(I know I've been doing a lot of non-album posts lately; I'm considering spinning off another blog for them, so just try to tough it out for now)
"All the people 'neath your feet
That you'll never speak to,
You'll never meet."
Yesterday I woke up to the news that the Oakland punk band, the Matches, were going on an indefinite hiatus. And while the break seems to be amicable, this is not a situation where a return looks hopeful.
The Matches, since their conception, have been a continual force of creativity and innovation. They made music that, while existing within the confines of the term 'pop-punk' for simplicity's sake, was never truly able to be classified. I have introduced this band to a lot of people, and all of them always ask the question "what else sounds like this?". The answer is that nothing does. No one sounds like the Matches, and that that can be truthfully said about what most consider a pop-punk band is nothing short of astounding. To call them one of the best (and, has I believe history will show, important) bands of this decade would not be hyperbole. This band took risks, and if the music world were fair, those risks would have paid off financially, and this band would have been huge. But they were always just a couple of steps away from the mainstream, always on the cusp of success without actually reaching it, always being overshadowed by bands that didn't have a fraction of the Matches' ingenuity or bravery. They made music they wanted to make. They made music that was creative and original and new. They approached the act of creation and performance with nothing but huge hearts and a willingness to sacrifice for their fans and their art. They did everything that real music fans want bands to do, everything I want bands to do. But it just wasn't enough to stay afloat in a music scene that looks down on creativity and scorns new ways of thinking.
My affair with the Matches, when compared with many of their fans, has been relatively short. I discovered Decomposer in, if I remember correctly, mid 2008. And it took a while to sink in. But soon I realized how incredible of an album it was, and I quickly acquired their other two releases, E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and A Band In Hope and fell in love. For the past year I have been listening to the Matches far more than any other band in my library, and they have not gotten stale. I have not gotten bored of them. I went head-over-heels for them faster than any other group I've ever listened to, and I fall harder and harder every time I put on one of their albums. I was overwhelmed and perpetually amazed at how unique they were, and how fearless they were when it came to tearing down the long-standing and well-established walls that surround the pop-punk scene, or really, the punk scene in general. They're one of the few bands I've ever encountered who do not seem to have ever recorded a bad song, let alone a bad album. Everything they did was just absolutely stellar and unique, and so far above what most other bands are capable of. No matter how many different sounds or styles they experimented with, or how many influences they allowed to seep into their music, they never came out sounding like a different band. They were always the Matches.
For the past six months or so, I've been coming to terms with the realization that the Matches might very well be my favorite band, which is a label I am always hesitant to apply, as well as a position that has been vacant for quite some time. In fact, despite the literally thousands of artists that I enjoy, I have only given that title to one group in the past: Pink Floyd. But the thing is that with Floyd, there was always a disconnect; a barrier between them and myself; they were never really "My Band". They formed 25 years before I was born, disbanded almost a decade before I started listening to them, and always wrote their music from a perspective that was far different from my own, and therefor hard to identify with. I feel like for a band to truly be "My Band", I need to have the fan experience. I need to get the rush of going to their concerts, I need to experience the anticipation of waiting eagerly for new releases, I need to know the thrill of hearing new demos start circulating throughout the fanbase. And I missed out on that entirely. It didn't matter that I'd listened countless times to each of their fourteen albums, or that I'd amassed an unbelievable collection of live bootlegs spanning their entire history as a group, or that I'd read every biography and absorbed every scrap of information about them that I could. Pink Floyd belonged to a different generation of music fans. They weren't mine. No matter what I did or how much I loved their music, Pink Floyd would never be "My Band".
This disconnect is largely absent with the Matches. They're young, and they formed well within my lifetime. They write about things that apply to me, things that I deal with every day, that I identify with. Most importantly, they don't seem like a group of people who exist only in internet biographies; they seem like actual, living human beings, who are still out there making music and doing what they love. There were a couple different things that made me realize they deserved to be called my favorite band. One was when it struck me just how excited I was to hear new material from them. I found myself feverishly following all news of new demos or new songs being performed in concert. The other was something that has happened without my realizing it; they've become my go-to band. What this means is that if I cannot decide what to listen to, I listen to the Matches and know that I will never be disappointed, and that no matter how much I play their albums, they won't get old. For someone like me, who has a nasty habit of enjoying an album and then shelving it for six or eight months (or longer) before getting around to hearing it again, this is a big deal. But the thing that really made it sink in was just how upset I was to hear that they will no longer be continuing as a band. Even the news that Nine Inch Nails (a band I have loved for many many years) would possibly be going away forever didn't affect me like this.
So I guess that settles it. The Matches are my favorite band, and have been for some time now. And even though this has not changed because of their hiatus (I don't want to call it a breakup, despite the probable reality), it is incredibly discouraging, because now I'm not sure if I'll ever get to call them "My Band". I have never seen them live, and unless I drive out to California for their final show (which despite my optimism, is unlikely), I might not. And unless they release a posthumous collection of demos or outtakes, I might never be around for a new release, if that would even qualify as one in the first place. The added fact that I will forever have been something of a last-minute fan, having only been aware of their greatness for the last year of their existence, is like the proverbial nail in the coffin.
So now here I am, marathoning their catalog for the fifth time since yesterday afternoon, and wondering what exactly this means to me. I will always have their music, of course. And there is always the possibility that they will reunite. But mostly, what makes me hopeful is that they are embarking on new projects. I will be following these projects closely, and I expect great things, because I know these guys are capable of it. And maybe once I spend some more time with their music, I'll feel more comfortable calling them "My Band". Because I'm not going to stop introducing them to people, and people are going to continue falling in love with their music just like I did. I'm confidant that this band will be respected retrospectively far more than they ever were while together. It's unfortunate, but sometimes bands are just too ahead of their time for the general populous of the music world to handle. But eventually, they'll get their day in the sun. And when that happens, there will be a lot of people who were never 'in-the-know' while the Matches were together, and that makes me grateful that I am not one of those people. I got to experience the feeling of knowing that there was an active band making incredible music, and that was pushing boundaries and opening doors for bands following in their footsteps. I also got to experience the crushing disappointment when a band like this decided to call it quits. Both of those things are part of the fan experience that I seem to place so much importance on, and I got both of them. So maybe they are "My Band". Maybe I just didn't realize it before. And maybe one day they'll see how much they matter, and decide to give it another shot. And when they do, I'll be standing at the front of the line to welcome back my band.
So here's to a successful future for all members of the Matches, in all of their new projects and endeavors. I can't wait to love and support those new bands just as much, if not more, than I've supported the Matches. I know I won't be disappointed.