SOUTHSIDE CEMETERY CHOIR – If We Bury You Ass Up We’ll Have a Place to Park My Bike
Sleeping in the Aviary the band hasn’t exactly been what you would call prolific. Since forming in 2003, they have only two full-length releases to their name: last year’s terrific Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel and 2007’s hit and miss This Old Thing. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. Drummer Michael Sienkowski stepped out from behind the drum kit last year to front Whatfor and released the 60’s-echoing Sooner Late Than Never, which also features Aviary bandmates Phil Mahlstadt and Elliott Kozel. Meanwhile, Kozel released the self-titled electronic/acoustic record She Is So Beautiful She Is So Blond shortly after.
Then there was the brilliantly hilarious Cold Cut Combo, a collection of Casio keyboard melodies with lyrics pulled from poems by teens who cut themselves. Next came the Lark Voorhies, whose every song was inspired by “Saved by the Bell”—which I would probably also declare brilliant had I ever watched the show. Now we have the Southside Cemetery Choir and their wordily titled If We Bury You Ass Up We’ll Have a Place to Park My Bike, which solidifies my suspicions that they are all seriously death obsessed. The concept this time was that the Choir, which includes Andrew Jansen, Kyle Sobczak and Will Dixon in addition to Kozel and Mahlstadt, visited a series of graveyards in southern Minneapolis where they spread out and had one hour to write a song. The best ones were recorded in the basement of their house in Minneapolis.
You wouldn’t guess it from the DIY packaging of cardboard and duct tape, but there are some pretty extraordinary songs here. Mahlstadt always seemed like the quiet one, but he proves himself as strong a songwriter as his bandmates, not to mention his impressive knack for writing under pressure. The untitled last track is so full of imagery and ideas that it doesn’t seem possible it was written in an hour. A visit to a gravesite with a birthday balloon, since “today he would have been 28 but he died too soon,” inspires musings on his own death, from the mundane “movie ticket stubs I’ve kept, there will be a lot to throw away when I’m gone,” to the profound “places that I’ve left, Lord, how I’m gonna haunt them when I’m gone.” The idea that when “you know somebody’s dead, a list of names goes through your head, like your caller ID just says death,” stops me every time. Damn . . . that’s heavy.
The much lighter mega-metaphor “My Body Is a Basement” amusingly claims, “If I were a parade, I wouldn’t have a permit, but I would still have plenty of candy to throw,” and “If I was a train set in a child’s hand, I would still have no place to go.” And that’s after confessing, “I used to consider myself pretty good at writing clever metaphors.” Kozel’s contributions also run the gamut of emotions. “Sleeping with the Fishes” is about just that, as the narrator disposes of his enemies in a variety of ways. Opening line, “I shoved a gambler’s hand through a table saw, watched as it splattered and twitched on the floor,” is so graphically violent that you can’t (figuratively) look away or (literally) stop listening. “The Married Life” is surprisingly observant with lines like, “You won’t say a word, ’cuz I’ll know what you’re thinking, and I won’t say a word so I can hide when I’ve been drinking.”
I don’t know the other participants in this ghosts-in-the-graveyard exercise personally, but they also prove to be quick with the pen, and perhaps even more susceptible to the nature of the scenario. Dixon’s “H2CO” (the chemical formula for formaldehyde) details the difficulties of their mission, “Surrounded by barbed wire, the graveyard’s closed at night,” and the song is short enough that it is significant that he mentions earthworms twice. Jansen’s “That zombie was awkward as hell” seems to exist to taunt the dead (or undead?) with boasts like, “I’ll kiss the one you wanted so” and “I’ll do the things you only dreamed.” I’m pretty sure that the protagonist of Sobczak’s “Cotard’s Syndrome” dies in the course of the song, having fatally cut himself breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment after convincing himself she was cheating. Or maybe he just thinks he is since the title of the song refers to a neuropsychiatric disorder where sufferers believe they are dead.
I can’t help but be lavish with the compliments when it comes to Sleeping in the Aviary and their offshoots; I’m convinced they are all some sort of geniuses. Like most geniuses they certainly have their oddities, but I’ll admit I would feel a little better if they got over the death thing.