Locals: Gelatinus Cube at the Shrunken Head
Entering into writing sessions for a new Gelatinus Cube record, singer/guitarist Pat Chase noticed an internal shift happening.
“Most of the other records are blaming. They're heavily focused on, ‘This is your fault,'” Chase said in 2017. “This one, it's something different. … This album is drawing that line in the sand for me: ‘Who are you going to be?'”
But as work progressed slowly over the last year, the scope shifted more drastically, with Chase starting to look outside of himself and asking, “What kind of world do I want to live in?”
The resulting album,Wild Animal Land, finds the longtime bandmates — founding members Chase and guitarist Tim Swanson started Gelatinus Cube as teenagers more than 15 years ago — delving into issues like global warming (“Skyjamming”), the manicured selves people push on social media (“Role”) and a political landscape where refugee families are cruelly separated by an unnamed “bottle tan” leader “who said we would always be winning” (“Firecrime”).
“Talking to leftist-type people in the lead-up [to the 2016 election] … there were people talking about how voting was stupid because there wasn't a real choice. Why couldn't they see this was different?” said Chase, who will join his bandmates at a record-release concert at the Shrunken Head on Saturday, Dec. 15. “Look, I had problems with the previous administration. The drone strikes and endless war didn't stop, and we were still messing with the Third World … and doing all of these awful things. But it's not like we were tear-gassing people at the border, or having conversations about the ‘good people on both sides' at Charlottesville.
“Basically, the rest of the world became more terrifying and impossible to ignore — for everybody. … I looked back at the last record,24 Hour Rock and Roll, and it was like, ‘Why was I so worried about that?' Getting dumped and not handling it the right way? That's a nothing-burger compared to all these other things. How about some adult concerns?”
Chase's gravest concerns are focused on the future of the planet itself, with “Skyjamming” envisioning future interstellar travelers happening upon a waterlogged, smog-choked Earth. “What happened to the humans?” Chase sings. “They used their magic to raise the seas and turn the air to smoke that they couldn't breathe/It happened so slowly, at a gradual rate/So they didn't believe it till it was too late.”
These politically and socially charged turns are balanced by some of Chase's most intensely personal songs, including “Vinewood Beach,” where the frontman wrestles with a broken relationship, the onset of adulthood and a life that, at times, feels less chosen than foisted upon him. “These aren't my friends/These aren't my plans,” he sings atop mournful sax on the mellow, jazz-tinged tune.
Regardless,Wild Animal Land, at its core, remains a hopeful record, setting positive affirmations amid nightmarish backdrops (“Trust me, you're not broken,” Chase sings on the jangly, shadow-cast “See No Trees”) and hope for better days against polluted realities. Indeed, even when Chase sings of cycles of violence on the album's title track — “Pass your trauma to whoever you can/With your words or with your hands,” he offers — it's clear he refuses to be yet another domino paying these pains forward.
“It's so weird how people with significant others, or people they really care about, can be so snappy and mean in the way they say things, which has nothing to do with the other person,” Chase said. “Then the other person takes that and starts to feel that same anxiety and isolation, and it can make them snap out. People do the same thing to their kids all the time, too.”
Early in Gelatinus Cube's existence, Chase was more apt to let his words cut both himself and others. As he's gotten older, however, some of those sharper edges have been rounded down, and a more mature perspective has bled into the songwriting. “If you're doing it right, every time you look back you should see something glaring in your face that you need to get rid of or try differently,” he said.
Musically, however, the band has held tight to its teenage punk ethos, embracing off-key tunings, unusual time signatures and discordant melodies, which add welcome splashes of color and unpredictability to the landscape.
“That has always been the musical strategy. We're going to sound different by utilizing harmonies other people are not willing to utilize. Nobody is going into the tri-tone, minor sixths. They're not going into some of those weird places,” Chase said, going on to explain the band's familiar-but-askew approach in more HGTV-friendly terms. “We're definitely still living in a house, but it's not feng shui. There's a table, sure, but the chairs are all lined up against one wall.”
The Shrunken Head
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15
251 W. Fifth Ave., Short North
ALSO PLAYING: Why Omen, Friendly Faux