Today is the Day – No Good to Anyone (29 February 2020)
Just like this article from Monday, here is another album that had been released at the end of February, by an artist who subsequently headed out on a major tour to promote said album, only to end up with numerous scheduled dates canceled mid-trip and being unexpectedly forced to return home.
The artist we will be discussing today is none other than Today is the Day, the highly experimental trio that for decades has featured founder/guitarist/vocalist Steve Austin and a pair of constantly revolving doors for his supporting cast. This new record No Good to Anyone is the band’s eleventh full-length release, and the first since 2014’s Animal Mother.
Frankly, having a tour suddenly truncated due to the global outbreak of a deadly virus is very much on-brand for Mr. Austin and company. Last time around (late 2014) the tour van went rolling and sliding after being run into at 65-MPH by another vehicle that had lost control. The initial diagnosis of “some broken ribs and destroyed equipment” soon turned into a mysterious severe inflammation — and to make matters worse, the following year the singer tragically lost his dog Callie, and then very nearly lost himself as well, both as a result of Lyme disease.
“The swelling can increase the size of your hand to over twice as big,” he explained. “A couple of times I almost suffocated because my throat was becoming so swollen that it was cutting off my airway.” He added, “The worst was one time when it felt like my right shoulder was crushed, my left elbow was crushed, my foot was swollen up super huge. … At one point, I just broke down crying, almost like a nervous breakdown. My wife and son were standing over me and I realized, this is the most embarrassing thing in the world. Because I can’t stop it. There is nothing I can do about it.”
So that is the mindset and the environment from which sprang this new record, referred to by its creator as “fourteen different paintings of a gloomy, dark New England landscape.” Of course, any TITD album could accurately be described as a series of different paintings; bouncing ADHD-style between vastly disparate musical themes and styles from one song to the next, or often within a single song, has been a hallmark throughout the band’s career.
Also longtime characteristics of Today is the Day: a painstakingly raw and emotional sound, often enshrouded in layers of ugliness. All of these aspects are on display as the album opens with its title track; repeated heavy doom riffs are accompanied by spoken word vocals (a bit like Iggy Pop‘s intro/outro bits in “Black Sunshine“), while occasionally giving way to explosive bursts of grinding insanity. “Son of Man” (where the riffs are kind of grunge/stoner-flavored but which also features some psychedelic bits), “Burn in Hell” (with a bit more of a southern stoner-doom sound, but again suffering from sudden bouts of frenetic chaos), and “You’re All Gonna Die” (equal parts thrashy and quirky) all represent this expression of pain and ugliness.
Perhaps the more lasting impressions, however, will come from some of the album’s more tender moments: the brief interlude “Orland” (named for the town in Maine where the frontman resides) consists of a thirty-second snippet of “Clair de Lune” played by Austin‘s 15-year-old son; this was included on the record because, as the bandleader recalled, at some of his worst moments “[Willie] would be upstairs and all of a sudden start playing that piece. It had this calming effect on me in my throes of feeling like I’m about to go off the edge. It immediately would make me feel better because he means the world to me. No matter how bad I feel, I knew there was goodness going on.”
The young man also contributed to the final moments of the record: after the primarily acoustic-based closing number “Rockets and Dreams” fades away, replaced by a lengthy session of confused noise, the younger Austin chimes in with a rendition of “America the Beautiful.” But (to this listener, at least) the sweetest moment here is another acoustic song, an ode to the departed “Callie” — which on the surface sounds rather uplifting, although any effort made at digging into the lyrics reveals a very touching, heartbreaking expression of the deepest sorrow.
But when it’s all said and done, the architect who crafted No Good to Anyone offers his hope that “within the album, in my darkness and sorrow of the shit that I’m facing, of mortality and all that, the message that I’m leaving behind is a message of love.” And that is certainly something the whole world can use more of right now.
No Good to Anyone can be found in various formats right here.
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