Monday, March 31, 2008


From Foreign Legion

Ahh, that playful feeling of just embarking on a relationship, the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie, yadda yadda yadda.

If you catch this song listening to Foreign Legion, you find it right at the “elbow” of the record, with it the turning point of the whole record. All the sad and depressing songs have come before, culminating in “The Last Thing,” and just a breath after its final chord, this song opens in the elated, “My God, she’s cute…” With that, our protagonist is free from all that has shackled him before, free to run and live and pursue. All the songs that follow are of a happier fair on the record, focusing on love and happiness.

I always saw that if this song was next in succession after “The Last Thing,” then followed by a succession of other songs, its final counterpoint would be “To Cure the Lonely,” unified mostly by the lyrical reference to “puppy love” in both songs. While “Smitten” invites the newfound lover to forget the puppy lovers et al from her past, “Lonely,” a few years and thousands of miles later, undoubtedly referring to the demise of the same relationship, says, “Your puppy love grows up/ but can’t leave its home/ and remains just a flightless bird.”

Live, this song was always dedicated to the person about whom it was written, sometimes being played just after “The Last Thing,” with Seth Timbs introducing it by saying, “Here’s a song about a radically different subject.” It was permanently replaced in live sets by “Make It Through,” and the dedications then shifted to “Crazies,” which debuted a few shows later.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

With words written by Seth Timbs and music by Brian Rogers, this cozy little rumba cools things down a bit on In the New Old-Fashioned Way just before the last two songs bring the record to its epic climax and coda.

The essence of this song is time. It centers around two people sitting across from each other in conversation, and I’ve found equal weight in two interpretations of the setting described—perhaps because I’ve been in both and thought of this song in each case.

On the on hand, two people are deeply in love with each other, and they are enjoying each other’s company so much that they never want the conversation to end as they are discovering new things about each other and themselves as they really talk things over, wishing that they could just stay and occupy that space and time forever.

The other interpretation is more likely, given the tone of the whole record, the song’s placement on said record, and the pensive performance of the vocals that almost keep it from being something else. In this case, the song is about two lovers whose relationship has reached its bitter end. They know that once that conversation ends, that’s it. They get up from that table and walk out of each other’s lives (it does reference sleeping in separate beds) forever, and they are holding on to that last moment when they hesitate. Time spins out of control as they wish to dwell there forever, but they know that the relationship is over and that it’s time to move on.

My interpretations have been shot down enough by Seth to expect that there’s some separate explanation from what I’ve provided that makes all the more sense, and I always welcome what actually inspired the story. But as I post this one, I’ll cop out just a little and use Robert Browning’s quote on his own poetry that has been in the back of my head since I began this project, “When I wrote that, only God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows.” Sorry to throw two cop-outs at you in a row like this.

Here's a video from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which looks the perfect lounge setting for this song.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

40 Pints to Brooklyn

From Awkward Middle Phase: Seth Timbs' Home Demos, Volume One

This song is one of the few among the throngs that has never been played live and only exists in demo form. I think this is important for this song, as its perfect performance is captured here in this home recording, and, in this commentator’s opinion, it remains too perfect to be either re-recorded or performed live.

This most epic of home recordings incorporates foreign language tapes—presumably Japanese—as well as words spoken by Seth Timbs as the band performed on a road trip of sorts through New York and Virginia in 2001, part of which I mentioned in the “Record Stack” entry. In light of the Remember Cassettes demos that have been released, this recording is a stepping stone on the way to Instant Nostalgia, showing just how far Seth has come in the realm of home recordings. I mentioned this one specifically to him as a fine example of his home recording prowess, but he dismissed it as sounding like it was recorded in the Well of Souls (referring to the hiss of home recordings and how it sounds like a snake pit).

Still, the blend of guitars and synth and miscellaneous recorded elements (again, used much more effectively than they were on the earlier demos), making for a strangely beautiful song that I have no idea what it’s about. Brooklyn? Beer? New York City and/or road trips? Probably. Girls, somehow? Very likely. How that ties into the climactic refrain of, “All in good time,” has left this song in the “question mark” stack for this blog since pretty early on. I am nearing the end and forced to write about some of these, so maybe somebody can shed some light on this one.

To that I’ll add a little bit about the process of writing this blog, and that’s to add that, hands down, the most difficult songs to write about have been the unreleased tracks and the Awkard Middle Phase tunes I’d never heard played live. The rest have been played over and over again in my car or at my home for years. I’ve had plenty of time to digest those. I spent forever trying to work on “Rest Stop” and some others, finally just letting them go with what I’d written, hoping for something a little more epic for each one. I guess they can’t all be “Sugar Mama,” now can they?

Monday, March 24, 2008


Unreleased Track

This most epic of Fluid Ounces’ epic rock songs is a piano-less answer to the “shock and awe” campaign launched by George W. Bush in 2003, though the song came much later. To this I’ll add that this song rocks, and I mean it really ROCKS. It starts with its riff, and then it kicks in with more sheer power than you’ve ever heard in a Fluid Ounces song. The drums and guitars are blinding through the loud choruses and solos before its finger-picked acoustic guitar outro, laden with feedback as a B-52 flies off into the sunset. Realizing that this is the heaviest rock song in the Fluid Ounces catalog, it proves how diverse Seth Timbs is in his styles and how effectively he can move from piano pop to Smashing Pumpkins.

The subject matter of this song is atypical for Seth Timbs, reaching into political commentary (thus making a Smashing Pumpkins comparison seem to fall short). The song itself is about an airplane pilot and a person launching bombs (a “bombardier”) as they fly over enemy territory. You imagine them in different compartments of their large plane, filled to the brim with bombs, unable to see each other as they talk back and forth. In their faceless conversation, we hear about the facelessness of modern warfare, dropping bombs on men and women and then flying away to safety—“just pull the switch and run”—without really experiencing the bleak consequences as the enemy becomes so faceless.

This song was only played two or three times before it was shelved, and all the band would ever say about it was that it needed to be “re-tooled” before they would play it again. I seriously can’t imagine what could be done to make this raw rock song any better, though they may have wished to make it sound more like a Fluid Ounces song or just shorten it. It never re-surfaced though, with the band staying true to form and choosing to work up new material instead of re-treading old songs. When I heard that Seth’s next songwriting project would be entirely guitar-based, it immediately crossed my mind that “Bombardier” would make a comeback. But when Hot New Singles took shape, it was obvious that it would fit in less there than it did with Fluid Ounces.

So on the shelf it remains, and the best I can offer is the mp3 of the demo.

Download mp3

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Paperweight Machine

From The Whole Shebang

In the tradition of “Record Stack,” “Paperweight Machine” draws heavily on Eastern European grooves. But whereas “Record Stack” is one of the easier Fluid Ounces songs to play, every member to whom I’ve talked mentions this as one of the most difficult Fluid Ounces songs. I can’t help but wonder if that has led to the curious evolution for the song, getting faster and faster over the span of live performances since its debut in December, 2000, at Sebastian’s. The demo for it was pretty slow, and it had grown faster by the time the Sam/Trev/Doug/Seth line-up worked it up in summer of 2001 (as you can see from the video from the Boro on July 7, 2001—which begins with Doug Payne paying tribute to a spider crawling on his amp). When I heard the song as the opener on The Whole Shebang, along with noticing that it sounded like something Matt Mahaffey would have produced, was that this song had reached new roaring heights with this light-footed tempo. The final line-up would maintain this tempo and eventually speed it up a little more as they grew more comfortable with its difficult music (as you can hear in the live mp3 below from December 9, 2005).

I have thought for the past few years that The Whole Shebang was a couple of tracks short of being good enough to stand alongside the other CDs. There were just too many good tracks that I knew were written that could have cohesively fit on the record and made it soar all the more. The most glaring thing to me was the choice of “Paperweight Machine” as the opening track. I always felt that “Amount to Something” or “Mountain Man from Mole Hill” would have been the perfect track to say “hello” and introduce the record, leaving “Paperweight” to come in right after and take things up a notch from there. It works well enough the way it is, but that’s one change I would have made if I were in a position to be asked about such things when this record was made.

Download Live mp3

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kept Alive by Science

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

“Unfortunately, he was kept alive by science and the drugs of men,” the song opens.



How sad of a life can one person live that it should be said it’s unfortunate that he was kept alive? Or is it unfortunate that science is keeping him alive instead of giving him a natural death? Either way, strictly in terms of mood, Big Notebook hits bottom with this eulogy of sorts, finally bringing the most down-tempo music to the darkest of subjects: the end of life. It always makes me think of gray autumn skies with bare trees just after all the leaves have fallen.

The song keeps the “he” in this story a mystery, but I always imagine it being a father figure of some sorts to our speaker as he prepares for the person’s final exit. The song’s somber tone leads to desperation, making it easy to picture the speaker trying to hold back tears, regardless the reason those tears are there. This is one song I like to keep mired in ambiguity, like most of them on Big Notebook, as it then can lend itself to whatever I'm feeling. A bad day at work? It makes me feel better somehow. There's just something in the way he sings, "Unfortunately," that makes me feel.

People argued that “Daddy Scruff” was the song on Big Notebook to establish the band as something more than a simple piano pop band when I suggested the CD would have been better without that song. I would now submit that this song is both the better song and the one to really show the listener the depth of the band.

A Comment on the New Demo Releases

Seth Timbs has graciously gifted us ravenous fans with a new group of demos from his home collection, this time focusing on material from 1990-1996. Although they are not quite set up for order just yet, you can read the track listing and Seth’s liner notes for them here. I will post a link to notify you when the demos are available for purchase. I had originally planned to include all twenty-four tracks here in this blog, but I have decided that since only the tunes that were features on Big Notebook for Easy Piano were actually performed by the band Fluid Ounces that I will not include them. I have created a label for all the songs, but I have not altered the actual entries.

On another note, it’s good to be back for the final stretch with this blog. I am going to attempt to post three times per week again to help re-energize our readership after the hiatus, so that means you can expect about six more weeks before I run out of songs.

Purchase Fluid Ounces mp3s Directly from the Band!