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Monday, 19 November 2012 09:00

Falling in love with music: 'Weathered Statues' by T.S.O.L. + Video

Falling in love with music: 'Weathered Statues' by T.S.O.L.
Written by Joe Roberts
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The 1982 "Weathered Statues" EP, released on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label, stands as one of the lesser-known albums in a catalog mired in obscurity. These four songs may not constitute T.S.O.L.'s best effort, as it seems like a quick glance at a passing phase -- not unlike the fall season.

And yet: Leave it to a bunch of Orange County surf punks to record some of the most fitting of autumn-esque music. Oddly enough, hardcore punk band T.S.O.L. (an acronym for True Sounds of Liberty) captured the sentiments of the season perfectly on this brief EP. I could be wrong but I imagine that a Southern California November may be a little different than a Missouri November. And like the Midwest autumn, "Weathered Statues" is dramatic, muted and brief.

"Weathered Statues" is deeply rooted in autumn for me as I first discovered the title track in the fall of 2000. Yet Jack Grisham (using the alias of Jack Ladoga to stay one step ahead of the police) and his gang never ponder the color of the leaves or whether or not to pop their leather jacket collars. No. T.S.O.L. used fall as an atmosphere for songs about broken war veterans, hopeless love, unclear memories and wrecking cars.

It is, however, one of the finest excursions of '80s American hardcore punk rock, one full of intricate textures, poetic lyrics and progressive instrumentation. In a sense, this EP stands as the hypothetical foundation of goth rock, or as it was known then, death rock.

Despite clocking in under 10 minutes, T.S.O.L.'s third release sounds expansive and epic in its sweeping textures. The title track stands out as a pure masterpiece. Likening an elderly war veteran to, well, a weathered statue is especially dark and open to interpretation. The lyrics "Wrapped in yellowed newsprint/On their benches in the dark" suggest the cooling weather and shorter days of fall. Was the band referencing grim reminders of the Vietnam War that haunted the early '80s? While not exactly obvious, the song makes one wonder if the band intended to make an anti-war statement or merely used graying war veterans as imagery in an eerie tale.

Whatever the motivation, "Weathered Statues" clarifies why the EP could be appreciated as a fall album with its spider web of guitar arpeggios and harmonics, not to mention its chilling lyrics and vocals. It's just one of the many moments that, like a cold gust of wind, raises the hair on your neck.

The blatant fury on "Man and Machine" and "Thoughts of Yesterday" aren't just blasts of power chords, but rather balancing acts with dark and melodic guitar riffs and a sense of strange sophistication that was lacking in much of the hardcore at the time. "Thoughts of Yesterday" portrays a young man already reminiscing on his past, or maybe haunted by those same memories. The song captures the struggle and the passing-of-another-year feeling so prominent in fall.

Album closer "Word Is" stands alone as a skanky and spooky dance-inflicted song that could only confound fans and critics alike. With themes of heartbreak and solitude, it's of a piece with an album that can only enhance the mysterious days and nights in particular of this fleeting season.

Discover more great autumn albums in our "Falling in Love With Music" series.

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