During the first 10 songs of the first Physics of Meaning album, there's an obvious lift of hope pulling through for exactly 23 seconds: The disc's opener, "Charles Wallace, Where Have You Gone?" grinds open with a cut, clipped and sampled noise wash. Then, big chords emerge from a confidently strummed acoustic guitar. Finally, it sounds as if Yoshimi is about to battle back those pink robots, or maybe Joan Crawford's 1921 New Haven bliss has returned. Alas, this is that trademark Lambchop happiness--enjoy "your fucking sunny day"--that settles in with frontman Daniel Hart's first utterance: "There is a wrinkle in time in a remote corner of my mind." In that instant, Hart's voice is consumed both by ennui and anxiety, the conundrum of modern life that finds one plagued by regretting standing still but doing just that for fear of future failure, minus comfort's safety net. "I'll be unemployed in Greenland," Hart sings on repeat at one point. Better yet, "I can see the future, every possible life I could lead/ I could make love and start a family, with every pretty woman I see/ I've gotta ditch this town." For Hart, the world is a frustrating web of false intentions and good pretensions, and it threatens to cancel the chances of possibility at every turn. To wit: "The repetition of history offers nothing to ease the suffering of the good intentions of liberty."
Sometimes the sentiment--cloaked in the abandonment of childhood wonderment with Florida after the state's 2000 electoral faults or the plight of Vizzini, the peasant from The Princess Bride--becomes overbearing, sung constantly in Hart's wry, semi-deadpan.
Its saving grace is its sincerity. He seems deeply troubled and not just in that banal, world-around-me way: Hart seems wrenched by the notion that he may not know the answers or that there may be no answers. Moving? Normalizing? Differing? Staying? No. The instrumentation--gorgeously captured by Bu Hanan producer Alex Lazara, a multi-instrumental/songwriting/vocal/beatmaking explorer who continues to make clever recording decisions better than most in the country--confirms the suspicion, moving between string-based orchestral beauty and electronically manifested turmoil. As with Ticonderoga (who, on record, forms part of The Physics of Meaning, along with Jason Fagg, Heather McEntire, Dale Baker and a host of others), form marries function.
That's a difficult feat, but--if The Physics of Meaning stands for anything--it's that there are no easy answers. As the album closes, a young brother and sister sing the outro, minutes after a sample of Hart's grandmother snaps off. Are they offering a newborn hope or the tragic perpetuation of hopelessness? Who knows? But at least it's a beginning.
The Physics of Meaning's CD release show happens at Local 506 on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 9:30 p.m. with Ticonderoga, Eyes to Space and The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers.