Do you like The Mountain Goats? Do you like movies? Do you like to dwell on things that exist in the hazy, mutable space between uproarious laughter and deep dark tragedy? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you are very consistent, because as Kanye West once said, “everything in the world is exactly the same.” And, also, you might be interested in The Cannonball Story’s latest album, Purple Rose.
Purple Rose is the third full-length album from The Cannonball Story — coming after debut Hokey Smokes! and a second, self-titled release, as well as a handful of seasonally-thematic noise-pop EPs. This newest opus is a concept album – every song title is also the name of a notable film director. There’s a well-written and reasonably extensive letter-from-the-editor-style write-up about that on the band’s site, so I won’t bother expounding too much on the theme here. I would, however, like to offer the disclaimer that the title comes from a Woody Allen movie. (There is also a song called “Woody Allen,” which is three minutes of frenetic, harmonica-laced mumbling a la Allen’s nebbish and neurotic persona; this is the only place I’ll mention it in the review because I’m not gonna turn this into a debate on the benefits versus drawbacks of satirizing a confirmed pedophile.)
That aside, it’s pretty much a perfect album from start to finish. Lyrically, I’ve never heard a match; there’s definitely nowhere else you can hear someone rhyme “Tim Burton” with “flirtin'” and get away with it. Practically every song could be used as a tenth-grade English lesson on intertextuality – shout-along spite jam “Uwe Boll,” labyrinthine extended metaphor “Wes Anderson,” and cautionary song “Kathryn Bigelow” all stand fine on their own, but grow better and sharper and more delightful if you can catch the references that flash by lightning-quick. “Joss Whedon” can be hilarious without knowing anything about the Strong Female Character trope, but if you’ve seen anything he’s ever done you’ll cackle with glee at the opening couplet (she brought a knife to a ray gun fight / but she walked away without a scratch) and even harder at the sudden ending. At the same time, all the cleverness holds up to outside examination by virtue of being breathtakingly astute – I mean, sure, “Andrew Bujalski” is one big twee mumblecore joke, a lot of like and I dunno and dithering about which late-night food place to visit, but also, do you wanna like / go our separate ways / both go home / and not really do much, like. All of this is backed with a whirligig of off-kilter instrumentation and sung with the ragged, quavery conviction that is Cannonball Story’s trademark.
The thing about lo-fi pop made by a white dude is that ninety nine percent of the time it is completely insufferable, a product that stems mostly from misinformed ideas about what constitutes “authenticity” and how best to effect it. The Cannonball Story is not about “authenticity,” by which I mean, even though it sounds like it was recorded in someone’s mom’s basement (because it was), it is not about taking poorly-disguised and haltingly-rhymed autobiographical poetry from an intro writing seminar and putting it to basic, harmonious chord progressions, in hopes that “sloppy” will get read as “raw” and “unprepared” will somehow turn into “extemporaneous.” The Cannonball Story is neither sloppy nor unprepared. The Cannonball Story fucking gets it. The Cannonball Story is about jokes – long, hyper-performative ones, told while looking directly into your eyes. The Cannonball Story knows it’s joking, and knows you know it’s joking, and you know that you both know everything in the whole world is actually just one long elaborate joke, but also, if that’s true, doesn’t that mean everything in the whole world is kinda…. real? I’m not impaired I’m just giddy and scared / like a man in a cage with a lion and a chair, goes “Judd Apatow,” and what self could be more authentic than the one that knows it is necessary to perform to live? Brandish your imperfect weaponry; let them see you tremble. Everything is scripted, even when it isn’t. There’s a fucking Destiny’s Child reference in this song; did you catch it? Are you laughing? Was it funny?
The Cannonball Story’s entire discography is available for listening and download at Bandcamp.