I miss all the movement…
Cries of discontent mixed with strands and strands of absolute, do-or-die clinching hope, The Brave Little Abacus throw it all in and then some on Masked Dancers: Concern in So Many Things You Forget Where You Are. A New England band originating in the late 2000s that more-or-less started as a single teenager in a basement, The Brave Little Abacus stand out for their inventive, colourful brand of Midwest Emo that refuses to be boxed in. On their debut album, the group, headed by drummer/guitarist Adam Demirjian who plays alongside keyboardist Zach Onett and bassist Andrew Ryan, work their youthful spirit and experience into a masterful exploration of movement and emotion.
At its beating heart, Masked Dancers is concerned with growth and moving on, taking an incredibly optimistic yet melancholic outlook on maturation. Even within the first minute of the album, Adam introduces an ‘animal kingdom’ and a comfortable home within the trees, surrounded by a ‘sky that seldom sees its audience.’ It’s within this metaphor that the initial ideas of insignificance are developed. ‘I want to melt into the pavement’ Adam sings, defeated it seems. But, with a reinvigorated sense of energy, the tone of I See It Too shifts completely as the math-rock-esque guitar storms through, ‘in your warmth I’m screaming if only for a minute … new, sifted through and through.’ The complex instrumentation and regular shifts in tone reflect the impermanence of our own perspectives, the idea that we always have room to move and change and learn. Finally, toward the end of the song, at the 8 minute mark, a gloriously triumphant keyboard begins to play a sequence of colourful notes that breathe new life into the song, especially when the entire band joins in moments later for a victory lap of sorts. And this is only the first track.
The sampling on the album, in the form of dialogue from the acclaimed anime film Akira, also a favourite of mine, complements the music in a very organic way. This is due not only to the similar thematic discussions of disaffectedness and rebirth present in the film, but also to the similar voices of Tetsuo from the film and Adam himself. Take for example, He Never Even Existed in the First Place, which repeats one of Tetsuo’s anguished screams, and compare it to some of the singing techniques used by Adam throughout the record. It becomes hard to distinguish between the two voices and they almost meld together as one, combining for better dramatic effect. This unorthodox method of singing is best-presented in the most traditional single-like track of the record, Map of the Stars, which shines for its understated lyrics and standout drumming in a story of bedroom dreams and warm nights. The simple, aching, ‘I wanna see you before I tell mum and dad how much I see in this,’ works on so many levels and follows into a rhythmic instrumental bridge led by some excellent, erratic drumming that remains staple to the rest of the song.
After, the two part Waiting For Your Return, Like Running Backwards and (Through Hallways) again excel for their poetic and imaginative lyrics. ‘As if you weren’t adored you leave this place, my life, this world,’ opens up to a bubbly vocal sample and a cosy ‘yeah!’ that says a lot more than just one word. As the songs transition between each other, an incredibly upbeat atmosphere is established, reinforced with the use of an unexpected horn segment. The album then reaches its apex on ‘Born Again So Many Times You Forget You Are,’ a 10 minute journey through countless personal anecdotes and times passed. It’s here the band is most in unison, sounding both frantic and energetic but also understanding and complementing one another. It’s also on this song that the album becomes heaviest, containing poignant meditations on infinity, ‘If this is all never-ending, than why am I ending?’ and a devastating bridge backed by a beautifully somber synthesiser progression with too many good one-liners to list. The LP ends with ‘It’s a Lot It’s Seamless,’ which perfectly sums up the ideas and stories of the rest of the album, embodying the overarching hope-defeat dichotomy. The way Adam yells, ‘Running towards a great descent, seeing your face, seeing my death // it won’t be long!’ feels incredibly cathartic and grand in a final moment of acceptance.
What makes Masked Dancers special to me is the way it teaches and guides in a completely non-linear fashion. It excels in storytelling and the sharing of narratives, remaining incredibly personal and cryptic, yet also largely relatable nonetheless. Most of all, it reminds us of the importance of feeling. No matter where it lies on the spectrum of human emotion. No matter how little or how much. The simple act of reacting to the world around us and not shutting ourselves in. The screams to the sky and the fleeting thoughts in our small brains and everything in between.
It feels good to feel.