Nobody Hears Me Chant Your Name - Blinker The Star's August Everywhere turns 20
There is a time that I call the ‘dark ages’ of the internet.
Like, the time when we first got the internet, on a very old PC, and used a dial-up connection to get onto America Online.
Those kind of dark ages.
I don’t remember a lot about the logistics of it all—how I would hear about things, like bands, movies, or books; I can’t recall the websites that I’d read to gather the kind information that almost comes at me now too quickly, 20 years removed.
I was extraordinarily late to the party with the band Failure. They were, more than likely, on the verge of collapsing as a functioning group by the time I impulse bought their (at the time) final album, Fantastic Planet, a year after its 1996 release; they most certainly were broken up—tensions in the band stemming from debilitating drug abuse—by the time I came back around to Fantastic Planet in the spring of 1998, and discovered what an incredible record it is.
After Failure’s demise, I developed an obsession with obtaining anything that had to do with any member of the band, and I will surmise that I spent a lot of time looking up information (but where?) about Failure, and its members, on the dial-up internet connection in the apartment I lived in with my mother.
This is, in all probability, how I discovered the band Blinker The Star.
Never will there be another summer this slow…
Blinker The Star had formed in 1993, and for awhile, at least in their native Canada, were touted as the ‘next big thing’ in alternative rock; however, the alt. rock bubble burst around the time the group released its second LP, via A&M Records, A Bourgeois Kitten.
Sometimes, it’s weird to think about the ‘music industry,’ and major labels in the 1990s being willing to take chances on bands like Nirvana; or, in this case, a band like Blinker The Star.
In 1996, principle singer and songwriter (and now really the only constant member of the group) Jordan Zadorozny was still working through his angst; he was only in his early 20s at the time A Bourgeois Kitten was released. It’s a ramshackle, unfocused, noisy affair—not an unlistenable album, but it’s rough, and when you compare it to the album he would release three years later, even though a number of the same people were involved with the creation of both records, it literally sounds like an entirely different band.
Even after two decades, August Everywhere is both still one of the most gorgeously produced and arranged albums that I have encountered—albums overall, not just ‘alternative rock’ albums, mind you, and it is one of my absolute favorite albums of all time—one that I carried with me through my final two years of high school, through college, and all through adulthood, still playing it regularly, especially in the autumn. Not a ‘lost classic,’ but an obscure, dramatic, and idiosyncratic masterpiece, and save for the times when I am certain I played a song or two off of it when I still worked in radio, it’s not a record I regularly tell people about, or even force upon them with a ‘you gotta listen to this.’
It’s a secret I keep to myself, still marveling at so many facets of the record, like the fact that it was released on a major label, how lush the album’s production values sound, and the stark, evocative album artwork of an ice sculpture of a swan, stoic though so incredibly fragile and fleeting, baking in the desert sun.
I don’t know a lot about the recording, or the history, behind August Everywhere, but one of the things that is very apparent from the moment it begins is that between 1996 and 1999, Zadorozny made time to grow up1—or, more importantly, grow out of the rickety, punky, torment of his earlier efforts.
One could also make a strong case to say that Ken Andrews, the multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and de facto frontman for Failure, grew up a lot during this time as well. He, as well as Failure’s other multi-instrumentalist Greg Edwards, and powerhouse drummer Kellii Scott, all played roles in A Bourgeois Kitten—Andrews, perhaps most prominent, credited as mixing, producing, and engineering the album.
Only two years removed from the dissolution of Failure, Andrews’ capabilities behind the boards in a studio are something to behold. His attention to detail and Fantastic Planet was, and still is, remarkable, and on August Everywhere, Andrews works to create an astoundingly robust environment, unafraid to let songs take on soaring, psychedelic, or bombastic qualities.
August Everywhere begins with a double shot of its two most iconic (or at least my two favorite) tracks—“September Already” serves, in a sense, as a rebuttal to the album’s title. The album is by no means a ‘concept album,’ or a cycle of connected songs—in a lyrical sense, anyway, but the idea of summer passing into autumn is both, obviously, present in the title, as well as in the first track.
It begins with a warbled and incredibly restrained drumbeat—the focus on the hi-hat and what is presumably a muffled snare hit. This all allows a jaunty bass line and a strongly strummed acoustic guitar to come rollicking and tumbling in over the top of it, as well as Zadorozny’s distinct singing voice—before the song absolutely detonates when its refrain kicks in, lead by Kellii Scott’s full-fledged pounding on the snare drum.
“September Already,” in an indirect way, is a continuation of the idea presented in Failure’s one ‘hit,’ “Stuck on You.”
“Stuck on You” is performed under the metaphor of someone trying to escape an all-present, very infectious pop song. It may be a little cliché, but it serves as a stand in for either a) being driven to distraction by the thoughts somebody you are in love with but trying to get over, or b) and this is more than likely the real case, heroin addiction.
“September Already” is a little more direct in the way it deals with its subject matter—it’s a love song, yes, but it’s about secret and possibly unrequited love2. “Never will there be another summer this slow,” Zadorozny sings in the song’s second verse. “Never will we have to play confusion to show that all we ever need was to touch just once. Everyone’ll tell you that they already knew.”
However easy as that may be to dissect, there is still a little ambiguity towards the song’s end: “Believe everything that you read, and I’ll be the girl that you need,” he sings, roleplaying with the gender of the protagonist. “I’m laughing inside—it’s insane ‘cause nobody hears me chant your name,” he howls as the song slowly fades out.
Released as a single, complete with a video that caught airplay on “120 Minutes” (minus Ken Andrews singing one lyric in the refrain3), “Below The Sliding Doors,” arriving as the album’s second track, is best described as the album’s thesis statement from a musical standpoint. This is where it all folds together—the dramatic flourishes from the string arrangement, the ‘space rock,’ effected guitars, and the penchant for minor psychedelics, courtesy of the Los Angeles musician Chris Pitman, who co-founded Lusk4, and also collaborated with Tool and Failure, and spent roughly a decade in Guns ‘N’ Roses.
“Below The Sliding Door,” even with its psychedelic leanings, however minor, and even with its orchestral trappings, is still one of the best written, and probably most accessible songs one album—kaleidoscopic and swirling, winding up in near Beatle-esq pop territory, it’s still just as strong and bombastic of a song as it was the first time I heard it at the age of 16.
August Everywhere was, and still is, a very immediate record. I never doubted its immediacy when I first got it—though, at 16, I doubt that I really understood the concept behind a record’s urgency or intention. Opening with its two most ‘accessible’ songs, the album does take more esoteric, surprising turns as it continues, and that’s the kind of thing that has really grown with me as I have gotten older, and come to appreciate that kind of music—specifically that kind of pop music—more.
Throughout the album’s 12 tracks, Zadorozny walks a tight rope of sorts, trying to balance the right amount of energy or bombast, with the right amount of restraint—occasionally the two collide in to something surprisingly cathartic.
I don’t want to describe a certain amount of songs on August Everywhere as being ‘whimsical’ in sound, but there are song that are much less dramatic, and much less sweeping in their nature and execution—more playful, or ‘off kilter’ if you will. “Crazy Eyes,” the album’s third track, is one of them. It isn’t one of the weakest moments, arriving so early on, but it’s also not one of the album’s most successful, leaning very heavily into psychedelic pop; as are the jaunty “I Am A Fraction,” which begins the second half of the record, and the bubbling, rollicking, “Your Big Night, Sandy!,” sequenced near the end.
August Everywhere, once it gains momentum, however, works best where it finds that theatricality—the fourth track, “All Dreamed Out” is a standout simply because its arranged around a sharp rhythm and strong acoustic guitar strums—but the music also soars because of the distorted guitar solo that arrives at the end. Lyrically, it’s one of the album’s most ambiguous—“Say when—I’ll stop twisting your arm,” Zadorozny taunts in the album’s opening line, but it’s the refrain that really lingers and even cuts: “Everybody knows that you were backstage making history a home. And I can’t wait to find you sleeping all dreamed out.”
Sequentially, Zadorozny places the most cathartic moments back to back, in the middle of the album’s second half. “There’s Nowhere You Can Hide” ripples with a tense undercurrent from a string arrangement, while dramatic chords on the piano punctuate each hit of the snare, and heavily distorted electric guitars snarl throughout, creating a bed for Zadorozny to howl the song’s surprising refrain—“I swear I’m alright; no pills at night, no desperate afternoons.”
“Right Kind of Girl” is perhaps the album’s most arresting song, in the sense that it begins very simply, and very quietly. Zadorozny’s vocals are buried in the mix below the very clearly strummed acoustic guitar. But around a minute in, the song becomes explosive—it blasts off for the refrain, giving new meaning to the idea of ‘quiet/loud/quiet.’
Made up of bizarre, evocative non sequiturs, the final refrain of the song is where he lets his voice howl to larynx shredding levels—“Down this golden road, there is something I must unload: I’m not a school girl—I’m just a Siamese cat with wings and I say things I don’t mean, like there’s still a shred of truth to be seen. I’m feeling so high, but I’ll take you home if you think I said too much….but I’d really like to see you again.”
August Everywhere concludes with another double shot—“Strange As They Say” is, structurally speaking, classic late 1990s ‘alternative rock’: from the chord progressions and the way the guitars are layered and smothering each other, to the way the song’s verses slide into the melody of the refrain, it’s the most straight forward track on here—a misnomer filed deep within an album that is anything but straight forward.
Matching the drama of early moments on the record, “Star Behind The Star,” the album’s final track, is where the inclusion of the string arrangements throughout shine the brightest—they provide much of the lead to the melody on The Beatle-esq “Pretty Pictures,” but it’s in a very grand, bombastic sort of way. Here, they are used to create an unnerving, somber feeling, sweeping sharply throughout the song’s already gauzy, swooning aesthetic. It creates a swirling, dizzying ending to the journey—far enough removed from the way it began that you feel like the album actually took you somewhere, but close enough in overall cohesion that you were aware that you were listening to an album by one very dynamic artist the whole time.
During what would have been my junior year of college, I think I started wondering what might have happened to Blinker The Star—it was then that I found the album Still in Rome, released at the end of 2003. In a time before the artist platform Bandcamp existed, the record was being sold via CD Baby, and I think I took a listen to titular track, and then turned it off. It was noisy and punky, weighed down by cluttered mixing and abrasive synthesizers.
Following the more or less self-released Still in Rome, Zadorozny basically abandoned the Blinker The Star project for nearly a decade, until he resurfaced in 2012, with We Draw Lines—an album that features a surprisingly effective Kate Bush cover, and at least from a sonic standpoint, tries to recapture some of the dynamics and theatricality of August Everywhere—an album that, in retrospect, may have not been indicative of the overall sound Zadorozny wanted for the group, but was more representative of the time, place, and people involved.
August Everywhere is not a difficult album, but it’s also not easy. It can be a little demanding of its listener with the way it works itself back and forth between aesthetics, but 20 years later, remains a marvel, and is worth whatever effort you need to put in to hear it. It’s a record that, at 36, I can still put on and enjoy from beginning to end (even the weakest moments are not weak enough to be deemed skippable) and it is the kind of listen that takes me back to a weekend afternoon at age 16 when I purchased it at Media Play, a big box entertainment store specializing in books, movies, and music, located in a long, sprawling strip mall in Rockford, Illinois.
It takes me back to putting the CD onto a cassette tape to listen to in the stereo of the old, white mini-van I drove as a teenager.
It takes me back to every slow summer I’ve lived through since then.
1- This is just an interesting aside that I couldn’t find a way to shoehorn into the thinkpiece or whatever, but I find it kind of fascinating that another Ontario based musician, Hayden Desser, also began his career making very punky, ramshackle albums, but grew up immensely in sound between 1996 and 1998, when he released The Closer I Get.
2- This is, like, speculation on my part. Believe it or not, none of the lyrics on August Everywhere have been annotated on Genius.
3- It still kind of bothers me that Andrews was not present for the filming of the video for “Below The Sliding Doors.” He sings one lyric—“Say the words that we’ll never say,” and in the video, Zadorozny lip syncs his part.
4- Lusk, and its one album Free Mars, released in 1997, is hard to explain. It was more or less a collective of Los Angeles based musicians, founded by former members of Tool. They had a minor hit with “Backworlds,” but the rest of the album gets pretty esoteric.