It is always interesting when musicians return to previously released material for purposes of reflection and reinvention. A lens constructed by the components of time and experience can often serve as a novel tool with which nuances of theme and motivation can be productively and imaginatively reexamined.
Consider Kate Bush’s “Never Be Mine”, a deep cut found on The Sensual World, released in 1989. The song discloses the flurry of emotions and what-ifs that result from the final stages of a relationship. Bush’s ability to connect feeling with place and sensation is particularly absorbing: “They’re setting fire to the cornfields / As you’re taking me home / The smell of burning fields / Will now mean you and here”.
Bush revisits “Never Be Mine” over 20 years later on Director’s Cut, an album on which she returns to selections from both The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. Her voice has obviously aged, but instead of suggesting a lack of ideas or repetitiveness, it exponentially heightens the song’s emotional weight by substituting the participatory and activated – and, consequently, green and optimistic – sentiment of the original with solemn strokes of nostalgia and finality. Supported by the replacement of synthesizers with an unencumbered piano performance, certain verses – “That clumsy good-bye kiss could fool me / But I’m looking back over my shoulder / At you, happy without me” – and repetitions – “The thrill and the hurting” – end up packing so much more of a punch from this perspective.
This example sets an admittedly high bar. The incomparably eclectic and ambitious Kate Bush has taken decades to reflect on sweeping themes of love and relationships; of course, it will be good. However, are we to grant the same consideration to lesser-known artists who revisit their material not long after an initial release? Do they not run the risk of pretentiousness or self-importance by establishing their work as some sort of canon?
Saskatoon-based Close Talker, a highly engaging group that first surfaced in early 2013 with the LP Timbers, highlights how such efforts can become worthy of attention.
“Creature”, the classic banger that introduces Timbers, barges in with guns blazing. While the introductory reverb and concluding clamor most likely conform to the expectations of many for the first cut on an alt-rock band’s first album, the track broadly establishes structures of sequence and responsiveness by means of a seething baseline and a wicked riff.
Its lyrical opening is thought-provokingly abstruse when an attempt is made to discern to whom the description is applied: “I heard I heard you gave your life away / Such a such a filthy price to pay / It’s in my head it’s been there all along / That’s why I write such a simple song”. If it is assumed that the delivery is directed at someone else, the surrounding tempo and instrumentation convey snarling sentiments of indignation and exasperation. However, when the lyrics are associated with an inward gaze, it is hard to overlook confused gushes of frustration and inabilities to answer self-directed questions or to explain fully one’s own decisions. The song’s second verse, and the animate entity it describes, maintains this duality: “The air is cold I feel it on my skin / The bite is deep I feel it sinking in / The sky is dark I see no shadows / The creature runs through the prairie snow”.
Under a year later, Close Talker returned to “Creature” on the lesser-known EP, Slow Weather. The band’s second go-around is, given the EP’s title, obviously a more paced and profound engagement.
The reverb works much better here. Instead of presenting itself as a participant in clatter, it generates a sonorously contained space that better frames the intimate characteristics of with what the song grapples. It even proposes that these attempts at description and self-questioning might just – especially when the escalating reverb at the track’s conclusion is specifically considered – perpetually swirl and intensify with time; Will Quiring’s delivery is markedly more stirring in this design.
While the same emotions and questions remain with regards to recipient in the second approach to “Creature”, there is a sense of rawness and honesty here that is much harder to tease out of the original.
It gets even better. Found bookended – nearly dormant – between some of the final deliveries of the brief chorus – “And I feel like rushing home” – is, in the form of a couplet, the reinvention’s masterstroke: “Conversing on the phone / Don’t want to live life alone”. It is for all intents and purposes inaudible in the concluding moments of the version that opens Timbers, a decision that a listener might too easily chalk up to youthful and impatient noisiness. However, there is most likely, more significantly, a fear to vulnerably conclude with such an admission. The version on Slow Weather, consequently, proposes that there exists now a maturing readiness to admit and confront such feelings.
“Creature” sits as the first statement on a record that also features poignant summer jams – the three-punch combination of “By the Lake”, “Bonfire”, and “College” is addictive – and laudable introspective slow numbers; “To the Coast” sways wonderfully. Accordingly, its reappearance on Slow Weather suggests that the group has the necessary confidence to revisit its own first impression, conveying a willingness to tinker and to take chances – by, among other efforts, pillaging the treasure trove of the band’s own design – in order to evolve artistically.
Patience and quiet pragmatism are what position Close Talker as one of the most engaging emerging acts at work today. By not drastically veering from release to release and by, like Kate Bush, reengaging with the themes and emotions of their own material, the band’s members allow for the sustained growth of interest on the part of the listener and the acknowledgement of a depth of intelligence that their musicianship puts forward. With regards to “Creature”, it is quite exciting to hear how the band is able to set up part of its output not as some sort of to-Hell-with-what-happened-before teleology, but rather as a series shifting non-hierarchical plateaus that its members and instrumentation are able to visit and draw from as the proverbial next steps are plotted.
“Creature” – Close Talker
Music and lyrics by Close Talker
B. Stafford is the 14th Floor’s Annex-based music critic.