There’s a funny thing about language*. This label was almost/coulda/shoulda been called Subliminal Inevitable (or Sub-Inev) Records. That’s a phrase/alias I’ve used on the internet for more than two decades, but instead I came up with Totally Real Records (the inspiration of my friend Travis Harrison and his label Serious Business is certainly at play here, along with the fact that I was using Subinev for my weekly podcast at the time).
One of the label’s early releases in September, 2020 was the fantastic Wrong Place At Wrong Time by New Restaurants. There, the song “Physical Space” explores different phases of theoretical and physical existence, living mostly in a liminal space (which may have been the first time I became aware of the phrase.) This concept of an in-between, a transitional existence, and a looming discomfort felt (and still feels) appropriate given our new pandemic times. In the lead-up to this extremely liminal year, my band Mount Sharp had joined the Dadstache Records roster, which included fellow Brooklyn bands Onesie, Shadow Monster, and the Sharp Shadows (yes, there was a funny linguistic coincidence happening there as well).
A year later, in October, 2021, we released the Liminal Spaces tape by Astronauto (which included extremely limited edition melted crayon-entombed tapes), who was at the time my neighbor and a local indie music legend-in-the-making for his mastery of looping multi-instrumentalist psych-pop madness. He has since relocated to PA and the line between the solo project and his expansive jam-friendly rock band Medicine Fish has blurred – speaking of which they have new stuff in the works. Anyway, if we’re talking transitions and change, that record and project fully embodies it.
I headed into 2023 planning to keep releases to a minimum, but when Ben Haberland reached out to see if I’d want to work with Onesie, it was obvious that we had to give it a shot. Of course the Dadstache history was key, but the way that Ben pitched the record – which was fully complete with art and a basic release plan and everything (take note, artists), it was a no-brainer. The real hook, though, was the title. Liminal Hiss. Here we are again, back in that transition, that discomfort, that neither here nor there. But the hiss part – well I didn’t really know what that meant, but it sounded cool – maybe it’s something like the soundtrack to that liminal space. Screw it, let’s give it a shot.
The previous release from Onesie, Umpteenth, was cool (and the vinyl in particular looked awesome), but when I first heard this new batch of songs, the thing that jumped out at me was that the basic power pop template they’d established previously had been amped up with something more – a bit more darkness and reflection over a broader sonic template with more complex dynamics. It was just so much more fleshed out. This is presumptuous, but I’d wager that the challenges and joys that come with being a new parent played a big part – requiring a more focused and intentional approach to songwriting, paired with the overall shift in brain chemistry that happens to people when their priority shifts from the self to a tiny human.
Liminal Hiss begins with what is actually part of the chorus but feels like a bridge (a transition!), as we’re “Waiting for Satan” in “Permaspring.” The scene is set, the story begins. Two catchy, hoo
k-ridden singles follow in “What You Kill” and “Anemone In Lemonade” before the 80’s-leaning “Cash For Trash,” where we get this hiss part of the liminal (though it’s actually “liberal”) and Ben admits that “for years and years I was an unappreciative prick.” Many of us were. The next track, “Morning Warren” has the best start and groove of the record, before settling into a funky (horns!) tale about a “food court MVP,” complete with a tasty little rippin’ guitar solo. That’s worth mentioning – the influences loom large all over this record. Sure we can say Pavement or Sonic Youth and whatever eclectic standard indie rock stuff at times, but you may hear a ton of Cheap Trick, the Kinks, Beatles, Blur, XTC, and Fountains of Wayne all over this thing. The pop is big with this one – just take a listen to “Rat Island” for an epic romp through isolation.
With the single “Another Day In the Experiment” if feels like we’ve crossed a bridge into a more personal world, where pop hooks and snaky vocals take the listener’s hand on a nostalgic trip, maybe it’s a bit of escapism from this current experiment that you may or may not believe we’re all being subjected to. “Robocall,” “Cross The Night,” and “Let Me Guess” bring in three flavors of power pop that explore the day-to-day of the aforementioned experiment. I don’t know what could represent this band more than Haberland’s own description of “Cross The Night” as a “Pixies/Billy Joel/Sabbath mashup.”
Albumcloser “Live Yuppie Scum” takes the tried-and-true “put the epic song last” approach as it opens with a bit of lovely acoustic guitar over a bed of warpy woozy wobbles before getting into a plucky song about “midlife miseries.” The lyrical twists throughout the album are often lighthearted and playful, and what more could you ask for than turning the often-spray painted “die yuppie scum” on its head, welcoming gentrifiers with open arms while shifting tempos all over the place and stretching the band’s musical muscles in one last mad dash to the finish line?
Where does this all put us? Well, if we started at the subliminal (pre-perception, going unnoticed, at times insignificant, under the radar), we’ve moved into the liminal (the in-between, transitional, change), that can only mean the superliminal is next. It’s a three-pronged attack.
*I am not at all a linguist, in fact far from it. I try to play with words but then just ramble incoherently. In my head it kind of makes sense though, so maybe it will to you too? Anyway, enjoy the music!