I don’t like to get too sentimental or romantic but I’m going to allow myself this nostalgic self-indulgence. For my brief, pretentious career as an amateur music journalist, I’ve often thought about how to put into words my feelings about alt-rock as an emotional movement. Even with some musical differences, there’s something to be said about bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, The Mountain Goats, and Arcade Fire as an emotional mirror.
If you liked music as a kid, you probably have musical memories. For me, I remember listening to Breakfast With The Beatles with my family on long Sunday car rides, or listening to 90s country with my mom on the way to doctor and dentist appointments, or discovering entry-level punk music at 12 years old. Those songs put me back when I was 9, 10, 11. Likewise, music I got into in high school reminds me of sitting in my car in a school parking lot, or driving around late at night in my small, Washington town.
However, most powerful among music are the songs that seem to remind me of both times. Songs by The Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire, despite having been discovered later in my teenage years, seem to resonate with my childhood memories as well. Logically, it’s pretty ridiculous. I was 16 when The Suburbs came out, so it can’t possibly tie to my ten year old self, and yet, it does.
Indie rock works like lullabies, or crackled melodies transmitted through a broken radio to youth. They conjure powerful images of lonely streets, small towns, and emotional connections between people not fully in control of their emotions. Even so, they connect to where we are now. There are these reference points, footnotes, asides, that put us back in 2013, as young adults with lives, relationships, and some abstract concept of the “real world”. It’s powerful.
Enter The Uncluded. Made up of Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson (two powerful songwriters and storytellers in their own right), The Uncluded are a weird hybrid-y folk hip hop that strikes that emotional balance perfectly. Since leaving The Moldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson has made a career out of silly, pretty children’s songs and initially, the debut Uncluded album (titled Hokey Fright) seems similar. With songs titled “Eyeball Soup” and “Jambi Café” that include nonsense words and silly mispronunciations in their lyrics, The Uncluded seems like another foray into children’s music.
Songs like “Delicate Cycle” paint vivid pictures of childhood (Dawson sings about her mother working as a lunch lady and her father’s career as a laundromat worker), contrasted with adult understanding and reflection. Inside of the childish lyrics and silly rhymes, The Uncluded are explicitly linking childhood and adulthood. Introduced at their live show as “A Public Service Announcement”, the song “Organs” juxtaposes clinical, macabre language about death and organ donation with rhymes about animals trading parts (“The turtle gave its shell to the crab who gave its eyes to the bird who gave its wings to the bat”).
The Uncluded put on a great show. I saw them in Seattle last week and they were exceptional. Their songs are catchy and nice, but it takes a step away from the show to really understand how talented they are. By taking those elements of childhood and mashing them up with the realities of adulthood, they’re creating something relatable to weird in-between people. How else are we supposed to take an album that references the Jonestown Massacre and has a song called “Tits Up”, while also earnestly endorsing blue raspberry candy and fluffernutters.
Check out The Uncluded. You’ll be glad you did.