By Ethan Bloomfield, Staff Writer
Key tracks: “Prayer”, “O Jarhead! O Wife!”, “Wild Dogs: Divorce!”
In this new segment, “Lobster Reviews”, ACRN recalls albums or films that are significant, thought-provoking or otherwise worth talking about. This week is Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head by Jordaan Mason and the Horse Museum.
Queer culture in music is largely uncharted water for many people. Aside from Lady Gaga, The Village People and David Bowie, queer artists and their sentiments and stories in music are overlooked by a wide margin, as opposed to their straight/cis counterparts. There are many reasons for this, but the bottom line is that representation is important for every kind of person. With this desire comes Jordaan Mason, the Horse Museum (a now-disbanded collective of singers and instrumentalists) and an album that goes squarely against the cis-driven narrative to tell a unique story about trans individuals’ experiences in which a young couple is starting their life.
The story told on Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head is not a happy one. In fact, it is one of the most crushing depictions of love, loss and identity that I have ever had the privilege to listen to. The softness of the opening piano and bass strings on track one, “bird’s nest”, is almost immediately disrupted by Mason’s distinct vocals and sometimes off-putting, abstract or grotesque lyrics, like in the track’s opening line: “My mouth is filled with his ovaries”. The song feels like a plea to feel better, a recurring sentiment throughout the album’s over one-hour runtime. It immediately establishes the album’s two main characters, the unnamed man and woman, and that at least one of them is unhappy with the body they were born into. A brass section and softly singing saws play the opening track out into the first glimpse of Mason’s world.
The motifs of the record show themselves quickly. Sex, horses and references to cult sci-fi icon Henry Darger appear throughout the album as, on bandcamp.com’s description of the album, Mason has this to say: “after many more black-outs and long nights hollering until the throat stung, we had ‘divorce lawyers i shaved my head,’ an album that amalgamates sexual histories into a story about a failed marriage between two people of confused genders and identities taking place during a glandolinian war in 1990.”
Sex is quickly shown to be a comfort and an escape for the characters, until their incompatibility shows itself. On “racehorse: get married!” (“You fuck like a racehorse / it’s your wedding day, your wedding day, say: yes”), it is just a part of their new life together. Later, in the emotional and tender “prayer”, the man laments “Where do you put your cock in? / When do you put your cock in?” highlighting the growing rift between the characters down the line and the man’s growing confusion and hatred for his body.
This shows itself first on the track “the wrong parts (vivian sisters sing)”. With the lyric “There’s an illiteracy between our legs / Where parts of me are you / And parts of you are me”. This also establishes the woman has expressed to the man that she is growing unhappy with her body. This comes to a head on the record’s turning point, “o jarhead! o wife!”
The song opens with the man questioning how the body he was born into could be capable of birth: “She slid out, I don’t know how”) and battles internal dysphoria for the sake of the other’s maternal desire. The opening verses set the stage for the self-hatred that boils over to the confrontation at the climax; lyrics like “And you, body cistern, I brought you a sister, from what holes I could not crave” are followed by “but I’ll go and be brave”, signaling that the man wants to do good by the woman’s desire to start a family regardless of her own feelings.
His bravery cannot last, though, as he mournfully wails “I don’t want to be your wife / I couldn’t stand to do this my whole life”. At this point, the couple’s marriage is beyond saving, and things take a turn for the worst.
The instrumental takes center stage on the back half of the record, as two instrumental tracks set the desolate moods of a tense and slipping household. The first, “hymn/her”, goes quiet and barren with soft, muted brass that feels like the aftermath of the preceding track’s explosive climax. The other, “after the glandolinian war”, serves almost the same function, sort of breathing room after the scattered and angry “wild dogs: divorce!” where the characters air out all their grievances. In these quiet moments, the album allows the listener to contemplate both the music and the barrage of absurd, abstract and emotional words littered throughout.
This album’s story comes to a close over the last two tracks, “carpenter/rebuild the body out of birds” and “1990 was a long year and we are running out of hot water”. These are the most telling, naked tracks for the characters. “carpenter” expresses a bit of regret for the earlier angry outbursts, pleading to escape from the hellish endeavor they’ve endured so far. On lyrics like “You are sores and red flesh / Let’s sleep again / Sin our way through secrets and cause all the violence”, the speaker seems to default to what they always have, which is sexuality as a form of coping. “Let’s leave our bodies”, both characters sing as the track fades out into a door closing and an intimate final track.
“1990” pulls no punches in its message. “You are a girl with a cock / I am a boy who can’t talk” is what the man says, assessing the final state of the former lovers. An emotionally charged accordion breathes into the song as the lyrics become more passionate. “Divorce lawyers, I shaved my head / She shaved her head / We are new” feels like denial, and the final conversation between the characters resolves this. “She pulls her pants down a little and says ‘Do you see where I used to be a boy?’” The man replies, remembering their love and sexuality at the beginning of the record, “I’ve had it in my mouth / I’ve swallowed the evidence down”. The woman breaks down, asking to “fuck and forget who I am” as the track comes to a close, with the man lamenting quietly to himself, “How do we stay warm?” The flame has finally died out as two now unrecognizable people stand before each other during the divorce proceedings.
The Horse Museum is no more. This album demanded its story be told, then the collective disbanded to focus on their own endeavors ever since. Divorce Lawyers turns 11 this year, and while the Horse Museum that backed Jordaan Mason leaves behind only one record, its legacy lives on as an important part of the independent musical landscape. The rawness, the power in the sound and the message and the effect the characters and their struggles have on the listener make this album more than worthy of recognition and celebration.