I’ve waxed nostalgic about Harvey Danger and how much they mean to me before, but I think it bears repeating with a new Sean Nelson record coming out in June (his FIRST solo record!): Harvey Danger’s Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? came to me at a time where I was young enough to be deciding who I wanted to be. I was making active choices and trying to form my personality and my core, and that record probably reveals more about the way I think and react to things than I am even comfortable with sometimes. Even songs like “Terminal Annex” which didn’t mean much to me as a young teenager (other than being really, really cool to shout) have come to pass in my life as an adult: you want ego? I will show you ego. I’m jealous now.
I could (and sort of want to) go through every song on every record (and the songs that didn’t make records!) and talk about what a brilliant writer and man Sean Nelson is. He made smart cool for me, and he made thoughtfulness a desirable quality in me. He made humor something not to be instantly blown off as trite. I know my words border here on hero worship, but it’s not that: it’s that he so desperately avoids the hero role, both as a writer and a performer, and that makes his work even easier to relate to. We listened to Little By Little… on a road trip recently and I was blown away by how fresh it all sounded, how even though I knew every word and turn of phrase, there was still surprise and life on the disk. I was most shocked, though, when I realized I sat through all ten tracks grinning like a Cheshire cat. I sang sad lines with a grin on my face. I felt vibrant and alive.
I think I hit the halfway point at “Make Good Choices” before I recognized my Harvey-Danger-grin. Like the songs I’m accustomed to as a Danger fan, it’s thoughtful, clever, provoking, and musically fulfilling. (I especially like the sparse guitar solo over the rolling drum fills… you’ll see what I mean.) But don’t take my word for it– NPR’s All Songs Considered debuted the video (awesome video: you can see it above) and even cooler, a free download.
Almost every line in this song functions as something that you could pull out and put in a fortune cookie (if fortune cookies had relevance and panache. Why don’t we have someone working on that yet?). I think the easy early favorite is, “Nothing is more charming than a narcissist with whom you’ve just agreed,” which is both funny and painfully true, but the refrain line “make good choices,” is used several times to different effect: think with the power and variance of the repeating lines in a villanelle. The first time (before that great breakdown) he reminisces just enough that “suddenly [he hears] voices, warning him to make good choices,” but the next time the phrase appears, it’s out of place in a verse– “Make good choices, thank you very much indeed.” This is the kind of turn-of-phrase that is more familiar in poetry than in songwriting, at least for me. It’s part of what’s so special about his lyrics: they play strong on the page or when sung.
I love the way that it slides from “everything’s OK” to the truth– “when I learned I couldn’t count on you/ When I was my most desperate/ When nothing that you said was true/ When breaking down my esprit de corps (killer guitar effect)/ Was your most beloved chore.” (I also liked “I put you in your place/ I knew you wouldn’t stay there”). The outro is as crunchy and exciting as you’d hope for a Sean Nelson song, but the build-up is a lot more Little By Little than King James Version. (For the record, I think any sound he has made so far works. Well.)
Apparently the record is slated for release on June 4th from Really Records, making June 4th my new birthday. Good to know. Other contributors will include Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Chris Walla (which is incredible exciting).
I know I’ve taken a lot of space to basically say “I like this very much and I’m happy about it” (imagine my hands moving back and forth while I say that), but as any Harvey Danger fan can attest: loving Harvey Danger is different than loving normal bands. It just is. This is the band that made music that was BETTER than your favorite band’s music, and still, no one seemed to ever know that or give them enough credit. There’s something to be said for the ‘cult’ following they’ve amassed. And with every release, I’m given another set of words to hang on to, to tell myself like rosary prayers and then to share with people and connect, because these songs have connective powers.
“Make Good Choices” is that good. HD fans are going to be thrilled, and I hope many more music lovers are brought in to the fold with the release of the new record.
FIND SEAN NELSON ONLINE:
OR FIND OLD HARVEY DANGER STUFF ONLINE (AND DOWNLOAD “THE SHOW MUST NOT GO ON”)