Full disclosure: I’m Rob Crow fan and have been one for a long time. When he announced, just over one year ago, that he was quitting music, I was simultaneously sad and grateful. A reliable source of interesting new music (including Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, Optiganally Yours, Pinback, plus one hundred other bands and his own solo work) was going dormant, but was leaving a vast catalog of treasures behind. Follow up details were cold comfort:
In fact, i think I’m gonna finish up & release all my current records & give up.
Thanks you guys!
I really appreciated it.
— Rob Crow (@rob5d4) March 9, 2015
I started to speculate without cause. Would this be a vault-emptying dump of every musical sketch that hadn’t yet made it to a proper release? Would this be a greatest hits victory lap that repackages a few unreleased songs with more familiar material? Would he shift to tepid singer-songwriter dreck that abandons restless arrangements in pursuit of a broader appeal? (I’m looking at you, Mike Doughty)
I shouldn’t have worried. You’re Doomed. Be Nice. (by Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place) faithfully delivers on all of Rob Crow’s strengths. Knotted arrangements that undulate like a murmuration of starlings and vocal harmonies that stalk you as doggedly as whatever that thing was in the movie “It Follows” are all present and accounted for. The first single, “Business Interruptus“, feels undeniably familiar with its prog-pop sensibilities and infectiously anthemic chorus. But this album also diverges from familiar patterns in some welcome and unexpected ways.
“Oh, The Sadmakers” starts off with trademark vocal harmonies, then hits us with a stuttering metal riff like we might here from Crow’s Goblin Cock project. It’s all delivered with the urgent tone we hear in something like Pinback’s “AFK”. This hint of aggression has not been a strongly present element in the more visible parts of his catalog so it’s nice to hear the dynamics between lows and highs being played with here.
The cross-pollination continues on “Light On”, where we get a skittering acoustic sketch that recalls the best of Heavy Vegetable. Curiously, at just 1 minute and 26 seconds, this song feels more fully formed and satisfying than other frustratingly short songs we’ve heard from him in the past.
We hear the Pinback influence loud and clear in “Quit Being Dicks” where effortlessly bouncy rhythms are paired with world-weary lyrics like “When it thunders, when it rains, I won’t be the one to pray it away.” A superficial listen here could find a person happily head-nodding to Crow singing “I’m always depressed. I’m burnt of the soul.” A gloomy place indeed, but in the best possible way.
This melancholy is not new to anyone following Crow’s work. What is different here is that it is not cut with goofy humor. Instead of songs about Seth Putnam being locked in a Hot Topic, we get seeking, serious questions. “Where did it all go? “Is it just a farce?” “Is this an exercise in absorption?” “What is anybody worth?” It’s an effort to understand anxiety/lonliness/suffering rather than simply deflect it with humor.
When we place this in the context of Crow’s announcement just a year ago, we see someone wrestling with life’s obstacles in real time. The album becomes an intimate portrait of someone who is navigating upheaval without the comfortable resolution or reassuring answers. But, the fact we get that we even get to hear this account is its own kind of privilege.
Make sure to check out Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place with openers X Suns at Barboza on March 23.