DISCOGRAPHY ORDERS PHOTOS LYRICS NEWS
by Jason Skipper
Notify Your Friends: Everything Ends is the unflinching new album from Paul Gonzenbach - former frontman of The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up – portraying the mercurial people who live at the fringes of our time, engaging with the temporal and fragile nature of human relationships, and hinting at the hopefulness that can come with understanding isolation.
Eight years have passed since Paul’s hiatus from The Jim Yoshii Pile-Up. After forming in 1997 in the Bay Area where Paul grew up, the band released three albums to critical acclaim, drawing comparisons to Interpol and Death Cab for Cutie, with Ben Gibbard naming them among his favorites. Over time the band steadily built a devoted following with national tours, radio airplay, and media spots in prominent venues. Along with their uniquely dynamic sound, a draw to the music was Paul’s clarion voice and intense lyrics, dealing with his own ventures into the darker corners of life. Of these songs, the San Francisco Weekly wrote, “Amid chiming guitars, wistful keys, and a toe-tapping beat, Gonzenbach's clear, expressive voice arches up and over the instruments, catching your breath in your throat.”
These characteristics have maintained on Notify Your Friends: Everything Ends. While creating these songs, Paul listened to bands like the Cure, early REM, and Bedhead, as well as Cat Power and Morrissey. He counts Anthony and the Johnsons and Nico Muhley among artists he appreciates for their song construction. Pulling from such a wide net, he draws a unique sound all his own. “I always try to stretch myself to try new things,” he says. “I’m always trying to subvert my own sound and surprise myself. But I also know that ultimately I will always sound like me.”
The album was composed in a way Paul describes as
“probably the opposite of how others do it.” After moving to Washington in 2005
and away from the collaborative process of his band
mates, he struggled to retrain himself to write alone but eventually found a
process that works. “Initially,” he says, “I write the first part on guitar or
piano, which I record right away. Then I add other instrumentation and write
lyrics, and record the next part.” From that point,
he tries to hear where the song needs to go, then writes and records the next
section. Ultimately, each instrument is completely arranged and recorded before
the next. “It’s probably a weird way to write,” he admits, “but it works
for me, in part, because it’s fast. Which is good, because
I’m impatient about music.”
The album was produced [name studio) in Seattle by Erik Blood, known for his work with Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, and The Moondoggies. For the studio recording, Paul called on friends and band mates from previous projects – including Josiah Feinberg and Shana Applewhite - and other musicians whom Erik recommended to play strings. Erik, himself an accomplished Seattle musician, plays on several parts as well.
From its symphonic opening to its quiet final breath, Notify Your Friends: Everything Ends is like walking through a gallery of intricately painted portraits. The songs are intermittently spare and labyrinthine, charged with ruminations on isolation and human connection. They are uniquely dynamic and architected in a way that mirrors human relationships - they build, unfold, fall apart, and come together, all in no set order. Many songs have steady undercurrents, textured with sonic detonations. There are numbers about people who, because of addiction, depression, or a self-destructive need for approval, find themselves alone. Certain songs address reclusion though substance abuse, as with the Joy Division-esque “Last Night’s Booze (with its chilling opening line “Some get the parade, and some get the ditch. I wouldn’t lie about that now”) and "Breaking Swells,” in which a person tries to forget last night’s party with red wine and valium. Other songs address literal escape, as with the self-imposed exile song “Slow on the Draw,” and technology, with “Muffles Every Sound,” a song about depression that progressively provides insight into the life of someone struggling with the disease. With chilling intimacy, these songs address these peoples’ lives at pivotal points when the bridge on which they were traveling towards their detachment has begun to collapse at their heels. Paul portrays people we know and can be at times, though might be too timid to engage with directly. But he takes them on at eye-level, with curiosity, anger, and empathy. “I wrote about what I want to know about,” he says, “things that are important to me or emotionally resonant. I might start with a premise for the situation the subject is in, and sometimes it goes somewhere and wraps up neatly, but more often than not it doesn’t get resolved because I feel most things in life don’t get wrapped up.”
Inability to arrive at closure – and the comfort in accepting this - is the subject of other songs. “Timid Hearts” describes a relationship that never began, and two people coming to terms with this, though deciding to remain close. “Words will always fail us,” Paul sings at the soaring ending. “Give me your timid heart anyway. Time will always laugh at us. Give me your timid heart anyway. There are not now and there will never be arms in the world to hold you tight enough. There is not now, and there will never be enough love to make you feel loved.” No one wants to be alone, but inevitably everyone is, and there is liberation in understanding this. The songs convey this both from a distance and from within.
Paul acknowledges that this understanding, and his ability to tangle with disparaging subjects from a realistic and even hopeful perspective, has come with age. Some songs are about reaching a certain point in life where one needs to make decisions and accept certain truths. They are songs, Paul says, he could not have written fifteen years ago, when his musical career began. The album at times feels like a life – or at least a period in a life – lived, and its closing songs are stunningly close to the bone. “Time Now for Ghosts” is about realizations wrought from reflections, ending with the title of the album as a refrain. In the closing song “A Young Man’s Game,” Paul describes the simultaneous need for and fear of connection, wistfully singing over his piano, “If you could see me on my own, you would wonder how I ever make it alone.” But, in seeing there is recognition, and thus contact. This album is about understanding and arrival, and its sonic singularity at once stands alone while also viscerally connecting.