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The first time I ever saw The Babies live, I started to get that sensation that some of the crowd wanted to form a pit, but by the band’s climax as Cassie Ramone and Kevin Morby had both simultaneously collapsed on the stage floor, the crowd had all pushed forward with such violent momentum to the front of the floor to see what was going on and share part of that same overwhelming emotional expression, that everyone had forgot about everything or doing anything except being in that singular, beautiful moment of escape. I came across the same sense of this while first listening to their debut album, but only now has it truly solidified that listening to The Babies is truly an all-encompassing experience. There are many bands that require you to give something of yourself to completely get what they’re doing, but there are very few that leave you with a totally different perspective after it’s over than when you entered it.
What truly makes Our House On The Hill a special album is its ever present and overwhelming sense of push and pull between two very different ideas. For a band that’s seen amongst companies of punks and freaks in warehouses and house shows across Brooklyn, many of the emotions and ideas behind the songs are refreshingly traditional and romanticized in their values. Virginia Woolf would have hated this album. Songs like “Baby” and “Alligator” are so fantastically, romantically maudlin, there’s not much separation between them and a standard like Burt Bacharach’s “A House Is Not A Home.” It’s funny but it’s true. The packaging may be new, but the message behind it all isn’t, and there’s something comforting about it in that respect. Sometimes one must see it’s still cool to write about whatever the counterculture has at that point in time deemed “uncool.” Perhaps it’s even more mature than we masquerade against to still believe in monogamy and escapist rustications to the Midwestern Plains in an age of lost innocence.
Unfortunately, like every conversation at a party about Oh-OK eventually veers towards that trivia about Michael Stipe, it seems every press release and review to come out about The Babies ultimately relies on that tired, old handicap of comparing them to Morby’s involvement with Woods and Ramone’s equivalent with Vivian Girls. Often, many even resort to calling it their side “pet project,” trivializing and misunderstanding what they’re doing, and it’s a shame because not only the highest moments but even the everyday moments of Our House On The Hill, often surpass the crowning achievements of Share The Joy or Bend Beyond.
It’s just a perfect album entirely unconcerned with being perfect—or, more accurately, being perceived as perfect—but don’t be confused, people become too concerned with rating and comparing the hierarchies of a band’s output as you can see I just did above. As Gertrude Stein wrote, we never get better, we just get older and different, and truly great bands not only realize this, but, because of it, stay high above everyone else on some unattainable plain where everything they do is not better than what they did before or will do, it’s just different. So, Our House On The Hill is fantastic album, but it’s true beauty relies on it acting more of a response to The Babies’ debut than necessarily an act against it.
To me, The Babies are what truly represent what New York is—not that idealized portrait of individuality and a billion dreams you hope it is when you first arrive, but that quite sadness that overcomes you, even in your happiest of moments, when you realize you’re merely part of the current of some single, never-ebbing wave pushing towards some great Uncertainty. Some of us may only be the trough, and some may be the whitecaps, but constantly are we pushing, moving forward. That’s The Babies.
I can’t explain any better what it’s like to listen to this album, but if you’ve ever been in New York and felt that anxiety well up in the pit of your stomach walking alone down some abandoned street in the middle of the night under the yellow haze of the streetlamps; if you ever paced an empty subway station, waiting for a train that’s already ten minutes late to take you away from there, anywhere but where you’re actually going; if you ever been with all of your friends at your happiest, but yet you suddenly still feel that loneliness; or even been at your most alone and desperate in the City, with no money for food or rent, and have never have felt more content in your life—that’s what it’s like to listen to Our House On The Hill. And romantic or not, that’s about as close to real life as it gets.
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