Micah Schnabel — When the Stage Lights Go Dim. Out now, limited pressing; self-released/Surbuban Home Records.
Most of the time, Micah Schnabel is the frontman for the Columbus, Ohio, cowpunk band Two Cow Garage; this is his first solo record, and in a lot of ways it sounds like a stripped-down Two Cow album. Micah’s whiskey-burn voice and the insistently driving guitar lines, only it’s acoustic here, instead of Micah and Shane (Sweeney, 2CG’s bassist)’s electric wall of noise. Sometimes it turns corners and surprises the hell out of me, though, and that’s one of the things that I love most about it — the moments where a soaring cello smooths out the edges of Micah’s playing and his voice, the parts where the driving guitar turns into a picked-out, jangly line. Musically, it’s a great album because it feels like it’s just the bones of an album, in some spots, with moments of surprise and delight scattered around the bones like, I don’t know, livers or kidneys or something, and the music takes a backseat to Micah’s songwriting skills.
And what I think really sets Micah apart is his talent for turning a line, and I’ve thought that since Michael Casey turned me on to Two Cow. Micah fills his songs with catchy, singable lyrics that don’t really hit you until the fourth or fifth or 17th listen, when suddenly you’re slammed by how achingly sad and true they are. Stage Lights is full of songs that don’t sugarcoat the process of making your living as a musician, of spending a life on the road — they’re songs about the brutal, heartbreaking, difficult parts of touring, but they’re beautiful songs about the pain and sadness of it. (“Bastards & Bridesmaids”, off 2008’s Speaking In Cursive, is another great example.) The final verse of “Cut Me, Mick” is the clearest example of that subject, and it just slays me every time I listen to it:
so move to the city and start up a band
get your heart broke wide open
with the blood from your hands
write it all down and embrace the sound
of failing miserably
That’s a devastating set of lines, a quick and terrible summary of the life of a musician, and Micah delivers them in a wild, wide-open way. Those may be my favorite lines from this album, but my favorite song as a whole is “American Static”, which leaked out via this video before the news of the solo disc broke, and the opening of that track is another example of Micah’s ability to run straight through my heart with words:
i need nicotine and patience
and some sort of salvation
I love the way he slings those three things together — someone hand him a cigarette, wait while he smokes it, and then save his life — because it’s both innocuously delivered, as though they belong together all the time, and utterly devastating, the need for something as simple as a smoke and something as complex as salvation. Very few people will hear this album, because the first printing was a run of only 500, which is really sad, because it’s one of the most honest, heartbreaking albums I’ve heard this year.
[Micah Schnabel — “American Static”] 3MB, .mp3. This might very well be my favorite track of 2009, and the ways in which I love the Avett Brothers’ “Kick Drum Heart” are illegal in some states, so that’s saying something.
[Micah Schnabel — “Can’t Hardly Wait”] 7MB, .mp3. Replacements cover. Just totally destroying.
[Two Cow Garage & Jon Snodgrass — “Can’t Hardly Wait”] 4MB, .mp3. Live, 3 Kings Tavern, 02-20-2009. One of the sloppiest, most garbled, most amazing covers of “Can’t Hardly Wait” ever.
If you like what you hear, you can get Micah’s album from Suburban Home Records (if they have any copies left), and you can get Two Cow albums from them as well. Suburban Home is run by excellent people who love music and beer more than I do, and you should buy stuff from them.
Micah’s playing two dates in the Triangle in a single week in December, and for Micah, I will go to Raleigh on a Wednesday night, no fucking questions asked.