I didn’t really ever go to live shows until about eight years ago. Even when I started going, it was more for the company than the show itself. That changed one night at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago. Nick was there to see the penultimate act, a band I’d never heard of called 3 despite, inexplicably, having five members. I was there for the same reason I usually went to concerts with Nick: it was a great opportunity to grab his ass in public. This concert changed that.
Of course I liked them. They’ve got a subtle sense of the creepy that is exactly me. Like Astroknot.
Also, I’m a sucker for the kind of tricky guitar skills they flaunt almost self-indulgently. Hearing the recordings is impressive enough, but encountering it for the first time live, in a small club, when you weren’t expecting anything worth paying much attention to?
Yeah, we’re talking about my favorite band.
Because I’m an osmotic geek, meaning I put myself near people who are interested in cool things then find the cool things through them, I generally find out about new albums from bands I like when Nick hands them to me. Months ago, Nick handed over The Ghost you Gave to Me, and I was super thrilled. I promptly popped it into my car stereo and prepared to have my mind blown.
3 changes a lot from album to album. A whole lot. Their sound has gotten bigger, richer, more complex with each album. They’ve gone from a fairly straight-forward trio to a practically theatrical force hard enough to get classed as “Progressive Rock.” Their prior album, The End is Begun, was such a departure from the one before that you might not realize they were the same band. So I knew what I was in for: something completely new.
“It sounds like the B-side songs from The End is Begun,” I complained tragically to Nick.
“The production values aren’t as good, either,” he said. I’d blamed my car speakers for that. Woe. I only had one CD in my car, though, and the commercials on the radio were driving me nuts. So I left it in, figuring I’d switch to station-hopping as soon as I got tired of it.
Two weeks later, it was still looping on my car stereo. It was still fresh, and so, so much better than I’d thought. They didn’t jump off in a new direction from The End is Begun, they went and perfected it. More impressive, given the shuffle-culture of modern music listening, they’d constructed an album that works fantastically as a whole. It opens with an intro, a “Listen up, this is what we’re doing, so settle down and get ready for it,” that transitions perfectly into the first real track, “React.”
The pace of the song switches back and forth, building up to an instrumental bridge and the rest of the song is a crescendo, spiraling off the themes introduced in the first half and practically screaming, “Hey, we’ve got subtle and complex down and we are wallowing in it.” There’s a moment in the final bars that almost sounds like a throwback to Astroknot. In other words, I judged way, way too quickly. They knew exactly what they were doing, they were doing it on purpose, and they were right.
The production values aren’t quite as good as what they had for The End is Begun. I don’t care. The album takes you from moment to moment, getting intense then letting up and giving you some room to breathe, all while keeping up the same slightly spooky lyrical atmosphere and dodging rank pretension.
I could make arguments in favor of just about every track, but my absolute favorite is the last one.
It’s not my favorite because it’s the best song on the album, but because it pulls off the nearly impossible: a sentimental, slow-dance love song that doesn’t make me want to gag or leave me feeling dirty for liking it. (Of course, I would adore a love song that features the lyrics, “Looking like you love me still/ As you kill me goodbye.”)
They bring the same instrumental competence and melodic complexity they apply everywhere else, and tie them together with a string of surreal, numinous imagery that precisely captures this sort of song aims for and draws you into it, wrapping up with just enough closure that if the album goes quiet you’re happy to sit and ponder it. And if, because it’s in your car stereo, the disc spins up and starts over, that intro grabs you without breaking the mood and the next thing you know, you’re on the ride again. That’s not a bad thing.