The closing track of Decade of Pain features a split-second moment that briefly dismantles the brooding, detached persona that frontman Jon Scott conjured and dutifully maintained for the entirety of the previous half hour: a quick laugh adjacent to the snarling, biting guitars, an involuntary chuckle between the comparably more despondent words escaping his teeth. It’s so quick you could miss it, but it’s there, and while some might argue and see this an oversight in the album’s production, I contend that it instead greatly humanizes it, given the flawless quality of their new wave, post-punk sound and seamless collaboration in conveying it, both of which astounded me countless times during the duration of this album.
Boors is a project that was started and is still currently maintained by Scott, with tracks that have been in constant development for years now; many tracks that appear on Decade of Pain have also appeared on Scott’s previous album Waiting for the Ice Age (which is how I found Boors in the first place) as well as his EP What’s More released last year. However, those now seem to be closer to demos considering their stripped down nature, far more relaxed tempo, and overall difference in tone from the fervid, unyielding surges of anxious adrenaline that course through Decade of Pain – swaths of energy brought on not only by the work of additional members to help bring Scott’s compositions to fruition – Tony Tibbetts on guitar, Frank Gilleese on bass, and Zachary Ellsworth on drums – but also by the near sadistic self-inflicted time restraints:
“[We] recorded the entire album in under 48 hours. It shows, but I also think that’s the charm of it. I wish the songs could have blossomed fully, but true creativity can really shine through in moments of pressure and stress. I believe we started recording at 4 pm or so on a Friday and ran until about 2 or 3 in the morning, only stopping for food, bathroom breaks, cigarettes, and coffee.”
Decade of Pain is, ultimately, more realized interpretations of songs Scott wrote, re-wrote, and released over the past few years, the collaboration helping to bring everything to a full-bodied boil; their stunningly intricate, radiant guitars and dense, compact percussion remain taut and darkened as side effects of perpetually supporting their frontman’s heavy vocals and resulting lyrical narratives but do so in the most brilliant and gorgeously resilient of ways, without sacrificing their own individual merits. Scott’s vocals, in the manner in which they are enunciated and expelled, are right at the razor’s edge of brooding and snarling, brilliantly laden and driven with such simultaneous realized pain and hyper self-awareness that throughout the album he repeatedly transforms into the epitome of catharsis, ultimately worthy of such constant, doting attentiveness from his fellow band members.
Frankly, Scott’s voice is an instrument, like many of his predecessors’; his vocal tone oscillates between the likes of David Byrne, Morrissey, and, at very specific times, even Tim Darcy of the Montreal art-punk band Ought (who, ironically, gets compared to Byrne constantly, to this day), which further adheres to the influences Scott as well as Tibbetts, Gilleese, and Ellsworth individually brought to the table for this particular album, composed of everything from Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Clash, Talking Heads, even Orange Juice and Porches. As a result, the album is a potent cocktail of post punk, new wave, and art punk, harnessing the raw, borderline improvisational energy of their instrumentals in order to express vulnerable, introspective narratives, frequently sampling, as Scott put it, the “little flavors of sadness” that come complimentary with the tumultuous, emotional journey through adulthood:
“[The album title] comes from a saying my grandmother would tell me when I was going through a rough patch or post anxiety attack. Everyone believes that your twenties are filled with joy and excitement, but my experience has been the opposite…Maybe I grounded it too much and put a certain image in everyone’s mind with a title like Decade of Pain – but ironically it comes from a place of sincerity and comfort. Even in a morbid sense: humor – though mostly warm feelings for the grandparents who raised me.”
Most, if not all, of these tracks were created in the dim afterglow of pain and frustration, with the two part opener “Regenerate” the most telling of this idea; Scott mentioned that “Pt. 2” was actually the catalyst in the production of this album:
“I was drunk, depressed, and up late one night hitting the same few notes on my bass when I decided maybe I should hit record and see where it goes. The next morning I set out to finish the song I had started realizing that it needed another section, entirely separate from its own. I look back and think that I was really pulling from a deeper state of awareness as to my own situation because the song itself is a cry for help.”
“Pt. 1” suggests a sort of lethargic melancholy that soon steadily builds to the unpredictable jerkiness of “Pt. 2,” meant to suggest both dissociation and anxiety, and in the narrative, ravenous bouts of self-doubt. It brought to mind Ought’s flawless track “Disaffectation,” about the similar feelings of wanting to be numb and yet simultaneously possessing the perpetual desire to succumb to everything – love and loss, pain and ecstasy – and just as Darcy tells us this practice “makes me feel alive” and that “I’ll do it again,” Scott admits that his “true contentment’s feeling out of touch” before readily falling through the jagged thrashing teeth of guitar.
Speaking of guitar, as far as instrumental work, the stunners within Decade of Pain have to be opposites “Ten Years” and (my personal favorite) “Rash Decisions,” the former gritty and serrated, with absolutely stellar guitar work, the latter smooth and silken, Scott’s vocals dialed back to an anguished croon and, at times, a gorgeous falsetto. Although, it would not be terribly random to include “This Should Be Easy to Show” due to its slower, yet intricate guitar as well as its perfectly rhymed verses, written in a rare “moment of endearment” rather than in the throes of loneliness, as well as “Heartbeat Slow,” written to be a lullaby, although the meaning is far more visceral:
“The premise of the song is about how I feel regarding my heartbeat. I have many fears and one of the more unfortunate ones happens to be hearing or feeling my own heartbeat, knowing that you’re mortal – I guess to some people that’s a comfortable thought.”
It’s clear then, that Scott’s enamored voice and his instrumental accompaniments, while beautifully controlled, are duplicitous, both able to hide and emphasize the embedded despair within his narratives – but nothing is more insidious than “Exit and Re-Entry” with its playful guitar, the push and pull pointing directly towards Scott’s internal monologue, which is at its most realized as he acknowledges his destructive behaviors:
“Often I find myself sheltering away; avoiding communicative means with everyone – friends and family. This plays a destructive role in maintaining meaningful and lasting friendships and relationships. Maybe that’s something some people can connect with… I get overwhelmed from pushing myself all the time to be social, go out and see people, try to form relationships and maintain the old ones. So I crawl back in my cave and wait until I’m ready to emerge with a vengeful optimism of never needing to recede back there again. So the cycle continues: Exit & Re-Entry.”
That escaped laugh in the last minute has an entirely different meaning once you’ve listened through the album a few times; it resembles a much needed pressure release, the equivalent to slashing up blackout shades in order to violently bring in light rather than simply drawing them to the sides. Decade of Pain embodies a similar dichotomy – both wildly cathartic and delicately meditative, it bites at the wound and promptly bandages it, perpetually fighting the urge to look under the gauze.
photo courtesy of artist