Life is Cruel, Let’s Be Friends
Sy Somebody is the nom de plume of Chicago musician Casey Meehan, the founder of Chicago Mixtape and this is his début under that name. The project emerged out of a conversation Meehan had with David Vandervelde, a member of Father John Misty’s band, backstage at Lollapalooza a few years ago on his birthday, which led to Vandervele introducing Meehan to the rest of Misty’s band. In a lot of ways, reading through the promo materials of this album, it’s clear that fate had intervened. Meehan and Vandervelde had met through Jay Bennett’s (RIP) Pieholden Suite Studios in Chicago. And after exchanging demos with Vandervelde and other members of Misty’s band, who play something like ‘a million shows a year,’ they hooked up at New Monkey Studios in Van Nuys, California; New Monkey was owned by Emmitt Smith (RIP). See what I mean?
Meehan says that his demos became the canvas for a larger band. Kaanan Tupper (Jeremy Enigk, The Intelligence), Frank Lenz (Richard Swift, the Weepies, Pedro The Lion, etc.) were the drummers. Mr. Jimmy (Bobbie Bare Jr., etc.) played synths. Maceo Haymes (The O’My’s, Chance the Rapper) and Vivian McConnell (Santah) provided vocal harmonies. And suddenly, in Meehan’s words ‘then I painted over that and then we peeled back a bunch of layers in certain spots and painted a little more. Then, slowly this 3 dimensional thing started to appear, like one of those magic eye posters.’
Sy Somebody has produced an amazing album, drawing on, to my ears, the goth of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Mark Lanegan, as well as Echo & The Bunnymen. Vocally, his voice is very familiar, and I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out who it is he sounds like, and it finally hit me driving home last night, Steve Kilbey of The Church. But, just because Sy Somebody’s influences are clear doesn’t mean this album is any less original.
Let’s Be Friends is a 10-song cycle, about paranoia, escapism, and mystery. Me, I was hooked about halfway through the first track, ‘Take the Money,’ where Meehan takes the Adam & Eve story and re-imagines it as a sort of Bonnie & Clyde bank robbery. It is a lush, orchestral track, largely due to those backing vocals of McConnell and a horn that kind of comes out of nowhere. I felt like I had met a long-lost friend, though it was the first time I heard the track.
We move from that American gothic into the more straight-forward ‘Idle Minds,’ driven by a steady and crisp beat and a chugging bass line, complete with guitars and synths. Lyrically, Meehan is exploring the boredom of both life and society and the stupid mistakes we make as individuals and a society. Remember what you did before your smart phone distracted you at all moments? Remember when you couldn’t go on social media and make an arse of yourself when you’re bored? Yeah, me neither.
I am a big fan of ‘Ready to Go,’ which is a slow-burner, about Meehan’s relocation from Chicago to rural Maine, paralleled by Elon Musk’s dreams of going to space. I love this track for this sci-fi guitar lick that pops up between verses and is then buried down below Meehan’s voice in the mix, and then, in the middle of the song, the guitar chords slowly build up, in an almost single string pluck, as the synth stays a steady partner.
‘High and Mighty’ is another highlight, exploding out of a synth riff with guitars, bass, layered vocals (I think) and an insistent beat. Lyrically, this one is perhaps Meehan’s most, uh, interesting, as he imagines a female snake-charmer at a haunted country club, literally feeding upon the guests she has made catatonic with her skills.
One can only hope that Sy Somebody and his collaborators get back together soon.
Also, if y’all are in Chicago, Sy Somebody are hosting a launch of sorts at The Hideout this Saturday, 22 February. Go check ’em out if you can.