Revisiting a Former Clarity: 10 Years of Against Me!’s ‘Searching for a Former Clarity’

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 first installment, we have Dying Scene features writer Catherine Dempsey talk about their feelings on Searching for a Former Clarity and why they regard the record with passive nostalgia. You can read their thoughts below.

I had a very intimate hobby when I was twelve. Well, maybe it wasn’t a hobby so much as it was just something I did to feel whole. In 2005, I owned a very stylish purple boom box that sat in contrast with my obnoxiously floral bedroom set. It was decorated with bubble Hello Kitty stickers and I secretly kept a box of matches in the cassette dispenser on the front, for God knows what reason. I thought I was cool and rebellious. I didn’t own an iPod at the time, and iHomes had yet to be perfected.

In my bedroom, pre-teen me obsessed over the CDs I bought at Borders with the small amount of cash I was given as allowance. The boom box wasn’t perfect and it was pretty ugly, but it was my direct line to personal freedom in my young mind. I often sat on my high trundle bed, CD booklet in hand, curiously studying each album’s artwork and lyrics, following along as every track bled into the next. In hindsight, I think this was my introduction to a more exclusive world of music, separate from my parent’s collections and the songs I would hear on the car radio every day. This was just for me.

When Searching for a Former Clarity was released in 2005, I saved up my lunch money for a week, and by Friday I found myself carefully scanning the alternative music shelves of my local Borders to finally purchase my own copy. I held it in my hands on the car ride home, not sure what to expect. I had heard of this band called Against Me! and I heard they were punk, but not so punk at the same time. A friend told me I might like them, and I was always hungry for new music.

I found a certain disparity in this album. A sense of outcry, anguish, and a necessity to push boundaries. It was built on shades of the classic punk albums I had heard before, but this album was different. The undertones of folk gave Searching for a Former Clarity another violent march. This was my first time hearing the two genres fused together, and it felt so charming.

There was something wrong with it. In some ways, I still feel this way. Punk and folk, in my eyes, are two genres that contradict each other – they just weren’t meant to be married. But this album worked. Since then, I consider myself to be a huge fan of folk-punk and I have Against Me! to thank for that. I’ll never be comfortable with folk punk, but I think that’s the point. This disjointed genre is what makes the evolution of punk rock so provocative.

Apparently it was a concept record, but that never occurred to me when I was struggling to figure myself out in middle school. Every track just seemed to fit in with the typical emotional turmoil and angst that most kids experience at that age. It also contained a sensibility of hope, and I think this record was the catalyst for my self-determination and get-shit-done attitude. There was a story in Searching for a Former Clarity that I never detected but the themes carried me through adolescence.

Even though this record introduced me to a genre that I otherwise would have ignored, I’m far from a die-hard Against Me! fan. I discovered an array of other folk punk acts, like Mischief Brew, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Gogol Bordello. I don’t have an excuse for my absence at their shows. I just simply lost track and neglected to pay attention to their future releases. They still hold a special place in my heart and this album is why. I can still picture myself in my bed, drilling over the lyrics alone with the door shut, and hoping my mom didn’t come in to disturb me from this musical journey I was taking.

“Lock the door, to your room / Pray they don’t find us, pray they don’t kick it down.” – Against Me!, “Violence”

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