Matt Finney, who made up one half of this years most startling discoveries Finneyerkes, is back with another bout of spoken word from the economically, spiritually and emotionally crushed everyman. This time, however, he is paired with Ukrainian musician/soundscapist Heinali. The dramatically heavier and ominous tones of Heinali’s electronically manipulated industrial/post-rock replaces Randy Yerkes’ skeletal passages and underscores the equally dramatic (but not so surprising) turn in Matt Finney’s utterly bleak spoken word/poetry passages. This turn towards the ugly side of human nature isn’t something that Finney shied away from on past releases. On the anachronously titled Lemonade, however, Finney narrates tales of addicts and drunks with violent pasts and even more violent dreams and fantasies. Men (and only men in this collection) who abuse themselves and the ones who depend on them through substance and emotional abuse aren’t let off the hook here. There is little hope (narratively at least) and no redemption for these men and those who are caught in their downward spiral of self-hatred and self-destruction. The survivors turn to the same coping mechanisms to erase their memories and cover their own pain at realizing they have become the monsters they have become. While Finney may at times lean heavily on tired references to “houses on fire”, and “waking up with your own blood in the sink” he also delivers some lines that rank among his best.
This isn’t a complaint. I work with homeless youth in Salt Lake City. The familiar tropes of a never ending spiral caused by an undeservedly shitty childhood are not lost on me. While I was more than fortunate in my upbringing I see the effects of drug use, neglect, and instability in those formative years manifest themselves in the risky (and sometimes outright irresponsible) choices of kids I work with every day. After an especially emotionally high strung day I listened to Lemonade on repeat. The emotional catharsis was immediate. Somewhere between Finney’s honest portraits of a stagnant southern existence and the nihilism of his characters I began to see patterns forming between the behaviors of his characters and the all too real examples I had before me. Suddenly the cycle made sense. Sometimes there is no redemption. Thats just how it is. Kids O.D from a drug they have been using since 11. Nomadic adolescents running away from affluent but abusive families fall under the wheels of the freight train carrying them across the country to the freedom of a Northern California summer. Shit happens. Some get past it. Some don’t.
I realize this review has been way too personal. Heinali’s musical underpinning works for the most part. Heinali often comes as overbearing in his use of industrial beats and stultified chugging-guitar riffs that can’t seem to move past post-rock 101. But, when he is on, and he is most of the time, he is really on. “Lemonade” begins with a glowing, shimmering swell of sustained guitar tones, a signal to a final crack of daylight through Finney’s bleak prose, only to be shot down by another of Finney’s deadpan recital of all things dreary. “After the flood comes …. drought.” Damn … Really thought we had something going there there.
On a more positive note, Finney’s contributions seem a little better integrated than they did in the Finneyerkes project. Instead of coming in via a clicked on tape recorder, Finney’s contributions are edited into the songs themselves. Slipped in unexpectedly, sometimes put through a filter or some sort of sound manipulation. The result is a more seamless contribution.
Lemonade isn’t a suicide note. Not yet. While it may walk exclusively with its head down on the shady side of the street, at least it is going somewhere. Finney dwells on these negative emotions to take ownership of them, embody them for a time, and then moves past them, culminating in one of the more emotionally devastating, yet, cathartic statements of the year.