Smile Politely

It’s good to be nothing at all

Dan Durley harmonizes with himself. This is significant and interesting in several ways for several reasons. Firstly, dude can sing. Secondly, the lyrical themes throughout Television Fuzz seem to contradict each other, if not resonate with dissonance. Perhaps it’s ambivalence. On “Read My Mind,” he (bear with me) asks the listener to read his mind. Then, he says, you’ll get his love. I’m not sure he means that you’ll have it. Maybe he means that you’ll then “get” it. Not to say there’s no poetry or skill in the lyricism on this album; but maybe in this confusion, the exploration, these growing pains, he’s simply resigned to the fact that the only way one could know how he feels is to actually get inside his head. And that all of this singing out is expression of his frustration of that fact. And thirdly, The 92s started off back in 2010 as just Durley as his songs.

Now, all that is not to say this album is a solo effort by any stretch. “I write all the lyrics and melody, but the arrangement and everything and all the weird, noisy stuff, that comes from all of us. This record was definitely way more of a band record than anything. It was a full-band record, by all means.” Durley reflects on the evolution of the project from a solo endeavor to the full-fledged rock band: “Back when I was a freshman, I had these songs that I had written; I wasn’t really sure I was going to do anything with it. It took a long time to get our first EP to a full-band live show. It just kind of kept on rolling from there.”

Producer Scot Stewart could almost boast being the fifth 92 on this album. The writing is solid, and the vocals are impressive and emotive — but the production is absolutely astounding. I will repeat this, because it bears repeating: the production on this album is stellar. I am not a fan of Kickstarters. To me, they’re like the decline of Western Civilization: I see it happening on my Facebook feed, but I pay it no mind.

However, now I may change my mind and suggest every local band work in a classy studio and a badass producer. It’s amazing how powerfully these songs communicate. During the interview, Mike Altergott, a newcomer to the band, had questions about the recording process himself, “Did you guys brainstorm a bunch of production ideas and just keep the ones that stuck?” Durley replied, “[Scot and I] would look at it and see what was missing and try to fill it in.” “Ah, so like filling out a textural spectrum?” Altergott nodded. “Yeah,” said Durley, “And we’d just go crazy from there.” The band is comfortable with and take interest in each other, sitting in their rehearsal space at Analog Outfitters, guitarist Rob Marshall’s place of work. There seems to be a great dynamic, and a wealth of skills and experience and personality of their own that everyone in the band brings to the whole.  Marshall mentions the benefits of being able to fix the band’s gear “rather than throw it in the dumpster.” 

Another benefition skill set, Durley credits his time with Illini Media with some of the band’s success: “buzz… has really helped me learn how to reach out to people properly, [and]… meet a lot of people in the community that if I had just stayed on campus as a student I wouldn’t have done,” said Durley. “Also, putting that much time into something that is not related to anything that I’m studying but that I like way more has made me want to do stuff like this more. The music scene here is just insane,” he says. “It’s farther reaching that just First to Wright.” “For a town of its size, “ interjects Altergott, “it’s pretty incredible the artistic output that comes out of Champaign-Urbana.” Durley emphasized getting involved in the music community as being paramount in getting to that next level. “Everything else is pretty much luck at that point, if you’ve got good stuff.” “I don’t know what gets somebody to that position or not… It doesn’t matter. You’ve just gotta put out what you want to put out. And if it sticks it sticks.”

Which brings me to the record itself. The A Side of this album is front-loaded with ostensible singles. They’re catchy, playful, short and sweet. “Impossible Today” could be a television theme song — no joke. Every song sounds slightly the same, but they’re not redundant. It’s an established style, and a solidified sound. Durley sings like a singer, actually. There’s a nice vibrato he applies to certain lines. I hate that.

But, for some reason on these tracks, it works for me. The production on the album makes everything seem pristine and precise; but at the same time the vocal and instrumental performances retain character and a kinetic quality. “Neurotic Laundry List,” it’s heart-on-sleeve, tongue-in-cheek title aside, is a quality tune that almost gives Frightened Rabbit a run for their money. I suppose the harshest burn I could lay down is also the biggest compliment: I can truly hear commercial appeal for this record. And that indeed seems to be what the record itself is preoccupied with. Why do this if you don’t give it the gusto and go for the gold — but at the same time, why be so deluded with ambition that you cannot just enjoy the fun of making music in the now? This ambivalence to me is best represented in the track segue between “Everything” and “Good To Be Nothing.”

Both tracks utilize the lyric “nothing at all.” The former track ruminates on the desire to be everything to everyone, whereas the latter is resigned to accepting the realities of not being “somebody,” and reveling in the simple joys of anonymity. The pair of tracks is followed by the dark horse — perhaps my favorite song on the album — “Some Kind of Poison.” There are epic moments in other songs, but this one in particular is perfectly programmed within the tracklist to give that deep cut feel. It’s very comfortably nestled in there. A more decidedly artistic decision comes in the final track, “Cutlery Wives,” which abruptly ends, as if someone were watching television and just suddenly decided to turn off the set, perhaps because there was something that


Catch the 92s at their album release show tonight with A Cool Hand and Cheef. Check the Facebook event for more details.

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