In August I moved to New York City, leaving behind the sun-weakened streets of Los Angeles, college, and grad school. A few weeks later I began working for Paper Garden Records and had my first listen of the album Mount Modern by Dad Rocks! During a period of such personal transition, the effect that music is having upon my memories, thoughts and feelings is more profound than it has ever been, but I don’t think that is why this album has been a nearly constant soundtrack. Navigating the subway stops and attempting to grow accustomed to the tremendous impact of the Manhattan skyline has been paired, for me, with the brilliant strumming and tongue-in-cheek lyrics of this delightfully carefree yet solemn record.
Title track and album opener, the purely instrumental ‘Mount Modern’, and its closer ‘Pants’ are perhaps the most lovable, with repeating strings, horns and hum-sung choruses so heartfelt that one gets the urge to join along with the hand claps seamlessly built into crescendos of sound. This record sounds like the spontaneity of children playing and the soothing tones of a lullaby. The lyrics echo the same concerns tackled by post-modern philosophers but placed alongside the anthems of a rock band and instrumentation of a folk band.
The solemnity of Dad Rocks! frontman Snæver Albertsson’s vocal delivery contrasts with elegance against the whimsical strings and finger-picking that pervade the sound of the album. His straight-faced delivery of both highly inappropriate thoughts (for instance, a line about his son getting to “suck on all the tits”) and probing social commentary (“there’s a global spread of wasted lives/ which we’ll later take care of with knives”) cause the lyrics to stick with the listener in some form just as easily as the pressing horns or guitar licks. My personal favorite track, the heart-breakingly short ‘Major Labels’ contrasts the creativity of kids uploading their own music and songs to Youtube with the endless stream of benign pseudo-art cranked out by major labels. He sings “they are not afraid they don’t give a fuck about/ major labels rules/ and the monetary drool/ that floats out of these major fools.” Working for an indie label myself, these ideas resonate so deeply with me. Every day I am exposed to the most beautifully crafted music that almost no one has heard, while Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber become bigger teen idols by the minute.
As we, along with Dad Rocks!, grow old enough to realize that life is very hard and often disappointing, yet still inherently full of joy & beauty, listening to this album awakens the urge to seize what little time we have and use it for good. The realization that growing up in the digital age of ubiquitous electronics and brands might be ruining our human potential to create, grow and properly experience the world around us is, for me, what separates Snæver’s writing from the un-ending slew of pop folk music. The social awareness of his poetry never judges, he admonishes himself along with the listener to think twice about the practices of our modern world, a world that is supposedly at the pinnacle of its success, but which might actually be at the height of its failure.
The musical performances captured on the album (which include the likes of Charles Spearin of Broken Social Scene) are performed, at their heart, with joy. This is certainly reflected in the orchestral fullness of the recorded album, but will be even more apparent to those who had the pleasure of catching a live Dad Rocks! show. Performed singularly by Snaever on borrowed guitars all across the world, the haunting strummed-down versions of the songs are just as poignant as their recorded counterparts. Either way, the choruses are sung with the same earnestness with which a father puts a child to bed, the instruments played with the tender care of a mother nursing her newborn. I write these comparisons purposefully, mimicking the naked honesty that this album contains lyrically, borrowing metaphors from the experience of parenting that prompted this album.
Perhaps imbued with the cluelessness of a parent, Snæver discusses topics one isn’t supposed to bring up, says aloud situations we’ve all grappled and sorrowed over but knew we must keep quiet about. Besides the discussions of economic, political and technological issues, the album also asks some profound questions about what more personal topics like love, sex and family will be like for us post Y2K kids, as we become parents, adults, husbands, wives and leaders. Though he toes line of reproach, Dad Rocks! is always the first to admit his own short-comings and failures “the hairs on my hands seem to fade a little” or “you don’t think that you are fit/ to be raising a kid.”
I experienced this album through the lens of New York City, listening on buses, walking under the Brooklyn Bridge, on a ferry approaching Manhattan. I listened to it amidst the throes of post-graduate life; a combination of utter helplessness & fear coupled with the deepest joy & freedom I have ever felt. This binary is what I hear echoing throughout each note of the album; how this spectrum isn’t a binary at all, but that these two extremes are woven together like a rope and our lives will constantly weave and wend between the two. Dad Rocks! gives a perspective on parenting at the age of 26, an age at which most of his peers still consider themselves primarily as sons and daughters. The questions he raises about ads targeted toward his 3 year old daughter, “do girls get their minds fucked by cultural brats/ does it affect their mom’s pattern/ does it affect their dads?” are the same ones that I, at 23, am wondering about for myself.
This album does what music is supposed to do for us: it reaffirms our creativity and humanity while still posing questions about the world around us that are so universal they transition seamlessly from Denmark, to Iceland, to the United Kingdom and to New York City, wielding the same power and magic in their wake.