by EJ Coleman
You know the movie Frank? The fantastic 2014 indie release with Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson? The Sundance film by the director who brought you Room, before he brought you Room? One of my favorite movies of all time? If not, let me catch you up to speed.
Frank is about a man named Jon, oddly enough. He writes mediocre-to-bad songs alone in his room on his synth and wanders into the trainwreck that is Soronprfbs (don’t ask how to pronounce it, they never do), an experimental rock band fronted by a guy who wears a giant papier-mâché head 24/7. That’s Frank.
The movie goes on to follow Frank and the band on their strange year-long cabin retreat where they run around a remote Irish field and record weird sounds to fuel their creative endeavours, watching their success and stress at South by Southwest, and is darkly colorful and colorfully dark in equal parts.
I’m telling you all of this because it is the only way I know how to describe Q-Pup‘s “Ancient Agriculture and What It Means“. Watch Frank. Take half an hour to decompress. Listen to “Ancient Agriculture”. Repeat as needed.
Frank was based on several real musicians, but I feel like it might have really been a prophecy of what was to come from Q-Pup. A fundamental part of my enjoyment of this album is because I like Frank. They’re both woven from ambient sounds of a curio shop after dark, of an unobserved process in the same brand of weird and inexplicable like they used the same pattern but deviated in the design. One serves as a guide to the other, a tactile symbiotic relationship that makes it a little easier to understand.
Even with that, I feel myself lost and fumbling to follow. Even when there isn’t too much happening in the music itself, the lyrics sometimes leave me with the same momentary loss of literacy TS Eliot does, with too many varied details delivered too quickly for me to decode. My mind is able to process but not comprehend something like “My Brother’s Bigfoot Sighting”:
In trying to understand it any deeper I get left behind as the song continues—it’s so dense that in trying to follow along I lose the thread easily. Most of these songs have me looking for the footnotes at the bottom of the page, in search of explanation for references I know I missed. For every “St. Crispin” I understand there’s a “southern Agassiz” I don’t, and I would really appreciate an annotated copy so I can get the full meaning of the lyrics.
Maybe I’m just not smart enough. Maybe that’s all this is.
Regardless, if you prefer your tunes homegrown, you’ve come to the right place. There’s a delightfully eerie quality to this “bedroom project” lo-fi folk. It feels like I stumbled upon an abandoned farmhouse off the highway where my car broke down. The paint is faded in places and there’s a tape in the VCR in the living room that I’m afraid might be haunted (see “Big Turkey” if you’re not quite convinced) Most of the uneasy feeling comes from knowing that people lived their entire lives here and I’ll never know them more than what they left behind. Songs are constantly beginning and ending with overlapping conversations and clips of speech like memories sunken into the carpet now disturbed and sent up into the air like dust.
That, in part, is the draw of the album. There are moments in it I can’t quite explain, although I know I should be able to, because they’re too interwoven with something I don’t know. “If I Were Any Lonelier” fashions an extra heartstring just to pluck at it as repeatedly as the guitar ostinato, something happens in “2 Organs” that alienates me from a face I don’t know, and “Eurytion, Stuck Through the Side (Tater Tots)” is like wandering out of the desert wearing someone else’s shoes.
None of these are particularly accessible metaphors, I know, but they’re as accurate as I am currently equipped to get, which is part of the draw of this album. I find myself re-listening to one song, learning something new, and being reminded of another song until the cycle continues. With time, perhaps, this will become easier to understand, or at least, my understanding of it will be added to bit by bit. At the very least, it keeps me wanting to keep trying.
And now you understand why the best explanation I can give you is Frank.