by Jeff Laughlin (@BeardsInc)
The cautious indifference of embracing loneliness has never sounded so plugged in as it does when The Pauses unplug. Discretely disentangling from the new world has merit, but it offers little by way of reward. Social graces belong, now, to the oh-so-ungraceful and pointing that out contains less multitudes than it does unwanted emotion. Those feelings belittle us but they are also massively important to recognize. The distance we’ve created by being closer than ever creates the digital divide.
Thematically, The Pauses interact with the distance they see in the new world order by simply pointing them out: “Rest your attention to desperate attempts./ Divisive decoys: a model of yourself,” says Tierney Tough on “Digital Detox”. Unbuilding, their latest record, listens like a list of requests as if the band were trying to run a real-life operating system; a series of DOS commands for humanity.
Separation anxiety from the internet’s information wealth creates a dichotomy. Unbuilding’s performative edge comes from recognizing exactly that: their reaction to “culture” begets sadness. From “Digital Detox,” a rejection of modern cultural norms to the emotive guitar swells of “Had/Have” only takes a song because, well, life is fucking hard in the modern age. Overwhelm advances at every turn, every search, every timeline refresh.
That the record recognizes emotion as a stock answer to all inquiries online and off while ranging back and forth between electro-clash and sad bastard music allows the listener to shed obvious comparisons. Yes, The Pauses seemingly hold their influencers close to their sound – they recorded with J Robbins who has long mastered identifying society’s foibles while angulating his guitar. The Pauses never truly embody their heroes, though. Instead, Unbuilding’s ebb and flow feels both new and rehashed. For every ring of pop-distortion, a sad, slow wall of disgust and devotion follows. At every drum fill is a dive into decadence; a divergence of noise meant to rattle the listener more than remind them of anything.
“I died when you killed me,” Tierney Tough says on “Don’t Wake Me Up”. That line marks one of the only times on the record that Tough assigns any blame to ancillary characters. For the most part, their divorces mark self-caused fault lines. “Deep in the dirt I find somewhere to rest my mind./ Don’t wake me up this time/ we’re way past design” – unplugging solves nothing but means everything. Certainly, they are not the first folks to describe emotional turmoil, but they are hardly remitting the same cadre of tricks as their predecessors.
Meanwhile, the instrumentation fluctuates: noisy electronic fodder overlaps with angular distortion while spectrum-ing with straightforward sadness. Half the record provides “the feels” while the other half charges through parts with reckless abandon. Often jazz notes or aforementioned fodder serve as chorus or transition as if to make sure that the lyrics do not overshadow the importance of the musical freedom. The Pauses do not wish to be the sum total of their emotions and the record moves unfettered toward the free-fall of album-ender “Animus?”.
Thing is, we never quite make it to free-fall – these aren’t the common vagaries of a status update. There’s meaningful banter and overbite throughout the record. “I think about laying with you, stranger, in some dark room.” Nothing is either created or destroyed on this record other than the harrowing doubt beyond The Pauses control.
The need to explain that humans need to explain anything dictates truth as a façade and isn’t that what built modern communication? Our constant desire to talk needlessly as though we’re easily understood? Unbuilding might be exactly what indie rock has been trying to say for its short existence: that we may not be in need but we need so, so much more and goddamn that ache never ends, does it? Better to keep defining the doubt; to make the art that drives it out rather than succumb to it.