I used to really love this band. They were the first band I really got into on my own, at the relatively late age of 16, right after their first full-length album, Room Noises, came out. They seemed otherworldly to me--these beautiful, spooky-looking Christian homeschooled teenagers. They lived in Texas, a place I had never been, and they’d started writing music eight years before I heard of them, playing shows in their parents’ coffee shop and becoming well-known in the local music circuit. They finally signed to a label in 2003--they didn’t want to sign to a Christian label because they don’t make religious music, which is fine, but did they have to sign to Warner Brothers? Their label basically treats them like an embarrassment, not advertising them or having them make videos, and telling them to underplay the fact that some of their songs are about sci-fi and fantasy subjects because that might turn off potential listeners. And I have to wonder if their label is partly responsible for the fact that their second album, Combinations, was so much worse. I mean, I’m not saying there weren’t some really good songs on it, but most of it is just girly stuff--falling in love, breaking up, and having a lot of other feelings that aren’t clearly explained.
There’s nothing wrong with writing about girly stuff, but because the content of the songs is more generic it exposes what awkward writers the DuPree girls are. They know a lot of words, but they don’t know what all of those words mean, and they also seem to have trouble just putting together lines that sound good. Which means we end up with really bad lyrics like, “You will take the cherished people that I hold.” “That” is bad grammar! “Cherished” is a cheesy word! Even “the people I hold” seems like a needlessly roundabout way of saying “the people I love.” The DuPrees are extremely good singers, and in “Ten Cent Blues” the simple line “I can’t control my feelings” is stunning because of Stacy’s vocal quality. But soon enough, the awkwardness: “But then she chose to dissect me, and I was casted into poverty.” Number one, it’s “cast” not “casted,” and number two, are you a fetal pig? In “Ten Cent Blues” this awkwardness can be forgiven because the lyrics are dense, specific, and evocative, like a lot of the lyrics on Room Noises. My other favorite Combinations song, “I Could Be There for You,” has tenderly eerie lyrics (“Ring, ring, ring, ring, where are you hiding?/...You’re a cave, admitting who you choose, but I could be there for you”). But some of the songs, like the incredibly generic “Go Away,” are stripped of any intentional strangeness or magic, and all that’s left is the counterintuitive phrasing--instead of just saying he wants to break up, Stacy’s boyfriend tells her “we’re gone”--and obtuse exposition--”I could keep this all from you/Or I could make a statement based on truth/But then it all comes tumbling down.” These lyrics are boring and make no sense. I hope the next album will be better, but I’m not too optimistic, since the recently-divorced Sherri has written a song where she refers to her “apocryphal wedding” (so, Sherri doesn’t know whether her own wedding took place or not?).
But anyway, back to the nice part, the part about why I was so enthralled with this band when I first heard them in 2005. When it comes to the songs on Room Noises and the songs before that, the weird phrasings and hard-to-decipher subjects become charming if you notice them at all. While a lot more of these songs have sci-fi and fantasy lyrics, there is plenty of girly stuff on Room Noises. It’s just strange and thick with images. “I Wasn’t Prepared” is probably a breakup song, but for some reason the verses are about bees, and for some reason this is poignant. “Plenty of Paper” is a song about artsy, companionate love, but it casts the main characters as superheroes. “Lost at Sea” is another song that plunges you into a strange, vibrant landscape, so that when you get to the blatantly sentimental chorus--“I’ll always love you”--you’re moved and surprised. The band defends Combinations by saying they’ve “grown up,” but the love songs they wrote when they were teenagers seem much more real and intimate, more like love and less like a description of how love looks in People magazine.
I never listen to this band anymore, but this morning I woke up with the first song on Room Noises stuck in my head. It starts with a farmer crying about much he loves plants. Then he dies. Then he and his wife try to talk to each other:
Wife: I’m always wondering where you are, I’m always wondering where you are.
Husband: Darling, shouldn’t I be the one wondering? After all, I’m the one who is gone.
The two singers switch off in this vein for a while, before returning to the chorus, which tells us that plants make up for the hard times in life. Because plants are a symbol for memories, or something. Despite the gorgeously spooky harmonies, these lyrics are as sweet and idealistic as anything can be, but who cares? “Memories” was clearly written by some sheltered, geeky kids who liked to sit at home and read the Harry Potter and Narnia books, but those kids wrote with much more passion and creativity than the people they grew up to be. I just want them back.
MEMORIES. This is from spring 2005 and is my all-time favorite video in terms of Stacy cuteness. I don't think she'll ever totally fall out of my celebrity crushdom, but I'd forgotten how infatuated with her I was when I was in tenth and eleventh grade. I obsessively read her xanga and basically thought she was the most beautiful, pristine, smart, wonderful, talented person EVER. The DuPree parents, who are sort of stage-parent-y, used to make a big deal out of the fact that Stacy hadn't started dating because she was EXTRA PIOUS, and I remember feeling really guilty about having a crush on her, especially since I'm a girl. As soon as this video started playing I got really embarrassed and had to put my headphones on, even though I'm in a room by myself.
LADY OF THE WOOD. This song is seven years old, and possibly my favorite--although maybe that's not what I mean. It is probably the pinnacle in terms of really genre-y spooky music, which is to say it's much more representative of the stuff they did when they were really young.
I COULD BE THERE FOR YOU/TEN CENT BLUES. These videos are from 2006 and 2008 (and the songs are on Combinations which came out in 2007). The first video isn't marked but it's from a show that A.T. and I were at. I got really excited when I heard "I Could Be There For You," "Like the Actors," and "Ten Cent Blues," because I was actually a little bored of the fantasy-ish angle and find those three songs to be really stunning. But the other songs on Combinations ended up being much worse and "Like the Actors" wasn't even on it, which is a travesty. (Full disclosure, I like "A Sight to Behold" too.) I feel disappointed by these videos because I was trying to find a particular video of Stacy wearing a sweater vest which led to me wearing sweater vests for YEARS.
I feel like I have too many videos of recent stuff so I will include this little bundle of awesomeness:
PRETENDER! This song is sort of nuts because: 1. it's from before Chauntelle stopped singing almost completely (which I think was about 10-12 years ago). 2. it's pretty obviously about how YOU SHOULD GET SAVED, which I personally think is nice. Not because it's about being saved in particular, but just because it's obviously very passionate and sincere. Some of their recent love songs have just seemed like really unconvincing attempts at emotion.