Jun 27, 2012

Rocketship - A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness (1996)


On A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness, Rocketship attempt to take on the familiar narrative of love and regret similar to Girls’ Album, Tom Waits’ Martha, and Fennesz’s Endless Summer.

Like Girls’ debut, Rocketship draw on various styles to capture the feeling of heartbreak, and suitably Elvis Costello-ish moments occur in both: Girls’ aping of Costello’s modernization of Buddy Holly and The Beach Boys, and Rocketship’s use of jarring organs and na-na-na choruses. The difference is that between sentimental vintage pop workouts, Girls wrote epics about refusing to give up, acknowledging the need to move on with life. Rocketship, however, never acknowledge the present. The naivete of their twee language comes with the naive hope to return to the past. Waits’ Martha captured the spirit of regret and life-denying nostalgia as the narrator is melancholy in the verses but happy in the choruses where he recalls the past. Unlike Girls, Waits sees no point in allowing his narrator to move on- he’ll presumably be stuck longing for the past as the present continues to slip into the past- it’s already been “forty years or more,” Martha’s married and Frost’s only getting older. This sad state is acknowledged by Fennesz in his masterpiece A Year in a Minute. The promise of an “endless summer” is ostensibly challenged by the song as things become not only temporal, but uncontrollably rapid. Fennesz’s album has been described as a sort of futuristic nostalgia- his “endless summer” is a vacuum one can return to at any time, but as he warns, years will go by in a minute. Underneath the joy is a sick decay. Rocketship say the same: their songs appear like an endless summer being remembered by no one in particular- it could be an elderly Tom Frost or a family on a distant planet (as with Fennesz). However, whereas Fennesz re-arranged and disemboweled old records to show how the present manipulates memories, Rocketship still don’t acknowledge any present. Their trick is to have the listener reminisce so that years can go by in a minute. Fennesz’s aesthetic reminds the listener of the nature of that endless summer, Rocketship seemingly, cynically wish to entrap the listener in it. At least, I felt that way until the album’s title clicked for me. The band promise that “certain smile,” but warn that it comes with “a certain sadness.” It smiles, as Waits does, but only when it’s caught remembering something- everything else is regret and decay.

It’s an enjoyable record, just watch out for when it promises transcendence in its Loop-like moments, sweet memories in its Elvis Costello and Sweet Trip ones, and introspection when it goes Loveless-ish abstraction. It offers something happy, but the warning’s in the title.

A+

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