20,000 Albums for Eidelyn Gonzales: The Decline of Stupid Fucking Western Civilization

By Venus Rittenberg, Editorial Director

[Oh! Map; 2015]

Key tracks: All, especially “Evidence”

Well, here it is. The end of the semester. This is my last column until September. I wanted to end this run of issues on a special note, so I decided to write about a special album. The Decline of Stupid Fucking Western Civilization is one of my favorite albums, and it means a lot to me. It’s one of those albums that I love so much it can be hard to form coherent thoughts about, talking about it often devolves to repetition and rambling. In fact, I actually tried to write about this album for this column previously, but ended up walking away from it for various reasons. This version is much better, but strap in. It is a little long, as I am discussing all eight tracks.

Read more: 20,000 Albums for Eidelyn Gonzales: Atomizer 

The Decline questions what I take from music. It deals heavily with trauma and mental illness like some of my other favorite music, but Jordaan Mason writes about these topics perhaps better than anyone else. They capture the complexities and confusing details of these issues in ways few artists have even attempted, and for them it seems to come so naturally. The album reminds me a lot of Xiu Xiu’s Fabulous Muscles, which for those who don’t know, is my favorite album of all time. Like The Decline, it deals with trauma and mental illness, but where Fabulous Muscles deals with the actual traumatic acts themselves, The Decline is more troubled with the effects. Like Fabulous Muscles, I discovered The Decline during a particularly difficult time in my life, and The Decline quickly became what Fabulous Muscles had been: a coping mechanism.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Who is Jordaan Mason? Jordaan Mason is a Toronto-based nonbinary artist who achieved “cult classic” status with their phenomenal 2009 album, Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head. I’m not going to delve into all the nuances of that album here, that alone could fill an entire column. If you’re curious about that album Ethan Bloomfield, our reviews editor, wrote an excellent review of it that you can find here. The album is ultimately about a trans couple that breaks down due to failure to conform to societal norms for relationships. It is one of the greatest lyrical feats of all time and deserves much more attention than it receives, but The Decline is yet another incredible lyrical feat, but only receives a fraction of the attention that Divorce Lawyers had. The Decline is almost as good.

Musically, The Decline is very different from Divorce Lawyers. Whereas Divorce Lawyers was more folk-y, reminiscent of bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and AJJ, The Decline almost seems to have evolved from post rock. It is a slow-moving album. It takes its time, sometimes moving at a glacial pace. No song exemplifies this better than the title track. The 12-minute title track is very spartan, at least in the beginning. It is just Jordaan and their guitar, which is very sparse itself. By comparison, the following track, “Pharmacy,” feels quite full in spite of also being kind of sparse and slow in its own ways. “Pharmacy” is one of the most melodic songs on the album, making it an ear-worm, and I consistently find it stuck in my head. The song deals with being medicated to the point of numbness, which makes it thematically relevant to the third track on the album, the stunning “Of Hospitals.”

“Of Hospitals” is a brutal song about forced hospitalization. Musically it starts subtle, with Jordaan’s voice and a strumming guitar. Jordaan calmly sings about their blood being tested time and time again. The song begins to build after a verse however, becoming very intense very quickly. It’s a good intensity though, the song is lively, catchy, and fascinating. Jordaan’s verse during this segment of the song is quite interesting itself. “See: they took me from the savagery / And the surgery of my own body / We break in threes, I swallow these / I sing my own gallimaufry / And when sister says call the police / That wiseacre ain’t gettin’ me / She said they held me down until release / And I scratched my head into the streets / There’s fragments now, all in me / Of hospitals, all in me,” gradually rising to a yell. Already one can see Jordaan is not your average lyricist. The verse depicts someone resisting being taken to a hospital by police. The topic certainly has earned the intensity of the music. This verse is one of the best vocal performances from Jordaan across their whole discography alone, making the song a highlight. The following verse picks up where the last verse left off, yelling. Jordaan hollers about the invasion of privacy-of humanity-that often accompanies hospitalization. Around the halfway point, the song transitions to a slower, calmer portion where Jordaan repeats the same couplet of lines as the melody continues steadily before dissolving into nothing.

“Liturgy Part Two” shares themes with “Liturgy,” the closer from Mason’s 2007 album, Mantra Songs. “Liturgy Part Two” is very soft and quiet, but is once again quite upsetting lyrically. The song appears to deal with sexual violence, but the lyrics are vague and loaded with metaphors that make it difficult to understand. With that said, there’s definitely enough there to pick up on some themes. Love seems to be one, or rather, understanding. “I have read the novels in your black eyes, your zebra stripes.” Another theme that appears is language, something that was a frequent theme on Divorce Lawyers. “I memorize the dictionary though diction has all but failed me.” On Divorce Lawyers, Jordaan frequently talks about wanting “a word” or “language” with the person they are in love with, but is clearly unable to find one. This deals with how language is so often complicated by transgender individuals, and how it can become hard to label yourself or your relationships.

The theme of sexual violence shows up more overtly in the second half of the song, “We had to hide our erections / He put one hand near his head and made the shape of some weapon / I can’t forgive him / No, not yet.” “My sister is screaming and no one believes her / The mattress is glistening with blood and with sugar.” Although once again vague and metaphorical, within the context of the album’s theme of trauma and the album being dedicated to “victims of abuse,” it seems logical to come to the conclusion that this is a depiction of an assault. The song remains soft and calm the whole time, even when Jordaan raises their voice or the drums kick in. It is slow, taking its time delivering its message. This calmness and slowness makes the song kind of uneasy, rather than assuring, which it probably could’ve been, with happier lyrics, but that wouldn’t be very Jordaan Mason-y.

The second half of the album begins with another catchier, faster song: “Stop Walking Start Swimming.” This is perhaps the closest to “normalcy” the album comes, approaching a faster tempo, a captivating guitar line, and a chorus. This song once again mentions language and its failings, which as previously stated illustrates an isolation that Jordaan feels. This song is all about isolation, and desperately trying to claw your way out of it. The most affecting and clearest line on this topic throughout the song is “I don’t want a private life.” “Eulogy” follows after. The first portion of the song continues “Stop Walking Start Swimming”’s faster, more rhythmic motion. However, the song eventually transitions to a slow-build portion that eventually erupts into an awesome guitar solo.

The penultimate track is called “Evidence.” It is quite possibly the greatest song of all time. It is this song in particular that became a huge part of my coping during the time I discovered this album. Listening to it now transports me back to that time in my life, which isn’t always a good thing considering how awful it was. The song begins with thumping guitars that have so much energy it’s impossible to not immediately be enthralled by the song. The first verse of the song depicts a relationship getting through struggles together. After this verse, Mason sings, “And I pissed the bed again and he held me warm and wet,” a line that at first glance seems disgusting and off putting; however, it must be noted that wetting the bed has been found to be a symptom in those struggling with child abuse. With this context, being held comes to represent being comforted after trauma. Following this line is the most heartbreaking stanza across the whole album: “And he tried to be tender but he could not make it better / And he tried to be tender but he just could not make it better / And I tried to be tender but I could not make it better / And I tried to be tender but i just could not make it better.” Sadly, no amount of love can heal the scars of trauma.

The next verse sees Jordaan collapsing. “There is no need for ten gallons of water / The dirt in my head will never grow sunflowers.” “I am filled with shame,” “I do not understand,” “I will stay away.” Then there is a shift to a depiction of domesticity, a frequent theme in Jordaan’s work, as previously mentioned: “He is cleaning the kitchen / Shed sweaters, linens, some sexual positions / Can we switch instead, can we share some bread / Can we please never get out of bed.” This serves to depict the relationship in its functionality. In spite of the pain that the narrator feels, there are still good times. The song progresses. Eventually, we reach another stanza mentioning tender, this one seeing the relationship at its worst: “This winter is a goddamned shit / What about tender! Tender! Tender!” Sadly, love alone is not enough to save a relationship.

At this point, about the halfway mark, the song slows dramatically, and the instrumentation becomes almost ethereal. This slow section continues for several minutes. During this time Mason laments “I have left evidence on you / All this violence in my head,” remarking on the way their trauma has impacted their partner. Suddenly, the song snaps out of this slow portion like someone snapping out of a trance, and the intensity picks back up. Mason sings, “I tried to remember what it was that I had done / She described it like a dream that I could not be woken from.” This is where the song gets even more heartbreaking. The last line of the song is “Please don’t call the cops on me,” which could imply a couple of things: the narrator either exhibited signs of being a threat to others, or to themselves. The threat to themselves would work with the album thematically, calling back on “Of Hospitals.” With this, the song explodes and then begins to fade away.

The closer of The Decline is named after a reference to the queer film My Own Private Idaho. “I’ve Been Tasting Roads My Whole Life” continues to deal with the effects of trauma. However, it could be interpreted as a hopeful note for the album to end on. The first few verses are not that uplifting, containing lines like “Placing the blame on the part of me that’s fucked too much to say “til death do us part.”” However, the song does get more cheerful. Mason ponders if they can “Stop waiting for the sun to rise and finally feel safe at night.” Towards the end of the song, Jordaan says, “Open this door and share this bed,” a line that sticks out because of its depiction of desire for domesticity. It is not the end of the song, but it is a line that draws attention quite near the close, and it leaves a lasting impression. The actual last line continues the reference to My Own Private Idaho, but also references the domestic life. “I want to spit this road out / and build a whole new house,” meaning they want to build a home that is free from their troubled past. It’s a peaceful note to end an album that is anything but.

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