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Carissa’s Wierd - They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996–2003

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Artist: Carissa’s Wierd

Album: They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996–2003

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Jul. 12, 2010

Carissa’s Wierd, the intentionally misspelled, quietly radical Northwest indie band that never broke big, made a music that distills adolescence. Moody, disconsolate, tetchy dissatisfaction ran through the band’s songs, rising to the surface in twitchy bits of percussion, occasional profanities, and a profound discomfort with the way things are. Yet, like teenagers, as the songs recoil from the real world, they draw back into a cloudier, dreamier space, defined by whispered verses, twining strings and sweet collisions of parts and counterparts. The songs are often beautiful, but never exactly easy, their effortless melodies shot through with stinging, scornful angst.

This disc spans Carissa’s Wierd’s entire seven-year career, with songs from all three of the full-lengths released during the band’s lifetime, as well as cuts from the two post-break-up albums, Scrapbook and I Before E. The earliest cuts, “Drunk with the Only Saints I Know” and “One Night Stand” from 2000’s Ugly But Honest, build slow-blooming, reticent climaxes out of guitar-jangle and the interlocking vocals of founders Mat Brooke and Jenn Ghetto.

By the follow-up, You Should be Home Here, the sweet legato of violin has entered into the mix, adding an emotive throb to the band’s delicate sounds. In the waltz time, “The Color That Your Eyes Change with the Color of Your Hair,” one of the disc’s highlights, Brooke begins to reach for the grand, soaring melodies of his later work with Grand Archives, his hushed verse trailing off into baroque twirls of violin. “Brooke Daniels Tiny Broken Fingers,” from the same album, eases twitchy, offhandedly violent imagery with the salve of string arrangements, though the strings themselves turn violent mid cut, with hard-sawed flourishes and rhythmic abandon.

The third album, 2002’s Songs About Leaving, offered the most volatile mix of angst and melody. Songs like “So You Want to be a Superhero” and “Ignorant Piece of Shit” (with Ghetto taking the lead) vibrated with uneasy, confrontational energy, while the lovely “Low Budget Slow Motion Soundtrack for Leaving” was a benediction for a band that is already on its way out. The later cuts, the ones put out Mike McGonigal’s Sad Robot imprint, continue this dichotomy, with Ghetto belting the nearly punk anxieties of “Die” and Brooke spinning diffuse, lovely, clouds of melody in “Blue Champagne Glasses.”

You can almost hear the two main artistic forces behind Carissa’s Wierd heading off into different directions, and indeed, after the band’s demise in 2003, that’s exactly what they did. Brooke went on to form Band of Horses with Ben Bridwell (who played sporadically with Carissa’s Wierd and released Ugly But Honest on his Brown Records imprint), then split again to found Grand Archives. Ghetto, the other founder, now plays with lower profile S, but sometime drummer Sera Cahoone has made her own name as an alternative country singer.

Most of the curiosity about this defunct local favorite comes, naturally, from the more famous bands it’s spawned, and indeed, without the success of Band of Horses and Grand Archives, it’s hard to imagine Carissa’s Wierd getting even a modest posthumous push. Still, there’s a lovely tension in these nervy cuts that seem to balance discomfort with the everyday world and a surreal, beautifully-imagined space. It’s a tension you won’t find in Band of Horses or Grand Archives, and it makes these songs sputter and sizzle with energy.

By Jennifer Kelly

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