Backtrack: Love Is All Nine Times That Same Song
We’re all victims of our Instagram accounts. There’s an impulse to do things constantly so we can capture them to preserve the memory of an event we’re aware we’re preserving even as it happens. Making memories in the most literal sense possible. This doesn’t have to be terrible. Not laying in bed all day is a positive thing, even if our end goal happens to be taking an ill picture of a sunset at some beach we just finally managed to get to after talking about how it’s so close and we don’t know why we haven’t managed to get there yet. Whatever gets us out of the house, you know? It’s certainly better than the alternative, which is melting into our couches/beds/futons/hand-me-down beanbag chairs watching popular media capitalize on our collective sense of longing for experience through commercials featuring way hot 20-somethings running on beaches in perfectly scuffed jeans, fireworks arcing through the sky in an endless display of beauty that ultimately boils down to one giant YOLO. So yeah, you only live once, but you’ll feel guilty for not living a whole lot more than once in a lifetime.
But then, before Instagram and the commodification of experience (who am I kidding, it’s always been a commodity, but it feels more obvious now) we had Gothenburg, Sweden’s Love is All to remind us that doing nothing is actually really complex.
It’s almost its own emotion. The band’s 2005 debut, Nine Times That Same Song, is packed with lyrics that plead and yelp to turn the TV off, to turn the radio off, but then they turn around and make entire songs about doing a “five movie marathon” which — have you done one of those? I tried the other night and somewhere around the halfway point of movie number four (Escape From Los Angeles) my mind shut down, and my body shuttled me to bed before I dug myself into too deep a hole. Staying inside is complicated. There’s a lot of emotion to be drawn from feeling trapped — and I touched on that when writing about Wu Lyf last week — but sometimes there’s even more to be had from the parts of life that feel like nothing at all.
So, Love is All, a band endlessly obsessed with saxophones and numbers (album titles: Nine Times That Same Song, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night, Two Thousand And Ten Injuries) dragged some mutant form of post-punk ska into the limelight, made sedentary activity simultaneously glamorous and hellish. Okay, maybe not glamorous, but at least blessedly free of the backache and inside-too-long sweat sheen that comes from actually doing a whole lot of nothing.
The formula works because these songs are anything but lazy. Singer Josephine Olausson is punchy, breathy, and knows when to emphasize certain key lines in songs without allowing them to lose steam. On “Used Goods” her voice is all breathless listmaking — there’s maybe something in there about liking the same kind of cheese? It’s hard to tell — but then, there’s also the part where she slows down to half-sing, half-mutter “Things … they. aren’t. going. that well.” And of course they’re not. How can they be? What else prompts such obsession with hiding behind mountains of media even as Olausson is straining to shut it all off.
Which brings me to “Busy Doing Nothing” a song that so perfectly captures the light insanity that comes from staying in long enough to burrow deep into your own head: “Five movie marathons/nine times that same song/I’ll have to get back to you/I’ve got a thousand things to do/ten hours in the bed/four hours on the phone/what have I got to eat?/one hour in the shower/two hours trying shoes on/I ain’t got time to talk…” It goes without saying that Olausson actually has plenty of time to talk, she’s just too busy avoiding reality.
Under most circumstances, an album of songs about being a shut-in and just trying to cope would be relentlessly heavy in the not fun way that only works if you feel some emotional connection to that mindset in the moment. Love Is All get around that by pulling meaning from mundane experiences. Watching TV can be as deep as an Instagram of a sunset if you want it to be.