Sometimes when you are building stories like this one, you start with a specific ending in mind. I knew I wanted to close with We The People, but I needed a lead in that offered the proper climax to its denouement. As I was flipping through different discs and records and digital albums, I accidentally fell down a rabbit hole that led to The Estranged, as is often the case. I put the album on and turned it up, and the end of the show revealed itself to me. Of course. Sometimes, you let rock and roll be your lodestone, and everything will work itself out; even though static thoughts, they were still able to get through.
In the wake of a new millennium, rock and roll was entering a dangerous period of synthesizers, Bumford & Lames, and laptop DJs that was threatening the future of guitars. Every party bleeped and blooped with a steady sonic pulse of un-ironic Erasure re-mix 12″s, and more and more kids were trying to ignore the work done by garage rock bands and punk-inspired retro acts, in favor of a future that was shiny and plastic. It was easy to get discouraged as math rock failed to hit it big, and while indie made a polished and tiny foothold in CW dramas, it felt as if someone had walked over Keith Moon’s grave. Where were the three-chord wonders? Who was gonna save the world from itself?
Like their heroes The Wipers, The Estranged came out of Portland, where Pierced Arrows and a few others were trying to save the scene from itself. The gimmick was simple: rock songs, well played, well written, and polished by guys who practiced relentlessly. Their movement from the garage to the studio was a tactical progression, and as they each became skilled performers, they worked out the tunes for Static Thoughts as their version of Is This Real? – a mission statement of influences – that was to become the blueprint for the rest of their output. The most strategic move was to get Jason Powers to engineer, who had made a name for producing great work with Scout Niblett, Holy Sons, The Decemberists, Grails & The Swords Project. The Estranged believed if they could get the kind of Indie Rock polish on a straight rock record, they could capture a new audience and bring them into the dirty sonic landscape that was punk.
“The Message” returns us to the beginning of our thematic story: broadcasting to an audience, trying to make yourself be heard. Many of us spend our days in a barrage of Static Thoughts, a swarm of ideas and notions that overwhelm us with a constant din of binge-watched TV, 100s of gigs of new .mp3s, computers inserted into every flat surface imaginable, and 10 layers of management each telling us what to do. This largely mirrors the relationship Monkeyface & Marconi had with each other, competing so hard to become well known that when they try to demonstrate their own technologies, their signals jam each other, so much static that neither could pick out a signal. Sometimes, it is all we can to do send out one message, anything, and make ourselves be heard. “The Message” uses a propulsive bassline to anchor the tune, a bouncy guitar riff, and Joy Division meets Television-esque vocals to cut to the heart of the matter. How can I get through? What can I say that will reach you? It feels like the message is not clear, and not getting through, no matter how hard you want to say what you mean. In the end, all we have are these awkward attempts, these moments where we work and craft and make ourselves as articulate as possible, and leave The Message behind for others to interpre