Sunday, September 6, 2015 marked the 10 year anniversary of Against Me!’s third full length album, Searching for a Former Clarity. We here at Dying Scene thought that was a good enough excuse as any to have some of our editors talk about the album and what it means to them.
For our final installment, we have Dying Scene editor/reviewer Carson Winter, who recalls the good old days of Against Me! and his old futon. You can read his thoughts below.
Searching for a Former Clarity was my first Against Me! record. I had heard all about Reinventing, and was aware of New Wave and As the Eternal Cowboy— but the first album I had in my hands was Searching.
I had been entranced by whatever I could hear online (probably the video for “Don’t Lose Touch”) and I was beginning to realize that whatever Against Me! was doing to punk rock was a lot more exciting and visceral than the music Rise Against was sanding down into a smooth and palatable rocking chair. Against Me! had a sense of identity in their lyrics that transcended anarchy or whatever other ideal people attributed to them. When I joined the bandwagon, they had already abandoned niche politics in favor of songwriting, and despite the protests of some, it was for the better.
Much has been said about Grace’s multi-syllabic approach to songwriting. Words bend and slur, paragraphs of free verse become lyrics. Rhymes are almost incidental. Whether fans knew it or not, the influence of anarcho-punk and hardcore was so deep in Against Me!’s skeleton that it’d take more than a change in politics to rob them of their Crass-like approach to lyrics. Grace was just taking it into the next era; expanding and improving on the no-rules approach to songwriting that gave those early pot-stirrers an identity and placing it in the framework of traditional songwriting. Suddenly, a plainspoken declaration, ripped from an activists pamphlet, becomes a pop hook. This was the heart of Against Me!’s immediate appeal. They reinvented the underground for a new group of punks.
I was just out of high school and living on my own when I first bought Searching for a Former Clarity. I had a lot of time on my hands and punk rock was filling it. I would spend hours looking for new groups, but I was always going back to Against Me! I went to my local Hasting’s, hoping that among the Buckcherrys and Avenged Sevenfolds, there’d be an album that could change my life. To my luck there was, the stark black and white cover of Searching stared out at me through a tight cellophane wrap.
Back then I didn’t have much love for beds. I had a ratty futon that would later leave my body with scars from penetrating metal coils. It sat on the floor, couched by blankets and pillows and pop cans. By its side was a thirty dollar boombox I bought from Wal-Mart. I sat down and had one of the purer listening experiences of my life. Just me and the music, liner notes in hands, going on a journey together.
“Miami” crushed me, thrashing chords and vocals as raw as I’ve heard at the time. “Holy Shit” and “How Low” moved me. “From Her Lips to God’s Ears,” hadn’t yet passed into irrelevance. But what struck me most were songs like “Unprotected Sex (With Multiple Partners),” where the band used its music to talk about the music industry. The idea of using art as art criticism, while not original by any means, was thrilling to me. In a way, it elevated art as a subject of importance and reverence in punk rock. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Against Me! was essentially legitimizing themselves through song, while also broadening the scope of what should be important to punks. And for me, the notion that music doesn’t need to pander or be any less than uncompromising in its execution has become as fundamental to the genre as three chords and downstrokes.
Nostalgia and taste have tangled and made Searching for a Former Clarity something unshakeable for me. It’s one of those albums that becomes a personal watershed moment that all other albums have to measure up to. Even as I grow and learn, and rediscover new aspects and permutations of my taste, Searching holds strong. I can’t say I’ve stayed with Against Me! along the way– they have also grown and changed. They don’t play for me anymore, and that’s okay. There’s always new kids to convert and for them White Crosses and Transgender Dysphoria Blues will become those immeasurable albums. I’ll stay content knowing that although those albums weren’t for me, there was one that was.
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