by Alex Colston (@re_colston)
Rock n’ roll has never had a very straightforward relationship with ambition. This oblique, uncertain feeling about the point or purpose of music is something of a pandemic and “ambition” is something of a bad word, like the name of a fatal contagion. For good reason.
Amid the rubble of a once-upon-a-time music industry, our current DIY-centric American musical landscape has inherited certain hard truths: Rock n’ Roll lifestyle is pretty much dumb but fun vainglory, fame is fool’s gold and a bad substitute for basic livelihood, and, if for anything, we do music to recognize ourselves in each other and each other in ourselves. Or, so goes the party line. In reality, our yearning is often not so lucid or pure of faith: The sense that you could be, should be, or, often, are already doing something else, anything else, besides doing one’s vain, life-enriching, pointless, existentially necessary part in making, promoting, or supporting DIY music is, frankly, inescapable. These contradictions and the accompanying emotional strain are front-and-center on Coaster’s latest EP Deuces.
With no small amount of irony, on Deuces' third track “Cool,” Matt Kissinger mocks or confesses that while “I want to be true to you” it’s just that “life is numbers, ratings, plays, and views.” Like riding a temporarily elating bell-curve of Bandcamp stats, the climb is as good as the fall, “counting them up, ego is high, wasted effort, wasted time.” No amount of braying about making music for the sake of itself, the sake of a community, or the sake of whatever pantheistic observation is going to stop the ritualistic sojourn—as rough and tumble as it may be—through statistically exact recognition.
But what about that other part, the part about “wanting to be true to you?”
I’m not sure. But what makes Coaster a great band, what makes them true to themselves, at least, is that just as much as they lyrically own the contradictory purposes of making music, more importantly, they also own—and have really perfected on this record—their unabashedly goofy, sometimes haywire, sometimes tight-wire, guitar-rock. Between Kissinger’s and Seth Engel’s back-and-forth riffing and vocalizing, and a very much punctuating, downbeat loving rhythm section, with its expertly spliced drum fills and bass licks, Coaster brings all the joy of Rock n’ Roll with none of the boredom—“thou shalt not be boring” should rank towards the top of DIY commandments, if ever such a dubious list is penned.
Least boring of the tracks offered by Deuces is the wistful, rueful “Running.” Pinch, crack, explode and wilt as they may, Kissinger’s vocals guide the track through alternately easy-going (“we can call it home”) and fraught (“swallowing a lie”) byways, returning in turns to an accepting repetition: “Running, running, running.” For all of the fun this band has on this record it is underscored by another of these aforementioned inherited truths sung by Kissinger, that reads ultimately like a broad-picture statement on everything: “all was over long long ago, stitching up the seams but they wouldn’t hold.”
Coaster’s new record may be just another stitch in the seam, holding together DIY music that in turn knits us together—in such a seamless age where the center will not hold, such a contribution as Deuces is welcome. It is not by recognition alone that humans survive, else ambitions that seek recognition alone wouldn’t seem so ill advised, but praise be where praise is due. A third of the size of their previous effort, Coaster has provided a punchy, to-the-point primer of their sound. With it, maybe Kissinger and Co. will come to some reconciliation over the place of ambition in their lives. Given the unavoidable and damning categories of popularity, fame, and recognition that burden the music-making traditions in America, maybe not.
Those who make ends meet, between their ambition and popularity in the music world, are returned both fame and defamation in equal measure. Sometimes they don’t deserve it from either direction. Sometimes popularity isn’t the recognition they were after all along. They are loved or hated by the others, while also hating and loving themselves, for reasons as vast, clichéd, unique and contradictory as the reasons to do anything whatsoever. In this instance, I’m glad Coaster did something whatsoever and cut this record.