After the splintering of my beloved Gatsbys American Dream, its members went off to participate in a variety of diverse projects – Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, Search/Rescue and Places and Numbers, to name a few – but only a handful of those acts ever released any actual albums, and only one of those releases prominently featured Gatsbys’ vocalist Nic Newsham:1 Princess Dinosaur’s A Goldfish and his Friends.
Prior to the release of A Goldfish and his Friends in 2010, it seemed as though we had lost the literal voice of Gatsbys American Dream – a vocalist with a tremendous amount of character, both on the stage and in the studio – and this was a huge blow to a scene that needs all the original voices that it can find. So when Princess Dinosaur and their début EP popped into existence, I – along with many others – became very, very excited. As it turns out, that excitement was well founded. While I was drawn to the project by Newsham, I could not ignore the contributions of the band’s founder, Nick Vombrack (formerly of Dr Manhattan). He deserves a heaping pile of credit for putting together such a brilliant combination of instrumental arrangements, and for doing so in a unique way: despite what the sounds of their previous acts might have suggested, Princess Dinosaur was formed as an essentially acoustic band. So yeah, go figure.
Over the course of the EP, no song carries more weight than ‘Hares and Bears.’ It is clearly the best song to come from the Princess Dinosaur project, and I would hazard that it is one of the best songs of the last few years. The big secret of this song, is that while it appears to be built around Newsham’s vocals and an acoustic guitar (much like the EP in its entirety), that statement is only half true at best. Though it was likely written in the opposite order, ‘Hares and Bears’ is built around Newsham’s vocals, and then his lyrics, and then, as it were, the bass. Having the bass be the primary instrument on any track is quite unusual, but on an acoustic one it is downright bizarre. And yet, it is the bass groove that makes this song work. ‘Hares and Bears’ is driven by equal parts rolling rhythm, expertly picked guitars, and passionately delivered melodies that show every hint of being carefully and masterfully constructed to deliver the maximum degree of awesomeness, but it’s the bass that holds it all together.
Like most of A Goldfish and his Friends, ‘Hares and Bears’ is rife with lines that are wonderfully conflicted;2 in fact, the whole album is about the inherently conflicted nature of relationships and their tendency to change, and often enough deteriorate, with maturity. What really sets ‘Hares and Bears’ apart is the melding of these beautifully crafted lyrics and the equally impressive melodies. Sometimes a song and its lyrics are able to strike precise moods and elucidate shockingly specific thoughts that push the listening experience to unique places. ‘Hares and Bears’ is exactly such a song. As Newsham sings, “She loves without seeing, and I think that’s crazy. ‘Cause I need a little more than that. Puppy love is fucking dumb, I was fourteen once, I remember,” we get something that is exceedingly rare in modern/popular music: an honest and accurate depiction of human relations. When guitar and bass are added to the equation, you can’t help but feel moved.
‘Hares and Bears’ does not offer an idealized version of romance, there is no sanctification of the object of one’s love, and yet, there’s no demonizing of an ex or any verbal assaults on a failed partner: she’s a hopeless romantic, he’s a realist, and in light of their differences and the separation afflicting them, he’s mad. And so he calls her and her ideals “dumb.” He implies that she, and her blind romanticism, are childish. It’s not a particularly poetic criticism, nor is it particularly scathing, but it’s an astonishingly accurate representation of what many people go through. For better or worse, this is actually what it sounds like when adults are forced to deal with the weight of actual human relationships, inevitably finding themselves struggling to reconcile the ideal and the real. Newsham’s honesty speaks to the challenges of growing up and the very real possibility that you and the people around you will mature at differing speeds. If you haven’t thought or said something along the lines of that lyric in your life, then I’m fairly certain that you’ve heard something like it from one of your friends (or you’re fifteen). That Newsham is able to relate something so fundamentally personal in a complex rhythm over a strong melody is remarkable, and it’s reason enough to check that album out.
To be fair, I’m sure that some of you may note that there is a hint of bitter-old-man-ness in that line,3 which is true. There is some bitterness in there – but more than anything, there’s just a crushing sense of honesty. You can read it in the lyrics and you can hear it in Newsham’s stellar performance. Songs that offer such strong lyrical content in conjunction with excellent instrumentation, arrangement and melody are rare. So enjoy ‘Hares and Bears’ – and the rest of A Goldfish and his Friends, for that matter – because songs this honest don’t come around all that often.
(You can download A Goldfish and his Friends here for however much you please.)
1. Detail oriented folks will note that Newsham made an appearance as King Malka on Forgive Durden’s Razia’s Shadow: A Musical, but since that appearance was limited to a few verses on one single track, I’d hesitate to say that the release showcased Newsham.
2. For example, “I’m a silver tongue lashing, a pretty hate machine” from ‘Oak Island,’ a song which likely takes its name from a fascinating urban legend that – once upon a time – inspired a short story from your humble narrator.
3. I’m sure some of you out there are pointing to me and screaming, “You just like this because you’re a bitter old man!” To which I can only say, “I’m not that bitter or all that old…yet.”
This post originally appeared at Type In Stereo.