The short goodbye
Drawing Room Records
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The title of Transona Five's follow-up EP to last year's Duffel Bag couldn't be more apt: The band will indeed be going away in the coming months, beginning with bassist Scott Marks' departure for upstate New York. The remaining members--guitarist Chris Anderson, guitarist-drummer GP Cole, and drummer-guitarist-organ player Rachel Smith--plan to follow suit. But the title--and the songs--have as much to do with founding member Chris Foley's exit from the group, following the release of Duffel Bag, as it does with the rest of Transona Five's imminent exodus. The leadoff track, "The Great Escape," could be about either one, a vague farewell delivered in Anderson's hushed deadpan. When he sings, "The reasons for leaving so obvious...This shouting is not why I came here," it seems as if he's describing the apparently bitter circumstances leading up to Foley's departure. But later, he could be explaining his own reasons for leaving: "There's no more pages to turn / So I'm closing the book on this chapter / The story's over."
No matter whom it's addressed to, "The Great Escape" is a touching goodbye, as Anderson's words tentatively touch down on the fragile guitar-bass-drums, which carry the tune and not much else. It's a fitting kickoff to a disc that would be depressing if it didn't care so little, only occasionally stirring from its seat on the couch. Going Away, it turns out, doesn't really go anywhere after all: Over the course of six songs, Transona Five may travel from "Texas" to "Albany"--joined by Centro-matic's Scott Danbom on violin and Gropius' Julie Carpenter on cello--but it's just as uneasy in both places. Anderson openly questions his desire to move away from "Texas," wondering if a change of scenery is enough; it doesn't get much more dismal than regretting something that hasn't even happened yet. Of course, anyone who claims he "can't choose between happy and sad...it's all the same," as Anderson does on the bouncy "Graham Cracker," isn't ever going to be satisfied.
Anderson isn't quite that depressed; more than likely, he's having fun at the expense of the image he and his bandmates created on Duffel Bag, 1997's Melatonin Bullet EP, and a handful of singles. "Graham Cracker" is a revelatory parting shot, the band finally letting its guard down long enough to rip on its own pathetic apathy. It doesn't stay down for long, though: "Existential Repetition" is another what's-the-point meditation, as is "Safe," Anderson and Smith getting the ba-ba-ba blahs because they can't find anything good to watch on television. And, like many Transona Five songs, "Safe" and "Existential Repetition" could be Bedhead's contributions to a Stereolab tribute album. But the band never leans on either influence long enough to get comfortable, buying the frame and putting a new painting inside. It's just a shame that this may be the last time we have a chance to look at it.