Words and pictures by Jarred Gastreich
Just listen to this song for 3 seconds and the worst feelings of soul-sucking gloom start to kick in. Justin’s fingers creep slowly between that bass string that sounds like it came from the deep dark depths of under-your-bed, to the string that produces that ringing, higher-pitched note that I imagine comes from a cracked church bell rung by the Hunchback of Nortre-Dame. And then that haunting death march — or some type of drum beat — kicks in. Why don’t I stop it and click the ‘next’ button? Surely whatever is next is better than this.
Before we talk about the moment Justin’s awkwardly proud and anthem-like voice vibrates into the sensitive part of your ears, let’s imagine Justin is the type of guy that would ask to meet under a bridge at night the first time he greets you face-to-face. I’m sure he’ll talk in-person in the same tone as he sings this song: like a worn-out, whiny, up-and-down roller-coaster that- instead of a superhero- is themed after a long line in the checkout aisle of a grocery store. His voice is gut-wrenching, gun-wielding, fun-draining and treacherous. And I mean that in every negative sense of those words. Who would want to experience those senses? This song is the reason why scientists invented the ‘next’ button. I’m sure there’s some kind of statistic out there that supports the fact that this song has more “next” button clicks than any other song.
I’m a little harsh. Fine; A lot harsh. But, I have a good theory to what made me this way. Hear me out. I follow Water Liars religiously and I recently saw the below video on their Facebook page. I’m sorry for making you watch it, but it was then that I came up with the theory that this song, upon repeated listening, will drive the listener insane. You see, during the pre-production, idea-making stage of the video and during the editing process, the videographer is forced to listen to the song over and over again. This song is two of two for shitty music videos. I first tried to take a stab at creating a video for it before the album was released and I can attest, first hand, that aside from failing at the video, I made some of the worst decisions in my life — things that will haunt me for a while. Maybe it’s not our fault that the videos suck. Maybe it’s the song’s fault.
There’s an attraction I have to this song that I couldn’t explain to the top-40-hits listener I met the other day. He couldn’t understand the appeal of depressing songs, and I couldn’t argue with him. But, had he been realistic for a moment, I think he could have understood. It doesn’t take a romantic or a literary-nut to fall in love with Justin’s songwriting. It’s a form of storytelling that holds no bars. It’s relate-able because it’s simple, yet significant and expressive, and every-once-in-a-while it cracks with obvious autobiographical influences. In ‘Fine Arts,’ Justin sings, “I don’t need you to tell me how far I have to go. There’s no such thing as distance. It’s only miles left on the road.” Critics of his craft have been echoing that for years. On their debut album he slowly pours out of his mouth: “On the day that I die, I will sing every song that I know.” I hope I’m in the audience on that day.
The world needs depressing songs. They let the common folk live those stories via their deafening headphones so they don’t have to go out and actually suffer through them. Because, you know, we can only discover what’s wrong by either doing it or learning it. Though, remember what Aristotle said, “Moderation in everything.” I warn you: DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS SONG ON REPEAT.
Jarred Gastreich is a St. Louis-based professional photographer, videographer and instagrammer. He’s real good at all three. I mean, you get that since he’s a ‘professional,’ but I just want to drive that point home- guy can capture the world around him like few others.