dmr 1.1 garner - purple


Garner - Purple EP

Garner's latest EP is an exploration of reimagining where we've been and where we're going. Beginning with "Undo," Matt McKenna croons: "we cannot go back / what's done we can't undo" and "there's still so much that you just don't see / and all I want is for us to be / good." As the song trails off into the nether regions of a guitar arpeggio, we're given a sense that this has been a comment on what's coming: a guitar/whistle duet foreshadowing the wordless refrain of the next song, "Sing."

"Sing" brings the record firmly into bubblegum territory, including an oft-repeated sugary hook, innumerable "doo"s, rock glock, bathetic characters and a shallow, amusing love story. I was quick to dismiss this song when I was sent the recording, but there is a lot going on here that a casual listener will miss. Among other things, the chorus's simple melody is never played the same way twice (pay attention, songwriters): Garner are careful to change up the harmony, dynamics and arrangement of the segment on each repetition. Listening to this song in light of the introduction of the EP suggests that there is a tangible point to this bubblegum anthem, as well, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Purple's cover evokes memories of Harold's adventures with an immersive reality of his own creation. If you've seen the cartoon, you'll know that Harold can't find his way out of his purple dream, after creating a scary dragon, vast ocean, mountain, hot air balloon and a city full of windows (none of which are his own), until he remembers that the moon is always outside of his window and is able to use that as an anchor to draw his bedroom. Garner seems to find a similar loophole to get out of their virtual space, after the dismissive "Let Me Do (What I Do)," the self-indulgent escapist fantasy of "Catapult" and the poignant illustration of how a regret begins in "Chasing Jane" (though the song ends with "maybe next time…" that next time never comes for the listener). "My Soul Is In My Sound" is Garner's equivalent of Harold's moon: all the struggle of the record is forgotten as the band enters into a truly captivating groove. The narrowly-avoided disaster (of being fined or arrested) is a satisfying and fitting conclusion to an EP that makes excellent use of the lyrical/conceptual ellipsis (on every song except the ill-begotten "Catapult," which finishes with something akin to a series of exclamation marks and ones).

Back to the point of "Sing" now: When we reimagine the past, now matter how well-intentioned that creative drive might be, our products are ultimately poor shadows of Real Life™, though they might be full of infectious fun (as "Sing" is). Their attractiveness is difficult to turn away from. If for no other reason, that's why this EP is worth spending time with. By juxtaposing introspective ballads with bubblegummy pop, Garner attempts to show us the traps of numbingly obtuse popular culture. And the band suggests, of course, a means to deepen not only our experience, but also culture itself: by recognizing that this isn't just an exercise in making (and listening to) pretty music. Our souls are in our sound.