It was almost two years ago to the day that my parents told me about a band that I HAD to see, David Wax Museum. For various reasons I missed their shows when they were near. I finally saw them at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn and was blow away. I have only seen them once since and was equally impressed. That is the show I picked up Everything is Saved. I think it is fitting that this will be my first true album review on Those Who Dig.
Editors Note: This is NOT the first time I have listened to this album. Just figured I’d get that out of the way.
Here is the album embedded from David Wax Museum’s Bandcamp Page.
[bandcamp album=2146311608 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=9E2424 size=grande transparent=true]
Alright let’s get to it. Needle down. I think I would be hard to find a side one, track one I anticipate more than Born With a Broken Heart. This track is a big reason why I chose this album over the also great Knock Knock Get Up. The first sound you hear is upbeat clapping, followed very closely behind by a fast strumming Leona. This is one of those songs that you can hear once, and sing forever. Nothing more to say about it, other than it is great. I’ve chosen to include the official video here. Enjoy.
Next up is Unfruitful. A striking change of pace at first as haunting, gypsy influenced piano and accordion set an ominous tone. When the vocals hit they are duel sung by Sue and David, with David’s in the lead. They are not angry, but sung with strength and defiance. There is an interesting distorted electric guitar riff floating in and out. This is possibly my least favorite track on the album. Completely listenable, but it is surrounded with so much greatness that it feels a bit flat. I have to admit I’m a sucker for the line “Tunnels in the same apple.” That is a great line. And the song ends very strongly as well. By the time the “La la las” kick in it has really hit its stride.
Once again there is a temp drop-off. Unfruitful builds through the duration and Look What You’ve Done to Me starts with a single softly strum-picked acoustic guitar before the quite piano and electric guitar join it. Look What You’ve Done to Me is a great change of pace song in this spot though. The chorus “Look what you’ve done to me” is both singable and relatable. The instrumental breaks between chorus and verse get a little abstract and build in volume and texture. Just before the vocals of the second verse return all that texture fades back to the original instrumentation. The verses are short and poignant, leading quickly back to the singable chorus.
No tempo drop-off here, Yes, Maria, Yes gets right back to the up-tempo Mexican folk inspired soul heard in Born With A Broken Heart and will similarly lodge itself in your memory.
“Your broken taillight eyes, your broken taillight eyes, your broken taillight eyes I get too near I get too near.”
Listening to this track it is not difficult to see where past critics have come up with descriptions like “pure, irresistible joy”. Every piece of instrumentation does its job and David is superb delivering the punchy verses before the vocals by committee bring home the hook. Judge for yourself, but in my opinion this is about as good as it gets. Official video below.
Side A ends with That’s Not True, a mid tempo song about a failed relationship. I’ve always been a big fan of this song too. I had to think long and hard what it is that draws me to it. I think I can describe it in the dramatic drop between the long, building instrumental section, and the final verse. The instrumental is crafted to well that you don’t realize how much the intensity and volume have increased until it drops back to David’s tender vocals.
Side B starts with my favorite slow song on the album. Lavender Street is simple. The most prominant instrument is the piano playing chords on the quarter note. For me the strength in this song is in the lyrics. Pleading for a lost love to return to a place of happy memories is not a new motif, but you really believe Dave when he sings “Please come back to Lavender Street.” You can imagine a house, once filled with love and happy memories, laying dark and cold with him sitting lonely inside pining for days gone by. It actually gives me chills to think about it.
Si Te Vas is a quick, accordion heavy bridge. Bringing back the gypsy inspired feelings of Unfruitful this song knows exactly how long to play to hold the listeners attention. This track won’t be finding its way into many mixed CDs or playlists, but thinking of the Album (with a capital “A”) it does a great job of reintroducing the accordion, which is absent from the last track on Side A, and the first on Side B.
Night Was A Car is another lyrical win. The line “You wear a dress, I’m hoping that’s all, I promise not to be sad when I see it fall” serves as a playful jab towards the subject. As the chorus reminds us though the protagonist in this song isn’t coming up Milhouse. “You say you need me but that is half wrong, you just need me to need you all night long.” The TV show How I Met Your Mother covers this topic with an episode about “being on the hook”, or keeping someone around as a way to make yourself feel better.
Chuchumbè is an original arrangement of a Mexican Folk song. I had to work a bit harder than expected to track down some information about this song. It turns out that this song was the first to be prohibited by the Spanish Inquisition in 1766. Actually pretty interesting stuff. I’m citing this paper I found online. 53 pages, I just skimmed it really, but if you are interested there is some cool history in here. I love this track too. DWM clearly adds their own jabs, but really seem to keep with the tradition of the genre.
Here is an excerpt from the book Musical Ritual in Mexico City: From the Aztec to NAFTA.
“… that breakdown in social control is well represented in the music of the era. While the criollos collected in covert meetings to discuss Enlightenment ideal, the lower classes gathered to perform forbidden dances and sing illegal tunes. People had been using song lyrics to get around offical forms of censorship since the tio of Cortez. The songs of Bourbon-era New Span elevated musical subversion to an art form. The “Chuchumbè”, the most famous of these subversive songs, starts as follows.”
A Mercedarian monk
Is standing in the corner
Lifting his habit,
Showing the Chuchumbè.
David Wax Museum stick with these defiant and lewd musical roots with their additions. The chorus is strong and catchy.
“Things go well or things go bad, Chuchumbè will levitate. Things go well or things go bad Chuchumbè will set you straight.”
And they sprinkle in other clever and controversial lines which really helps to round out this album.
“Baby why don’t we make like Jesus’ feet, one on top of the other a nail makes us complete.”
Staggering and All is a quick latin influenced fiddle tune. It doesn’t take long to start tapping your toe to the main melody. The vocals, in Spanish, will make you think of Mariachi and margaritas. The trumpet, and everything else in this sub two minute track all work perfectly until their chaotic end. The track concludes with a abstract string heavy somber fade to black.
As The Least I Can Do fires up you immediately understand the strange end of Staggering and All. Another return to a lyric heavy, slow track. The lead guitar is slightly overdriven and crunchy (I thought it was my turntable, but the digital copy confirms the intent.) The solo vocals of Dave are again spot on. He really does this well. “I don’t see my sisters that much cuz of statelines and cattle guards. I don’t see my parents that much mama’s health makes traveling hard.” When Sue jumps in to sing the chorus she does so with predictable tact. She then flexes her fiddling muscle with a beautiful little half sole which she splits with the guitar. “I don’t listen to my old records that much, something different in the way they sound. I don’t swallow my pride that much, there isn’t much left to get down.” Well played you guys.
Wait For Me brings this whole thing to an end. A familiar solo acoustic guitar gets us going. It drops when David starts to sing. His voice is soothing. This song doesn’t try to do much more than let you down slowly. Ironically it was the fast songs that first drew me to David Wax Museum, but after seeing two live shows I have developed a strong appreciation of their entire catalog. This track isn’t particularly strong, but it is a great way to close out the album.
In conclusion three questions answered…
If you were going to listen to only three of these tracks. Which? Born With a Broken Heart, Yes Maria Yes, Lavender Street (that was tough.)
Side A or Side B? Also tough. Two of my three favorite tracks are on side A, but I think I’m going with Side B, it really flows nicely, and every song is very solid.
Your arbitrary rating? On a scale from 1 to Tom Waits, this is at least a Bob Dylan.