Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cops and Criminals

Unreleased Track

A song of opposites, “Cops and Criminals” was only played live a few times in 2000 before being retired. It mostly just names a series of opposite things, from the mundane (“cops and criminals”), the clever (“iceberg lettuce or crystal meth,” “Dorothy Parker or Danielle Steele”), the prophetic (“terrorists or Presidents”—twenty-one months before September 11th) to the instantly dated (“neither send the Ku Klux Klan to the Million Man March”). Interspersed throughout are some skewed proverbs, such as, “Do unto others / Just do whatever works” before the song concludes with the closing lines, “Cops and criminals / Are one and the same.” This ending is a reminder that so many things, as different as they may seem and as opposed to each other as they may become, are, in the end, made of the same stuff. This is a ho-hum ending to a song I would just label as “OK” among the better songs that were springing up at the same time.

The live mp3 is from January 29, 2000.

Download Live mp3

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eight Years of Bliss

A re-post from my personal blog.

Tonight marks the anniversary of the first time I ever heard the band Fluid Ounces live. I had been seeing a band called the Features around Murfreesboro and Nashville for the four months before, and I had bought my first Fluid Ounces record, Big Notebook for Easy Piano, a couple of weeks before since the Features were opening for them on January 29, 2000. The record was okay on first listen, but seeing them live was what really made the difference for me. I had really fallen for the piano songs in my two favorite bands at the time, the Beatles and R.E.M., and there I was being smacked by a band that employed that as its sound the whole time.

What I was not prepared for was the change that it would bring about for upon discovering the band. In college, I had largely tried to base my identity on being “the music guy:” you know, that guy who can always recommend the cool band that no one has ever heard of, collects vinyl, goes to hear live music all the time, puts down others’ music, etc. etc. etc. (see High Fidelity). Finding Fluid Ounces changed all that because I couldn’t be that music guy any more. You know why? I suddenly had no desire and no need to find any other music than what I had right there. To use the rock cliché, the songs were fun, the lyrics were good, and those guys could really play! But more than that: every song, in usually deceptive or metaphorical ways, felt like it was about me. Every single song resonated with me in such weird ways as I began to purchase their other records and hear the new ones as they were written and debuted on the live stage. I had always wanted to be a songwriter before that, but in addition to my utter failure at writing verse, I felt like this guy up there singing about a whole bunch of the stuff that I was going through, had gone through, or had felt for quite some time. He had effectively already used everything I would have had or wanted to write a song about (except for the opposite end of the rock spectrum on which the Minutement operate), all the while doing it better than I could. I suddenly didn’t care to find other bands since I found a band that sounded like they were writing every song about me personally, just down the street in Murfreesboro, instead of doing stadium tours around the country or living far off in Liverpool.

I ran from the show that night and purchased two more CD’s, the best of them all being In the New Old-Fashioned Way (until the recent release of Instant Nostalgia, which I consider to be a tie with it until further notice…). That one CD would stay in my player for months to come, as I was unable to listen to anything else for a very long time. I would see the band every time they would play, inviting all my friends and anyone who would come and hear them. Their interest waned though, and it took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that I was the only person reacting so personally to it all. I continued to see them and see them, listening to them far more than any other music. Their singer went through a divorce in 2004, a bit over a year before mine, and the songs that followed would serve as a great source of help as I went through the most difficult time in my life. He had already fallen in love again and was almost married again by the time I was actually divorced, and his subsequent songs were a great source of hope and inspiration for me that things would and could get better for me.

True, my musical tastes have evolved, and I’ve started listening to lots of new acts since that discovery, but Fluid Ounces has shifted to the center of it all. It doesn’t feel quite the same to listen to it now, since I don’t feel like I did when I was twenty-one anymore. But with all media, the more times you experience those things you love, the more that past experiences with them inform the present and call to mind previous experiences with them, as if a flood of nostalgia with each (in this case) song is recognizing and enjoying the sum of all the times I’ve listened to and enjoyed it, augmenting the experience for the better.

For posterity’s sake, that night’s setlist was as follows:
Life of the Party (intro)
Vegetable Kingdom
Melissa’s Birthday
Cops and Criminals
Encyclopedia Brown
Amount to Something
Get Yourself Gone
Sugar Mama
Out of Your Element
Record Stack

The Last Thing
Poet Tree
She Blinded Me with Science
Have Fun (Seth solo encore)

I have just posted two songs from this show in the last week, and I’ll post another song and a live mp3 from that very show on Thursday.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Record Stack

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Soaking in the Center of the Universe, Vol. 2

So the story goes that the band in its shortest official line-up (Seth Timbs, Doug Payne, Trev Wooten, and Elliott Currie—Jason Dietz had just left, and this line-up played two shows before Sam Baker resumed the drum duties) went to New York City in spring of 2000 to play in a showcase for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and could only play two songs. The people initially took no note of the little piano band from Nashville, treating them with the curt uppitiness of big-city folk seeing another in a long of line of country bumpkins playing for their “big break” in the big, scary city. The story goes that the band played “Make It Through” first, and then a band member, presumably Doug, turned to Seth and insisted they play “Record Stack.” The people there had never heard the song before, and although Seth was tired of it from playing it at every show since he was in Ella Minopy, he conceded. The crowd went crazy, and the band was treated very well after that. So the story goes, at least.

This is easily the single most memorable song in the entire Fluid Ounces canon. It leaps out from among the throngs, whether sitting in the middle of the record on which it was released or in the middle or at the end of a Fluid Ounces live set. There are other Fluid Ounces songs that infuse an Eastern-European groove, but none that execute it so accessibly. And more than that—it’s just so catchy! For these reasons, it has always been a crowd pleaser, and it has been a standard in the set for every line-up of Fluid Ounces and almost every show before 2006.

As Seth once said, he compacted a long, mostly bad relationship into a one-night stand and subsequent “month in sin,” to describe this song that uses rhyme as its strongest component in its lyrical tango. The chief image defining the song is when he sings, “I had her in the sack / But just that once.” Attaching anything that rhymes with “sack,” we are given the song’s title; the line, “she smoked the last in the pack;” and the high-point of the song, when Seth sings, “So I got my records back / I smashed my Marshall stack,” followed by a loud thunder of discordant piano and guitar. The chorus is the unforgettable singing-borderlined-on-shouting of “La da da da da da,” which is perhaps what makes this song both so catchy, so easily (probably too easily) accessible, and so memorable. (Using the same chords, the Features would later modify this chorus into their classic, “Thursday.”) You can hear Seth scratch his throat numerous times during the recording, giving it a remarkable intensity that is a counterpoint to the Robin Wilson comparisons that his voice would get, especially after the release of the second record.

The song goes into its final chorus after a brief pause on the recording, which Seth would turn into a moment to add something surprising to each live show—a random saying (“this song has been brought to you by chicken tenders”) or, more often than not, a snippet from a random song—from random Irish drinking songs to Self’s “Better Than Aliens” to whatever strikes Seth’s fancy when the song is performed.

By the summer of 2005, as the song was at least nine or ten years old, Seth and Brian Rogers were tired of playing “the hit,” tired of it getting yelled out by show-goers and tired of practicing it, and so it gradually fell on the back-burner, not having been performed, to my recollection, since December 9, 2005. My official prediction is that this song might get played one additional time before the band calls it quits for good.

I understand why the band is tired of it. I’m tired of it too. I’ll admit it was the first song to leap out at me when I first heard Big Notebook on the first night I ever listened to the band, and I was elated a few weeks later when I heard them live for the first time and they played it (if the recording wasn’t such low quality, I’d post that cut of it because Justin’s drumming on it is sooo tight with the band!). But as the Doug Payne era went on, I began to feel like Fluid Ounces was becoming a shadow of its former self, re-treading In the New Old-Fashioned Way songs a little too much, and this song was among those I became tired of. It was performed once with horns, at The Whole Shebang release party, which is the mp3 I’m providing here for download in all its epic glory. With the final line-up, I accepted this song as a necessary evil in each set. Now that it’s been gone so long, I find myself wishing they would rock it out one more time for a random encore some night. Here’s to hoping, I guess.

Download Live mp3

Here's a video where it is paired with "Ambiance," which I never would have put with this song and am happy to discover this new cohesive live moment.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Last Thing

From Foreign Legion

I am expecting as much dissension to this post as when I said that “Daddy Scruff” should have been left off of Big Notebook, but here goes—I love love love “The Last Thing.” I think it is the point when most people lose their taste for Foreign Legion, but to me, being a bigger fan of that record than most other Fl. Oz. fans, every song before it on the record leads us to it, with each one pulling us closer on the emotional trip. The song itself is about hitting bottom. Of all the break-up songs, of all the heartache we’ve heard about, “The Last Thing” shows us what life is like at its worst after a break-up: you can’t work, you can’t think about anything else, you can only drink.

This song’s closest companion, in feel and subject matter at least, is INOFW’s “Bigger Than the Both of Us,” and in many ways, the songs are almost inter-changeable. “The Last Thing” is set apart from its predecessor because of its epic bridge that pulls open the shades and lets a ray of beaming sunlight in the form of hope juxtapose against the dreary tone of the record up to this point. “Keep up your spirits, boy / There’s too many fish in the sea!” The speaker knows that there is a brighter future ahead of him; he knows it and hopes for it. But in this stage of grieving, this “last thing,” he must dwell on it and truly hit bottom. He can’t help the way he feels, and as the song seamlessly returns to its sad feel, he acknowledges that time will heal the wounds…eventually.

This song’s other companion piece would be “Smitten,” which the band would play directly after “The Last Thing” on more than one occasion, with Seth Timbs saying, “Here’s a song about a radically different subject.” The two were rightfully placed together on Foreign Legion, and in the over-arching story of the record, serve as its turning point, the elbow of the record if you will. The protagonist hits bottom in the one, and his glimmer of hope from before remains and pays off with his elation in “Smitten.”

I think I have some fond memories of this song that help to aid in my love for it. First off, all of the songs of Foreign Legion hold a place in my heart as they were what were being performed when I first began seeing the band. It was the record I hadn’t heard yet since it wasn’t even finished, and so I often went to the shows to experience a different set of songs (and a different line-up) from what I was hearing at home on Big Notebook and INOFW. The last night that Matt Mahaffey lived in Murfreesboro, Fluid Ounces played, and during the bridge of this song, he ran in from the Boro’s back entrance and danced around the room a la the Scarecrow in the “If I Only Had a Brain” sequence before rushing out, all during the bridge. I remember a soothing feeling of hearing this song on the same day I’d just broken up with my girlfriend that same year, which turned out to be the song’s last performance. The band did not play it again, notably at Justin Meyer’s final show, which I thought would have been a shoe-in for a dedication to him before he left town.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fool Around

From The Whole Shebang

“Fool Around” roared its way into Spike and Mallets sets sometime in 2001, with Seth Timbs hopping up from behind piano, placing Jeff Keeran there so he could rock out on guitar. Trev Wooten gave it a slightly more funky edge with his bass line than you’ll hear on the record or from Brian Pitts, and Tony Keats’ note-for-note precision lead-guitar work that always reminds me of David Gilmour laid the groundwork for this firecracker to become a classic rock tune (in both senses of the term). I can understand why Jeff and Seth chose not to include any of Seth’s songs on Peep, Jr., Spike and Mallets’ full-length record, as each needed his own avenue to showcase his songwriting exclusively, especially with Seth moving to the West Coast and preparing a record for Japanese release.

It became quite the crowd pleaser once the final Fluid Ounces line-up got underway in 2004, having received its most widespread recognition on The Whole Shebang. The youthful exuberance that this song both conjures and requires became the focal point of the guitar set, which was then augmented by the bluegrass speed of “Selma Lou.” The song requires a big sound, with roaring, stadium-rock drums like you’ll hear at Exit/In (like you’ll hear in this live recording from August 19, 2005, featuring Matt Mahaffey on drums), but in contrast, it requires a garage band feel with its energy and countless phallic references to paint a picture of two adolescents making out at her parents’ house, yet still requiring a skilled guitarist to pull off the larger-than-life leads that complete it so nicely.

Somewhere along the way, it was realized that the crashing G-chord at the song’s finale allowed room for a brief quote of Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” opening riff, which became a standard feature to its ending, as well as Tha B sometimes parodying the opening of the lyrics by singing, “Hey Sether, you’ve got that love that I need.”

Download Live mp3

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finger on the Button

Unreleased Track

It would be much more effective to have his exact quote, but Sam Baker once said something to the effect that Los Angeles is an experiment, and the experiment has failed. In exclaiming, “The experiment has failed!” Seth Timbs both references this quote and declares his independence from the city that took him from his native Tennessee home for two years. When I listened to this song at its lone performance on July 3rd, 2004, I liked it, but when I listened to its words more closely after I heard the live recording (available below), I was encouraged that Seth Timbs would indeed be returning here from Los Angeles.

The song fantasizes about destroying the city of Los Angeles, with the speaker’s finger on the button that will launch the attack, musing about armies and aircraft and missiles poised at the ready. Its refrain says, “Because it’s beautiful, it must be destroyed,” which is a curious description of an odious city that was “born without pity or shame.” This refrain could refer to its “perfect little place on the map” that will soon be demolished, or it could be a nod to the attitude of the city itself, treating anything good or worthwhile as something to be exploited.

The shocking thing about this song is that even though it is written in a time when America is so dead-set against war, it is so uncharacteristically violent! It does mention that the attack will not begin until “all the good folks” have made it out, then speaks only of the destruction of the geographical destruction—except for a brief mention of some group of people (sorry, I can’t make out exactly what he’s saying in the recording—“soul suckers”?) sleeping in a coked-out stupor while the invading armies come in. Declaring that, “In the later years, they’ll say that we were visionaries,” Seth Timbs becomes like a James Bond villain out of Moonraker or something, driving the point how dead-set he is on getting out of that city. Perhaps it’s best that this one didn’t get out too far, as it could have easily stirred up a back-lash among those who cannot see it simply as the musing of a fed-up Tennessean displaced from his home.

Download Live mp3

Monday, January 14, 2008


From Instant Nostalgia

Seth Timbs left for Los Angeles in the spring of 2002. I was sad that I would no longer get to see Fluid Ounces live sets, but I somehow knew that I hadn’t heard the last of it. A year went by, and all I’d heard was a rumor that Seth was performing in Los Angeles as Fluid Ounces with Mac Burrus and Justin Meyer. Then, on March 31, 2003, a friend of mine on the Features’ (now defunct) message board posted a message with the headline, “Seth Timbs Solo Show Tonight at Slowbar, 9:30,” after reading it in the Nashville Scene. The message itself, directed toward me, just said, “Bitch.”

Flabbergasted, I grabbed my recording gear, and off to Slowbar I went. The opening song was, “Millionaire Meets Millionaire,” (whose title was shortened with the release of Instant Nostalgia to just “Millionaire”) about the marriage and divorce of two very wealthy people, a clash of titans if you will. In a world where they do not have to work to earn a living, where “money is the only object,” these two people come together with enough money to change the weather, and their marriage is a lucrative business deal. Then things turn sour. Their businesses get locked up as they fight to divide them, with the little billionaire they created their only reason to stay together.

“Millionaire” would be played again at the release of The Whole Shebang and remained in heavy rotation at Fluid Ounces shows, most often as the opening song, for all of 2004 and for many of the sets in 2005. As it was played more, it became more orchestrated, as it was mostly bare piano even after the long intro for the first few times it was played. Its heavy play insured it a place on Instant Nostalgia, where it logically serves as the opening track.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Run, Rabbit, Run

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

I always considered this song among the most Beatle-influenced moments, if not the most, of all the Fluid Ounces songs. I think it reminds me just enough of “Cry Baby Cry” (if only because of the same structure in both titles) and texturally of “Sexy Sadie” to make me think that it could work on the second disc of the White Album, although its title could be more directly linked to the single line in Pink Floyd’s song, “Breathe,” where the title is actually sung.

Even the most amicable of break-ups will require a time apart to lick wounds, gain perspective, and sort out the complex feelings that come with a relationship, amplified by its demise. “Run Rabbit Run” explores this space in a relationship, when our speaker laments the speed in which his former partner has taken refuge after their break-up, sharing his tender side that he is not happy with the new arrangement. Referring to her as a rabbit, then, hints at the resentment toward her that he feels at the same time assuming both parties are “reminding ourselves / How we love you so.” The song closes with asking her to come back around, in hopes that he might have some chance to learn how to treat her, reminding himself how he loves her so. The final line, “Everything is allowed,” gives this song a surprisingly open end and room for infinite interpretations of what exactly that means in light of the rest of the song. Your guess is as good as mine.

The video presented here (yes, we are still doing videos!) is from June 15, 2001, and it features a brief commentary on the collapse of Spongebath Records at the end, followed by a hearty stretch by Sam Baker.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ambition to Love

Unreleased Track

This is the only Fluid Ounces song I can name for sure to have never been demoed, meaning that the live mp3 presented here, another from July 3rd, 2004, is the only recording of this song that exists (too bad it is mired so badly by crowd noise). Perhaps the fact that it was never demoed is why it was never explored in a full band setting.

The song itself is the first to come from Seth Timbs in his jaded view of love in the wake of his first marriage. Singing, “When people talk about falling in love / They just make up shit,” is his most singular assault on love that he will ever make in the canon, as all the songs to come before and even after it remain unwavering (well, there are a couple of exceptions mentioned below) in their hope for a brighter future. I would wager that the reason this song was never played again is that Seth chose instead, upon further reflection, to retract this statement, in lieu of “To Cure the Lonely” and “Private Hell,” which focus more on individual solitude than outright despair about love itself.

It should also be noted that this song is a stark contrast to “Come On Out,” which also debuted that night as the opposite extreme of “Ambition to Love,” a romantic invitation, and it would become a standard in full-band sets, going so far as to earn a space on Instant Nostalgia. “Ambition to Love” sounds much more like a standard Fluid Ounces song than “Come On Out,” which may have been another reason to discard it in lieu of a more experimental song.

Whatever the reason, I’m thankful to have documented this show and this song for the rest of us to consume.

Download Live mp3

Thursday, January 3, 2008


From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1

More ambiguously religious than other songs on Big Notebook, “Birdbrained” reflects the theme of coming of age and coming to terms with one’s religious upbringing in the form of discussing Darwinism and evolution. Paradoxically, this song discusses both the evolution and devolution of mankind, as our speaker refers to his youth as swimming in, “Edens of amoebas on a planet same as this one / With the spineless and the miserable,” only to stand up on dry land in the form of a bird and, “join the upright and the uptight and the miserable.” The song then paints a bleak portrait of living in a disillusioned state, both in religious terms, in which the speaker is “gnarled like Nicodemus,” and in need of some counsel, asking for it outright, and in a broader sense, stating in the bridge that, “the world’s a worm and the beak at best.” The speaker then describes his wings molting off, implying a further evolution into something else, coupling this image with a “sense of dread,” and “waddl[ing] in disgrace, back towards my nesting place / Join the spineless and the timeless and the cynical.”

This intense moment of Big Notebook is easily one of the darkest on the record, with the only glimmer of hope hooking on the end of two refrains and stating, “The world is old and still naïve, the way I try to be,” which is both a reference back to Evolution and to a person aging and coming to terms with his coming of age.

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