I used to obsess about lyrics. I methodically scrawled them across every surface I could find, particularly high school book covers; I was sure those words were this magical key that could help me unlock the frustrating, perplexing mysteries of the world.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, but even now I can recite the lyrics to any pre-Black Album Metallica or pre-Come Pick Me Up Superchunk album from memory, even when I don’t necessarily want to be able to remember ’em. And they served me well, giving me something to hang onto at the rough times; I still smile when I hear those songs and remember how it felt to yell along.
Somewhere along the way, though, things changed, and suddenly I realized that I didn’t care as much about the words anymore. I was more concerned with the song as a whole, the album as a whole, and less focused on those teeny-tiny liner notes; I’m not sure why it happened, but it was a pretty massive shift for me. Nowadays I’ll happily listen to M83 or Explosions in the Sky, not giving a damn about what lyrics might be attached to the music, I guess because I’ve already built my own personal mental landscapes for those songs anyway. (Words can fool you, after all…)
Listening to KLUDGE, though, the new full-length by PUJOL, the eponymic band fronted by Daniel Pujol (and yes, apparently the all-caps are supposed to be there), I found myself scrambling to find those self-same liner notes I’d turned my nose up at a couple of decades ago. The music is/was great, to be sure, and we’ll get to that, but holy crap, what the hell is he saying? I had to find out if I was hearing those words correctly.
The reason is because, more than 90-something percent of the music I’ve listened to lately, Pujol the songwriter is one heck of a craftsman lyrically. The songs on KLUDGE are warm and scrappy musically speaking, not to mention humble as all get out, and that serves to shine the light even more fully on Pujol’s lyricism, which is far more philosophical than a loose-knit ball of indie-garage-pop might seem like it could ever be.
He ruminates on the nature of the universe, on the nature of reality itself, on the nature of love, and on the nature of being a human being in the modern world, and he does it while deftly referencing Freddie Mercury, The Jungle Book, and Gary Oldman playing Dracula. A lot of the best lines slip past without hardly making a ripple the first time, only making you stop on the third or fourth listen, like the throw-off line in opener “Judas Booth” where Pujol declares, “I’m like my grandpa / The one my mom pretends is dead”.
The only songwriter I’ve listened to lately who comes close to this, honestly — and I don’t mean to malign the other excellent, excellent songwriters I’ve been listening to — is Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, who’s less a singer and more a modern-era Beat Poet, to my mind. I’m thinking Daniel Pujol could fall into the same category, although his view of the world is less gritty and more obscured by a weird-smelling haze.
He’s a bit of a chameleon, mind you. As I hinted at above, a lot of the lyrics are practically buried under layer upon layer of dirty-yet-bright, fuzzy-edged, Pavement-/GBV-/Sonics-influenced, garage-y indie-rock roar. It’s very, very easy to blink and miss the words, and then you’re left like I was, sitting there scratching my head and having to look ’em up.
“Judas Booth” kicks things off rowdy and boozy, a pile of snarling, bluesy rawk that calls to mind the aforementioned Hold Steady and Philly band Marah, and the sharp, scraping “Manufactured Crisis Control” ups the ante from there, a fuzzy mess of garage-pop that’s tuneful as it claws its way along and which makes me think alternately of Muhammad Ali (the band, not the boxer) or underrated North Carolinians The Talk. The latter sounds like it’s in a constant state of exploding, and yes, that’s as great as it sounds.
PUJOL turns romantic and gentle on “Dark Haired Suitor,” kind of ambling along in a friendly haze, while “Circles” is faster and more agile, with a gloriously cranking, classic rock-esque main bass riff and skittering, driving drums (oh, and the organ that pops up occasionally is great, too). Things get rougher with “Post Grad,” which is messy and half-live(?) at the start but quickly revs up into an awesome blast of Pixies-/Guided By Voices-ish mid-fi rock, and “No Words,” a swaying, rocking track that ends kind of suddenly, just sort of collapsing into stuttering noise that had me thinking something was wrong with the album (which must be especially confusing if you happen to listen on vinyl).
“Sacred Harp BFK” is an oddball, even here. It’s remarkably cheery, despite the rough edges and desperation in the lyrics, and insanely catchy, kind of bridging the gap between Frankie Valli (love the falsetto) and, say, Arcade Fire. It’s also a reworking of an earlier song of PUJOL’s, “Butterflyknife” off of 2010’s Alive at the Same Time, and I’m happy to see it resurrected here.
There’s also “Spooky Scary,” a jangly, bluesy, sweet, raw-throated paean to being able to finally stop moving and get off the road (and a nice way to turn around Billy Corgan’s declaration about the world being a vampire, to boot), and “My World,” a lo-fi, quirky, messy take on electro-pop that bumps and crunches along ’til you’ve got no choice but to do the same.
I’ll admit that Pujol’s voice may not be for everyone, especially on the shambling, shaky (yet still self-assured) “Pitch Black”; it’s nasal and raspy at once, and I’d imagine it could be a bit of an acquired taste. Dammit, though, it’s a taste you really should acquire, or you’re missing out.
The closing track — although, okay, it isn’t, because KLUDGE actually ends with “Ben Todd,” a hidden track that wishes happy birthday to somebody I’m assuming is a friend of Pujol’s — is “Youniverse,” a dark and moody masterpiece that comes off as melancholy at first listen but then resolves itself into something that’s maybe just realistic and smart, instead.
It’s beautiful despite its darkness, busy but intimate, and complex but straightforward. In some cracked-yet-wonderful alternate dimension, The Beatles would’ve all survived and stayed friends and somehow ended up writing this one song. And the world would all stand there with their mouths wide open ’til it finally hit them, and then they’d go utterly crazy.