Every fall, teenagers worldwide go off to college expecting to find a career and themselves. Most of what they find is disappointing. Like, instead of a road trip with a manic pixie dream girl, there’s an exciting if ill-advised romance with a lady who sticks her finger down her throat so she can drink more. Freshman year is a blur of panic attacks and vomit and questions like, “is this a sunrise or a sunset I’m waking up to?”
Good Morning Midnight’s Both Neither and Both (release October 26) serves well as a soundtrack to this emotional clusterfuck – or any other, for that matter. It’s opening track, “Dynamite Head,” channels Mark Arm and the sound coming from a mid-80s, frosty and rusted-out Seattle… before the big money came in and ruined everything from the music to the zines to the coffee.
But this album isn’t a regurgitation of that era’s music – though sometimes singer-songwriter Charlie Cacciatore reminds me of Elliott Smith*. It’s not even an homage. At 20, Charlie – who performs under the name of his solo project, Good Morning Midnight – delivers a voice that is both modern and moldable. It’s a voice that speaks to the uncertainty and tired optimism that accompanies post-adolescence. On Both Neither and Both, Charlie articulates all those wants and fears that make a city on the edge.
It’s ironic, then, that Charlie spent his short time at the University of Iowa feeling isolated from his peers. They just weren’t on the same page.
“I was writing songs while they were writing essays,” Charlie says.
He chose to study English because he thought it would help him to write better lyrics. As a result, some lines you hear on the album are inspired by books he read that first semester.
“All your favorite songs are ripped off from poets,” he laughs, echoing the self-deprecating and sardonic humor that also color his lyrics.
The thing is, Charlie’s motives for moving to Iowa City had nothing to do with wanting to study English. His mission was twofold: first, to get out of his hometown of Des Moines – mostly because he went to a catholic high school and, by age 18, was ready to explode – and then, to work with Luke Tweedy at Flat Black Studios, the studio that produced Good Morning Midnight’s first LP, Basket of Flowers.
While college seemed to make sense at the time, the university was only an avenue. Like many other great musicians to come out of that town, it didn’t take Charlie long for to wise up and drop out midway through his second semester: “It’s laughable that 18-year-olds plan out their lives.”
That urge to escape and to wander, to find the place where one belongs, informs many of his pieces. In “Cowboy Song”: “Charlie get a grip, you could leave this all behind/Drive 10 minutes south and you’re out of sight already…For every nice village there’s a hundred ditches to sleep in/Charlie you could change your name, don’t it matter much anyway.”
Those lyrics pretty much exemplify the whole album. It is the story of hopeful disenfranchisement, of reaching out but not yet grasping, disappointment while smiling because it’s everything’s probably going to work out. Maybe.
This is a collection of work by a young, promising artist with an impressive background. In addition to writing multiple albums of his own, Charlie regularly plays bass for Elizabeth Moen, performs solo shows, and works five-to-six days-a-week at the Record Collector.
On top of all of this, he’s already started on the next Good Morning Midnight project: a friggin’ double. Album. It’s slated to come out next year.
“The material is mostly ready,” Charlie says. “I like to have the next thing ready while the previous thing is coming out… I fear putting out one album every four years.”
He expresses concern about “getting the most” out of himself, which is a struggle for any serious artist. Ideas don’t just appear. Someone has to recognize them and nurture them.
Example: “Skipping (Sacred Holy) Stones” has an oom-pah beat and a showman’s refrain that begs to be turned into a made-for-TV rock opera starring Aaron Paul. Now that someone has recognized this idea, it’s time to put a plan into motion.
Fortunately, Charlie has a lot of support from Tweedy and Dana Telsrow of Flat Black, Moen, and peers. It’s support like this that helps artists like Charlie meet seemingly impossible goals. Both Neither And Both will have a limited vinyl run through Iowa Imprint Long Play Records, which will press just 200 records. This is very cool because aside from a brief resurgence about fifteen years ago, people don’t do vinyl much anymore. They’re even priced vintage! Twenty bucks is a steal for a vinyl album. Plus you get the digital album along with it for free, so it’s like the vinyl is just $15.
Tell ‘Em Tapes, meanwhile, is releasing the album on a run of 50 cassettes at just $7 each. These media are perfect for this album, and these editions probably wouldn’t exist if Charlie hadn’t found the peers and mentors he has in Iowa City.
(You know, it seems like every great band or musician that comes out of Iowa City started off at the school and then dropped out. It’s almost as though a college degree has little to no bearing on success. That’s just silly, of course. That would mean that millions of Americans are sinking into insurmountable debt for nothing.)
The vinyl, cassette, and digital album are all available for preorder online, along with some merch. Check it out and get a tape – I want my rock opera.
*So, like, this is rife for conspiracy theory: Elliott Smith sang about his stepdad, whose name was Charlie? And, like, Elliott Smith had an album called Either/Or which is, like, a lot like Both Neither And Both? And, like… dude’s voice totally sounds like Elliott Smith? Which I know I already said but still… spooky! Listen to “Angel’s Dirty Knees” and tell me it doesn’t remind you of “Miss Misery.”
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