Pennyblackmusic
www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk

February 2010
by Jeff Thiessen


All you have to know about me, and how I operate, is through a simple story. Several years ago my friend Matt hosted a party that lasted throughout the night, and into morning. It was one of those nights that left everyone in attendance full of joy throughout, but also subconsciously aware that there was a violently abhorrent hangover awaiting their punished bodies the next day. There was just too much happiness in the room, and everyone present did their best to ensure it would continue as long as humanly possible.
In other words, the best kind of party.

I was at a point in my life where everything sort of seemed to be in shambles. I fiendishly gobbled up any shred of booze/narcotic I could get my hands on, but time started to move incredibly fast/cease to exist at the same time. Everything around me felt like it was barrelling forward, while I was hanging out in the La Brea Tar Pits. This wasn’t something I dwelled on; I didn’t have the effort to summon such emotion. I also certainly didn’t have the solution to get out of this grand funk, and even if I did, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t act on it, as sad as that is to say.

This party came in the midst of this period of ennui, and fortunately, provided me with a startling personal revelation I will never forget, nor trivialize. After all was said and done, I decided to stumble home, as I only lived about fifteen minutes away. So I grabbed a beer for the stroll, and was on my way. At some point, about halfway to my destination, I began to actively consider my current disposition, and it finally occurred to me I really had no idea where my life was going. As I pondered this, and the ramifications that generally follow such apathetic realizations, a general sense of complete calm began to wash over me, followed then by an all-consuming embrace of bliss in its most pure, distilled form.

I had no discernible plan what to do with my existence next, and it made me want to run home, pass out, wake up, and start the unconcern all over again. Essentially, what that walk home made me figure out, was uncertainty to me, was home, and chaos, at least on a theoretical level, can be the only thing left that makes any sense in this scripted world.

Nobody actually really wants a ‘clean slate’ these days, because that means they lose the progress towards whatever random, socially constructed goal they have set out for themselves. They’re back at square one, which is depressing for them, as people would rather continue down a path that many times clearly displays some pretty miserable endgame finish lines, but at least they are moving towards something goddamnit, which can only really mean one thing for the public at large: money may buy happiness, but it doesn’t hold a candle to how content the perception of linear advancement makes the average bear. Of course nobody seems to realize underwhelming goals that become achieved and realized over time, isn’t a process of accomplishment. It’s one of retreat and cowardice.

Starting anew isn’t some terrifying, abstract concept for me, especially because in a sense, I started from scratch every day for years, and perhaps that’s why I can easily articulate the essence of Jason and the Scorchers on a fairly accurate level: every song on ‘Halcyon Times’ sounds like it was created during their walk home at sunrise not knowing what the fuck tomorrow holds, or what purpose yesterday brought.

‘Halcyon Times’ is an album that can be dug by all, and probably everyone who hears it will find it immediately aesthetically appealing, but upon repeated listenings to this record, I feel it’s important to note to properly to note the distinction between good time party music (something JATS could be identified as, but shouldn’t) and desperado tunes (something I’m making a case for). The first category are usually simply road-trip hum-drum that rarely evokes anything more than a whistle in the breeze, but I really think that ‘Halcyon Times’ should exist in that unique place where the desert meets the sky.

Musically, a convenient way to describe Jason and the Scorchers would be Whiskeytown on whiskey. But if you want to get more specific, this is Americana at its finest, and I worry about this next sentence, but I must discuss this in the name of journalistic responsibility. ‘Halcyon Times’ is patriotism at its finest, and without a doubt, that’s a concept that is usually completely revolting to me, but here, it’s shown in a proper light.
Ironically, people who love their countries are generally the ones that know jack-shit about their countries, but perhaps that’s the key to all true love: total and utter ignorance in regards to the flaws everyone else seems to see and loathe, but totally irrelevant to those with flags hanging from their front porch. To me, what makes ‘Halcyon Times’ impressively patriotic on a level I can admire, is their pursuit of all inane musical traditions that have sprung from the belly of capitalism and into teenagers ghetto blasters all around their country, and the subsequent stance that when you boil everything American down into a vat, we can pretty much conclude all the best things about that country exist on a dance-floor, the real governing body presiding over the best elements of that country. This is exactly what Jason and the Scorchers gives us, no less, and more importantly, no more.

Each song subscribes to this overtly dumb perspective, which ultimately of course immediately transforms the inherent stupidity into something poetic, something that never reeks of war profiteering through the guise of ugly nostalgia everyone says they care about, but instead are just appreciative there is a soundtrack that allows them to be intellectually vapid and applauded for it, surrounded by hundreds like them. No, what we have with ‘Halcyon Times’, is a sort of holiness that doesn’t instil people with ill-advised inherent pride based on nothing but their own ‘proud existence’. Instead it is tough liberation, earned only through the approach that the singular, redeeming factor intrinsically associated with the human condition that should be unconditionally accepted, is our inability to ever really know what the fuck is in store for us, and it’s pretty nice to have music that articulates this throughout every single moment throughout a fairly lengthy record.

Cow punk is rarely done right, but here it’s done with a self-aware swagger. Jason and the Scorchers are good at making this music. They know this, and because of this, the music thrives throughout. It’s true that ecstasy and desperation are the orders of the hour, but they’re just desperate to be ecstatic, no matter what the cost or what they have to bulldoze to get there. And isn’t that the American dream in a nutshell? Of course it is, or if it isn’t, it oughta be. No. It is.

This isn’t hostile music, but it is unsympathetic to those who have trouble finding joy in life through anything that isn’t monumental in nature. ‘We Got It Goin On’ is probably the best example of this. Through a blitzkrieg album closer, they implore listeners out there to keep their money and their soul, suggesting rock n roll isn’t worth either, and in many ways, this is about the most correct statement I’ve ever heard a band make, especially these days when so many ‘important bands of the 21st century’ continue to make insipid arguments like “reality is just an illusion.” It’s not. It’s perceptive, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s personal keyhole is a sleight of hand or mirage. Instead it’s something that exists on a very literal level, although it can be altered more than people wilfully acknowledge.

Stop for a moment and consider the fact that everyone needs a safety valve to let off steam, but if that’s not in the cards, it’s mighty handy to have a literal representation of our worth and value to the world. This of course generally amounts to nil for nearly all of us. JATS is that portal, but just because they’re historically accurate when it comes to the zero sum of your existence, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be seen as audible freedom. The true spirit of stone cold reality is usually viewed as some horrific ghastly thing that floats into our lives at the most inopportune times, when we’re already in the fucking dumps, but if we control the dials, then our meagre existence becomes something much more, something of autonomy and independent of historical context. It’s getting tougher than ever to summon the strength to summon this, but that’s why ‘Halcyon Times’ is so utilitarian and ultimately, kinda brilliant.

We’re almost fifteen-hundred words into this piece, and I’m sure you’ll notice I haven’t discussed the music. This is probably because much like another favourite of mine, Corb Lund, this isn’t meant to be viewed on an analytical level. It can’t be. Okay, it’s an album of fifteen songs (thirteen of them are completely awesome, while two fall flat on their ass), and it is music that combines the best sensibilities of punk, alt-country, and roots rock. It’s a good rockin time tonight for the duration of ‘Halcyon Times’, as they have the ability to deliver all of these qualities in a singular track (‘Golden Days’), a wild-eyed slowburn (‘Land of the Free’), or a persistent reminder Jason and the Scorchers can flat out rock harder than nearly every other act out there. Sure this has been done before, but isn’t that the point? I have heard this before, but I’ve never heard anything as convincing on a jukebox level as I did with ‘Halcyon Times’ (except of course, the immortal Primal Scream’s ‘Riot City Blues’). It exists on its own terms, and to me, that’s patriotism in its most beautiful form, probably the only form of that concept I can proudly stand behind.

Perhaps I’ve been too kind and too profound when reflecting on the music found on this album, partly because I’m beginning a chapter of my life that I’m pretty damn excited about. I’m starting from scratch again, but this time there’s a driving force behind this new era, and when she’s not around, at least I have the gleeful uncertainty of ‘Halcyon Times’, which these days, definitely can’t be a viable replacement for those people who stroll into your life making you question everything you thought you were sure of, while replacing that new ambiguity with a whole slew of new things and beliefs that you can’t believe you lived so long without.

But it’s the next best thing, and the cool thing is, I’m pretty sure Jason and the Scorchers know this. If you’re pushing towards the ‘golden age’ of your life, but don’t know how to achieve it, don’t fret, because it’s probably not there. But at least you can buy ‘Halcyon Times’, and have a golden night or two, something that is well within all of our reach. Just have to redefine ‘god and country’ next time you’re out drinking.