Strangefruit – “Sea of Fog”

Strangefruit austin

Let’s get this out of the way: Jenny Maxwell, the lead singer of Strangefruit, sounds creepily like Kim Longacre from The Reivers / Zeitgeist. That might not mean much to you, but I grew up in Austin, Texas. It means a hell of a lot to me.

See, in Austin’s 1980s, there were a whole slew of bands untied by a simple idea: “What if we dropped all the post-post-whatever ironic bullshit and just said what we’re feeling?” they thought. This is Daniel Johnston’s context, the environment in which he grew and operated. The Reivers (formally Zeitgeist) are probably the band that got the biggest from that scene, which people started calling “the new sincerity” for some fucking reason. The essential experience of living in Austin (or should I say “being from Austin,” since I don’t live there any more) is knowing that sincerity is a failed experiment. A whole generation decided to say what it felt, directly, and in response the public shit down its throat or outright ignored it. Then came the silicon valley money, the jive bullshit of “keep Austin weird,” and a series of garish guitars scattered around the city to remind everyone that, no matter the party in power, bad taste will always be the governing force in the Texas hill country. Sincerity won’t save you — the opposite, in fact, will. Sincerity is sticking your neck out in front of a machine that’s mostly knives.

So Strangefruit, and its odd resonance with Kim… this is a band that doesn’t hit the high, open romantic places The Reivers did, even if the instrumentation up front is similar. This is a dark, spidery organization dedicated to Halloween color and paintings of wreckage. There’s a strong bit of artifice here, as the video for “Sea of Fog” demonstrates (the thing is literal masque). But, too, there’s an unexpected strand of sincerity here — listen for it in the opening bars of “Tell Me,” the first track off this Between The Earth and Sea E.P.. “Tell me that you love me,” Jenny demands there. “Tell me all the time.” She’s desperate to know that she’s being matched, feeling for feeling, by her counterpart — and on that score, the song remains ambivalent. In light of that kind of open need, the magician’s swagger on “Sea of Fog,” comes off as downright apocalyptic.

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man,” writes Doctor Johnson. Yeah, and? It’s an incomplete quote because it doesn’t demonstrate the how. I think it’s significant that Strangefruit open their EP with sincerity in “Tell Me,” and end it in a graveyard rattle with “Sea of Fog.” This band understands the process by which cynicism is born: “Sea of Fog,” is the crowning of an inhuman head, in some cave with lit candles…

Meaning? It’s good; it’s all good. The video is good, the EP is excellent, the experience of the thing is important and touching and hurtful. This band made me look back on my life and spit, which is just about the best thing I can say for any work of art. They should come to New York, because apparently they’re better live and, if that’s true, I’ll probably age twenty years over the course of their performance.

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