Review: The Obsessives, ‘Heck No, Nancy’
I’ve spent a lot of these hot summer nights lying awake in front of a box fan with a mediocre pair of headphones in. I spent a lot of that time making a conscious effort to not let my mind wander. I was already Sleepless in Stuyvesant and the last thing I needed was for a slew of unwanted thoughts racing through my head in the moments before the magic happened. The only real upside to staring at a pitch-black ceiling for hours on end was that I had The Obsessives to keep me company.
It was the Fourth of July when I was sent an advance of ‘Heck No, Nancy’ and I don’t think the timing could have been any better. The holiday itself has lost a lot of it’s luster for me. When I hear fireworks, I know that there will be an instant echo in the form of my dogs losing their minds. While other people are spending times with their families and friends at cook-outs, I am behind the cash register at my local Wal-Mart selling flat screen tv’s to people that can’t really afford them. Back to what made the timing of this delivery so perfect. This year, my fireworks came in the form of ten of the most sprawling and compelling songs of recent memory. While most were digesting burgers or hotdogs or what-have-you, I was digesting a debut album from one of, if not THE, most promising band/s to come from the “emo revival.”
These songs were the soundtrack to my avoidance of the existential crisis that tends to rear it’s ugly head right around 3am, which is actually hysterical if you think about it. ‘Heck No, Nancy’ is an album that does a tremendous job of portraying the weight of human emotion. And, while I found comfort in hearing somebody else (albeit, someone that is almost six years younger than I am) acknowledging these thoughts, I also found distraction in it. I could recognize and relate to the feelings of insignificance painted in the somber and defeated final lines of “Camping,” all the while getting lost in the fact that these were somebody else’s stories.
It’s the craftsmanship of these song that made them feel like such worthwhile companions. Excluding vocals, there are two whole pieces to the puzzle of The Obsessives; guitar & drums. It’s that minimalism that allowed me to see these songs as extensions of my own thoughts. It’s a simple and dreamy backbone to a vocal delivery that bounces back and forth between apathetic monotony and emotionally drenched. A prime example of the monotony that I’m talking about comes from “Sprawling.” The music is simplistic and repetitive, making the vocal delivery feel more like that of an outside narrator than someone who is directly involved in the story being told. It’s a stark contrast to the subject matter at hand. The lyrics tell the story of a party being broken up by the cops, but the lack of any sense of urgency feels like a scary sort of calm in what should be chaos. It’s a kind of social detachment that is all too common.
“Am I High?” is part of a constant battle with “Camping” for the coveted favorite song from the record title. The song starts out slow and talks about being in love. The first line of the song is “My mom asked me if I’m in love with you/I answered no, hesitantly” before everything explodes around the shouty “It felt like lying.” From this point on, the track maintains a high level of energy and asks the important questions, like “Is it really love if I can choose?”
It’s moments like this that make you forget The Obsessives were only in their senior year of high school when they wrote and recorded ‘Heck, No Nancy.’ They’re touching on universal subject matters and making them feel ultimately personal. It’s a strangely comforting feeling, knowing that at this point in my life, I find myself bombarded by the same questions and existential crises that are presented to us here.
The true highpoint of this record comes from the closer. “What Makes a Friend” is arguably the most beautiful song on the record. It’s calm and chaotic all in one breath, softly repeating “Let’s be vulnerable again” before blossoming into a crashing and shouty refrain with the ultimate answer to questions posed throughout the whole of this record. On “Camping,” we heard Nick talk about “Zooming out on Google Earth/I become even less significant” and all throughout the record, we’ve seen him battling that feeling of insignificance. There are relationships he couldn’t let happen or advance and moments in which he felt like giving up on almost everything. All of that is answered in the final lines of this record. A gut-wrenching, shouty and emotional “The mountain reminds me that I am small. The dirt reminds me that I am not” is the last thing you will hear from The Obsessives on ‘Heck No, Nancy.’ It’s not just a closing statement, it’s a Goddamn mission statement. 5/5