Tangential Album Review: 40 Watt Sun’s “The Inside Room”

Tangential Album Review: 40 Watt Sun’s “The Inside Room”

I’m not sure why some things stick with me. There are details of my life, as I’m sure there are with everyone’s, dating back 26 years that I remember as clear as if they had happened yesterday. Conversely — and with almost such a frequency that I’m fairly certain the universe must be in collusion with my memory to balance the two — I can sometimes barely recall a quarter of the previous day. That might be a little exaggerative, but the regularity of lost moments dictates the intensity of how I perceive it.

Why do I remember the color (red), texture (corduroy) and thickness (none) of my first bedspread, but never specifically how pineapple tastes; the shirt my wife was wearing the first day we met, but not the team name emblazoned on the baseball hat worn by a customer who sat, literally, all day at the bar yesterday right in front of me?

You can argue, with some accuracy I think, that the level of personal importance or impact dictate those objects of selectivity, but those rules are ephemeral and wont to bending. I can still inexplicably recall the amount of blood (not much, don’t worry) I dabbed off of my nipple after a shoddily ironed patch on a T-shirt scuffed it up all day during a visit to New Orleans, but not the name of my first kiss, so go figure.

This is all a very long-winded, roundabout justification for writing a “review” of an album that’s almost two years old. I first referenced 40 Watt Sun and “The Inside Room” over a year ago in this same space, during a 2012 Grammy recap/bitchfest — catalyst for said bitchfest: Foo Fighters winning for both Rock and Hard Rock/Metal, the latter of which is kind of like defining a silk scarf solely as something you could use as a garrote. Both Torche and Baroness released great albums that year, each at least as marketable as Foo Fighters, if only one of them had the marketing push of “that guy that used to be in Nirvana.”

But the best album of that year, or of the past five years, was “The Inside Room.” Stretch your parameters for the doom genre, and categorization was easy enough: it is ponderous, molasses-paced, down-tuned to below sea level, and propped up by a producer and engineer savvy enough to crank the “bass” and “kill” knobs to 11.

This was the band’s first album — singer/guitarist/songwriter Patrick Walker does boast a fair pedigree due to his previous work with Warning — so there’s no context to speak to whether Walker crafted his vocals to fit the music, vice versa or if they both (e)merged organically, simultaneously, but the album sounds as if it couldn’t be any other way but the latter. The lyrics are, in turn, mournful, regretful, existentially resigned, smattered with hope; they are, in a word, confessional. The riffs — played at a 100-story snail’s pace — waft with nary a pause (save a coda towards the end of opening track “Restless”) through a mish-mash of major and minor keys, with nods to every mood between.

I’m writing this not just because “The Inside Room” is one of my favorite albums ever — let alone metal albums — but because earlier today, while my iTunes library played on shuffle mode, a 40 Watt Sun song came on, followed by Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours,” and I barely noticed. It’s not a reaction typical of a metal-to-crooner switchup; I’ve been blindsided by Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka” dropping the bottom out into Drugs of Faith’s particularly virulent brand of grind n’ roll, and it ain’t the same.

Still, it jarred me, though it took a while to sink in. Each song is bleak in its own way, desperate in its own way, and each song finds the speaker done with pining, content to speak with heaven from rock bottom. Compare these lyrics from “In the Wee Small Hours:”

When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You’d be hers if only she would call.
In the wee small hours of the morning
That’s the time you miss her most of all.

to these from 40 Watt Sun’s “Restless:”

Take the longing from these restless eyes
And keep it for as long as you need it.
I mean it; take the longing from me.

There are threads between the songs both aural and lyrical: the language, tone and title of “Restless” implies a pre-dawn soliloquy.

The point is not just that two songs written and recorded half a century apart can share sentiments. My life has been moving so fast lately, I’ve focused most of my time and energy on the future; even that gets scant attention. That these songs are so introspective allows me to get retrospective which, in a sense, is all but the same thing.

The past comes into focus: vomiting in the high school weight room; a stolen kiss on a theater trip to Florida; a broken wrist and an oatmeal crème pie; five years old, my stomach tightening every time a cloud passed over the sun, because I was afraid of tornadoes. Each does not exist in a bubble; they are endlessly re-contextualized, woven in and out of each other, piled upon by each passing moment. Ours, if we want it, is a life made lusciously blurry.

If you have any idea what I’m talking about, you’re wrong. And that’s what I’m talking about.

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