Without meaning to diminish anyone’s experience, the “serious youth mental health crisis in this country” that President Joe Biden declared on June 2 in his address to the nation on guns sounds an awful lot like the “slacker” generation blamed for the ills of the 1990s. And maybe those ’60s hippies who dropped out in San Francisco.
When kids want to peace out of society, it’s rarely for no good reason.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t painful to watch so many kids (and adults) struggling with substance use and depression/anxiety/mania. Or listen to it, as the case may be – whether the “Miserable” “Gloomy Tunes” of Weakened Friends, where Sonia Sturino recounts guilt for not being able to save a friend in “25th,” or the lilting and digital hop of Myles Bullen’s “Mourning Travels,” where “death feels cold” and overdoses are a fact of life.
It’s a through-line from the likes of Screaming Trees’ 1992 “Sweet Oblivion” album, where “I Nearly Lost You,” and Mudhoney’s 1996 “Touch Me I’m Sick,” where “I’m a creep, yeah, I’m a jerk.” It’s just that popular society has evolved to see self-loathing as a potentially treatable mental illness and not just something you smother with drugs and alcohol.
Even if that can sometimes take a while. On theWorst’s new “Yes Regrets,” that evolution is on full display, opening with tracks written and recorded while frontgal Brooke Binion was still in the throes of “using and drinking – and I can hear it in them,” and closing with sobriety that didn’t solve all of her problems.
Binion and bassist Will Bradford are both open about being in recovery and Binion is further open about struggling with bipolar disorder. The “there are two wolves inside of you” meme has become something of a joke in recent years, but Binion has identified with the idea since she began writing this album in 2017 and the two-headed monster graces the cover of the album that is finally seeing the light of day in 2022.
Rather than the meme’s good and evil, though, it’s a manic wolf and a depressive wolf battling inside of Binion, and she’s doing her best to tame both of them, much like the work she does in training difficult dogs.
“The primal connection you make with them,” she said, “it’s like having a partner that’s a beast. It helped me like I can’t explain. … So I started training with a trainer and then I got this new job where they deal with more behavioral issues and they’re a lot more knowledgable and it’s been fucking cool.”
Whatever it takes. Plenty of meditation, too. And playing music on stage. “I thought if I stopped doing drugs and drinking, it would fix everything,” she said.
It didn’t. This album explores what happens when you come to that realization, with all of the attendant crashing drums (veteran Craig Sala of Planeside, Paranoid Social Club, Kurt Baker, etc.) and thrumming bass and distorted guitar you might need to work your way through that.
Maybe it will “Hurt Forever,” the video for which features institutionalized Brooke in surgical gowns like you see in Batman movies, with cries that she “couldn’t cut the pain” and declarations that “all the tears at night are all the same.”
But it’s catchy, too, with creative post-chorus guitar work and big ramp-ups in energy, and then they pull the rug out from under us with a finish that’s just Binion and an acoustic guitar and her repeated entreaties: “I’d still love to walk you home.”
So often, it’s easy to hear “you” here as Binion talking to herself, asking us to contemplate mental illness like an abusive relationship with yourself, where no one can just walk away.
And what does Binion mean when she says the album is “very bipolar”? It’s less that the moods swing from song to song, and more that there are constantly conflicting emotions working alongside one another.
On the opening and sludgy “Blacksheepish,” airy “oooo-ooo” vocals lilt over growling lead in the chorus, an anguished wail leads the band into a bombastic and confident instrumental rock outtro. On the mid-album “This House Didn’t Build Itself,” pretty keyboard sprites dance up and down the register alongside Buzzcocks-style speed rock, their clean punk vocals replaced with Binion’s more hardcore scream, before giving way to a closing dirge of cycling buzz and the lament that “I never wanted to say goodbye.”
By the closing “Black Dog Waltz,” peals of feedback precede delicate melodic vocals, and pounding guitar chords are allowed to cycle outward before Binion pleads, “wait around for me.”
Like so many today, she’s figuring it out, one song at a time.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Hello Whirled, “Holding Back the Water” — A sneering and loud rock track that previews a full-length scheduled for July, there’s more than a little Richard Hell here from one-man-band Benjamin Spizuco: “When you’ve seen it all, nothing shocks.”
• Lampland, “Nervous Wreck Today” — The first single from the full-length “Dry Heat,” this is a quiet and acoustic bit with whispering lead vocals from Tommy Bazarian, late of Maine, now of New York. For fans of Eliot Smith and Death Cab. Catch the show June 17 at Portland House of Music and Events.
• Festiva, “Like a Medicine” — With a sentiment like the Weakerthans, this is accessible punk of sorts, with catchy melodies and witty lyrics, but a caustic wash layered onto the vocals and guitars. Watch this band; they’ve got to be a really good time live.
• Bait Bag, “Cramp Couch” — Lo-fi and straight-ahead in the riot grrrl and punk traditions, this is a menstrual lament: “Uterus is shedding/ Got blood on my bedding.” The needling guitar and shouted “cramp couch” in the finish gets the idea across: “I’m sensitive/ Don’t fucking push me.” Look for their first full-length July 8.
• Seepeoples, “Two Silhouettes” — Quiet and full of dripping pedal steel from Cowboy Eddie Long, this is a classic love ballad that will have you thinking about texting exes before the crisp two-minute piece is over.
— Sam Pfeifle