to what holds morality in place. The eerie guitar wail of the universe could bend either way.
As the last verbal statement of the album, this track centers itself in roots rock, gospel, and fable. (If you’re not comfortable with Jesus showing up, this one may not be for you – it’s in a musical tradition where I’d expect him to arrive). Every time the pattern of Sinnerman’s efforts to stop the whole world from burning down starts to feel predictable, the lyrics take a turn. By the time of a long bridge halfway through, motifs from the earlier tracks are twisting into presence. As an expression of frustration with a world we’re all supposed to feel personally responsible for saving the planet, while the people with the most actual power say don’t ask us, this one rings true. Whether it holds out hope of empowerment or ends in apocalypse, I’ll leave to the listener.