I don’t fall in love with new music easily. I am ridiculously cynical and generally distrusting of nearly all things hip and current. However, there is one band that makes me want to play hookey from work, grab a can of sugar-free Red Bull and a bag of Gummi Bears, kick back and listen to music in my underwear all afternoon. This is a group that has reconfigured my entire outlook on the state of popular music: Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps.
Caroline Smith, as a songwriter, is almost too good to be true. She’s the folksy, funky, and foxy love child of Janis Joplin and your best memories of an extended weekend. Her lyrical phrasing and word selection demands your attention, forcing you to take notice in a direct but unassumingly polite way. Arlen Peiffer, Jesse Schuster, and Alex Ramsey constitute the Goodnight Sleeps, the kind of band that preteens daydream about when they cut class to loiter in front of the Electric Fetus. Their debut album, Backyard Tent Set, balances punk poetry with country storytelling in a pop context that feels, much like the first time you taste Thai food, both familiar and exotic. The songs are the sound of Patti Smith sharing a cigarette with Patsy Cline: the soundtrack to life in the modern Midwest.
My favorite track is “Tying My Shoes.” On that track, Smith delivers the kind of raw emotion usually reserved for hardcore punk shows and college campus open-mic poetry nights. Her voice flies all over the tempo, weaving in and out of the back-porch chord progression, compelling you to visualize the exact moment when the occurrence she’s recollecting became song-worthy. The duality of being madly in love while simultaneously being deliriously frustrated by the relationship has rarely been evoked so well. When that final chord rings out and she informs you that she’s “only several inches from the door” you want to dive into your iPod and slap the shit out of the seemingly oblivious antagonist, shake him by the collar and scream, “Hey, douchebag! She’s had it up to here! Make things groovy before she leaves you standing in the living room holding your untied laces!”
Also of note are the ready-for-oversaturation tracks “Lack of Height” and “Closing the Doors.” Both should be played every hour on the hour from now until a major label takes notice.
Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps are the reason you have ears, a brain, and a soul…unless of course, you don’t have any of those three, in which case disregard all of this and continue to buy Lil Wayne records.
Taylor Cisco, III (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a political essayist, newswriter, and producer. A Chicago native, he currently resides in St. Louis Park and teaches Media Arts at Dunwoody Academy in Minneapolis.