Mike Amari and Sarah Fimm want you to make a commitment to get out to the Lounge at BackStage Productions (BSP) in Kingston on at least one Tuesday night in March. It is the right thing to do. The reasons are many and compelling. Amari is probably best-known to local music fans as the drummer with Shana Falana, the exceptional ambient songwriter and multimedia performer. He fronts his own, more rustic group, Lovesick, and plays out on occasion as a solo performer. With an apparently insatiable appetite for involvement, Amari also books the lively, contentiously eclectic Tuesday night Revue series at BSP. He is, in short and on a number of levels, one of the real reasons for optimism regarding the Hudson Valley music scene.
In the month of March, Mike turns the reins of the Revue over to well-known singer/songwriter and artist Sarah Fimm, who pursues much the same course of musical diversity in the booking. The difference is that, for March, the Revue is reinvented as a fundraising series, with half of all proceeds from each Tuesday going to different causes. Proceeds from the March 6 debut will go toward the International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. On March 13, it’s the MARK Project, an organization dedicated to providing housing programs, economic development and technical assistance services to towns in the central Catskills region. The beneficiary of the March 20 show will be the Woodstock Film Festival. March 27 details will be provided soon.
The first and, really, the only problem that I have the band You Won’t is what happens when you try to form a possessive of its name. You Won’t’s debut CD, Skeptic Goodbye, is a winning, literate indie affair that recalls the folkier side of the Elephant 6 scene – i.e., Neutral Milk Hotel. And like that band (whose influence is ascendant in the indie world these days), You Won’t manages to wring a surprising amount of sonic and textural interest out of its sparse instrumentation and folk-template songs. Much of this is due to the odd behavior of drummer/producer Raky Sastri: not only his unorthodox preferences regarding things to hit and to hit with, but also his lo-fi production moves and his predilection for jumpy stop-start grooves that punch up the nervous energy of Josh Arnoudse’s songs.
On the cover of Skeptic Goodbye, an injured mime stares us down. His neck is in a brace, his arm is in a sling and he stands alone in a field with the aid of a single crutch – no clowns in sight. Rarely have I seen an album cover that expresses the sensibility of a lyricist quite so well. Arnoudse’s touch is light, but his take is heavy. Most of these songs express a breezy world-weariness, disillusionment and crisis of conscience. Quests for purpose and connection, or even for a viable modern self, end pretty consistently in tragicomic defeat: Boy, we could have been someone if there were anyone to be!
Like the hurt mime, American identity in the new millennium is pictured as a failing act; the folks in these songs learn that they are not unique, irreducible snowflake selves after all, but rather rickety socioeconomic constructions, weak of conscience, insulated from their own complicity and falling apart here at the end of empire. If all this sounds preachy, it is a credit to Arnoudse’s fresh voice that it really doesn’t come off that way. It comes off as good-humored, smart and tuneful self-interrogation that produces some disturbing conclusions.
The best expression of this comes in the album’s sprightly, herky-jerky opening track, “Three-Car Garage,” a likely single on account of You Won’t’s most buoyant and memorable chorus (indeed, one of few actual choruses on the album). In the extended third verse, a lyric that has thus far been more suggestive than specific suddenly hits a vein of potent, moving clarity. It is Arnoudse’s most accessible articulation of the young American’s paradox: If you are smart, educated and conscientious enough, it is quite possible to deconstruct your own identity down to nothing but a few electronic devices and stock consumer experiences and hollow rites of passage.
“I’ve been brought up clean and organized/I’ve been each December satisfied/I’ve had wishes granted none denied/I’ve been flown down South and Disneyfied/I’ve sailed 20 seas of deep denial/On a million frequent-flyer miles/Ran a gauntlet built of grocery aisles…/Tell me are you the same as me?/Did you pay your dues in Little League?/Did you wash your hands of blood and breed/And stumble back in times of need?/You are clever imitation mined/From photographs and DVDs/You are subtle repetition tied/To 32-inch plasma screens.”
The parallelism of the verse, its theme and its melodic shape all distinctly recall the George Harrison-sung verses of the Traveling Wilburys hit, “Handle Me with Care.” That is oddly appropriate, as both songs are, in their own ways, the complaints of privilege.
Come see You Won’t inaugurate the Sarah Fimm-curated March Revue Series at BackStage Studio Productions in Kingston on Tuesday, March 6. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in the Uptown Stockade District. See http://livelive.us for more information about the Revue series. See www.youwontyouwont.com for more information about the band.