by Ryan Wilkinson
Do you ever think that adulthood will forever be out of your grasp, even well past your “coming of age” years? Singer Dylan Slocum certainly seems to know the feeling. In Schmaltz we see Spanish Love Songs explore the disorienting puzzle that is growing up, with the rough-edged sound they developed on their debut Giant Sings The Blues rounded out by the addition of Meredith Van Woert on the keys.
In soft and heavy songs alike, Slocum uses a no-holds-barred vocal style to underline specific sentences and provide emotional context for lines that otherwise might not make sense from the outside, like in the third track ‘Bellyache’: “I’ve been dreaming in languages I don’t understand / I’ve got spirits watching over me, they refuse my filthy hands.” The real meaning of the words are known only to Slocum, but his fervent delivery coupled with the song’s musical climax is enough to stir even the most hardened of hearts.
That feeling of abstract discomfort that follows the listener through the album is the same one that so many of us are feeling now: we’re “adults,” in our 20s and 30s, and we still feel lost. We don’t know why we feel as anxious and unaccomplished as we do, we can’t understand why college, employment or relationships haven’t helped, and we certainly don’t have the time to sit down and figure it out as we navigate the beginning of our careers in a world full of high rents and side hustles.
The album starts slowly with an uneasy, organ-backed homage to the mosh pits of Slocum’s youth, in which he laments how little he’s changed before launching into the fast-paced ‘Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations’, where we find him torn between “both sides of who [he] should be,” afraid to let out the dark side of himself even as he wonders what he could accomplish if he did.
From there a borderline panic builds through ‘Bellyache’ and fades again in ‘Buffalo Buffalo’, which listeners may recognize from the EP of the same name released last year. As he grapples with his identity and the problems in his everyday life, Slocum considers religion, moving across the country, and even suicide – throwing out the line “I’m thinking about dying again” as casually as if discussing lunch options.
In the midst of all this confusion and crisis is ‘Otis-Carl’, a song wracked with the grief and guilt that comes with losing friends and relatives. Plenty of songs have been built out of a writer’s wish that they had spent more time with someone before they passed, but here Slocum again shows his aptitude for coaxing feelings out of ideas which are not universally relatable. Most of us haven’t named a guitar after someone’s favourite singer – as he alludes to in the final verse – but everyone has little everyday memories with their loved ones that they hope will last. In giving us a window into the objects in his life and his emotional ties to them, he allows us to live out a small piece of his mourning, tying it to our own experiences.
As the album progresses into its second half, we hear one of the most relatable lines of the current political climate in ‘The Boy Considers His Haircut’. That line – “I wanna find a haircut that fits me that hasn’t been co-opted by nazis; I’ll settle for some rest” – is only one part of a verse that, to my mind, is an anthem for anyone trying to figure out how to grow up in 2018 (because let’s be honest, none of us could have anticipated the need to factor Nazis into our hair styling decisions). We all want to be better, and to come through without being second-guessed. We’re all tired, we’re all trying to move on from one thing or another, and so many of us feel unimportant and unheard. As the generation raised with social media and a questionable narrative of being spoiled and entitled grows up and reaches adulthood, we all seem to be asking the same question: what do I have to do to make myself and the people around me happy?
The theme of navigating love, loss, and life in general in a changing world – when you have a hard enough time changing yourself – permeates the entire record. ‘Beer and Nyquil (Hold it Together)’ addresses how difficult it can be to grow when you’re struggling to keep yourself together, before ‘It’s Not Interesting’ and ‘Aloha to No One’ wrap the album up with a worry that maybe he won’t ever be the person he wants to be, no matter how badly he wants to change.
Schmaltz has no happy ending, no neat solution to the problems we’ve been presented with; really, how could it? Slocum, like so many of us, is still trying to figure these things out for himself. All he has, all any of us has, is a hope that one day we’ll make it. For now, we’ll just have to keep trying, give it time, and try to make it through.