In “City of Glass,” the first story from Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy, protagonist Quinn writes detective stories under the pen name William Wilson, only to end up acting as a detective under the name Paul Auster. It’s a crazed postmodern mindfuck of identity questions that still only begins to scratch the surface of the increasingly disappearing line between self and creation. The story debuted in 1985 and since then, the Internet has only made separating the illusion of ‘me’ and some actual cold, hard reality even more confusing. As psychology continues to probe who we are, the elaborate constructions of self we create and analyze escalates alongside an emotionally-deadening amount of irony. It’s a slow burn that sits in the back and keeps growing until it becomes overpowering.
On a certain level, that problem permeates Grand Lake’s debut album, “Nevermint.” Musically, it’s disconcerting without ever being overwhelming. It’s filled with controlled blasts of experimentation, resisting the shoegaze noise of a band like Deerhunter, while never giving into the orchestrated indie pop of a Sufjan Stevens. It fights the battle between overstating and understating a certain maddening irritation, attempting to find some middle ground of truth.
Lyrically, frontman Caleb Nichols confronts the world with a reaction that oscillates between confrontation and self-defense. There’s a scramble to find the greatness illusion we’ve created inside of us. Opening track “Concrete Blonde on Blonde” anthemically addresses returning home over triumphant instrumentation while lyrically expressing distance from past identity or the other identity the past is trying to create for you. Nichols shouts: “Don’t straighten my crooked teeth/Don’t clean up my bloody mess/Don’t tell me you love me please/You fill my head with bees” over scrambled sounds and revealing the confusing moment between breaking the apron strings and establishing ourselves solid and whole somewhere new.
“The Stars are Not Projectors” shoots more generally, starting with a playful strike at a Modest Mouse song title and then moving outwards. Over the course of the song, Nichols seems intent on tearing down from both sides. Nothing is as big as it’s made to be, and Nichols reserves the only positive assertion for the mundane by telling someone, “You are a walk in the park.” “She’s a Hater” fights against other people’s projections of themselves with the lyrics slashing out at a friend’s girlfriend only to give into a playful bounce. It reimagines overstated conflict as child’s play, with shouts of “she’s a hater” and the juvenile jab of “See you on craigslist, I’m betting.”
Album closer “Blue Hoodie” gently moves away from confused modern anger and taps into confused modern love. Love drifts out into symbols, two blue hooded sweatshirts lying together and a place on someone’s top eight. At times, it veers into a juvenile sense of love more fascinated with imagery than with emotional connection, but it’s the overwhelming sincerity of emotion that pushes it back. It chaotically closes with “You’re a brilliant mistake/ You’re my kind of guy” somehow displaying the confusion between desperate love and something much more genuine.
Graham Culbertson is an English graduate student, KCPR DJ and Mustang Daily music columnist. “Hipster Bullshit” is a column that will appear on Mondays.