There’s No Adult Upcharge on Fishboy’s ‘Waitsgiving’, Just a Folk-Punk-Tinged Lyrical Storybook
In February, I got to experience a few hours in Denton, Texas. The evening consisted of drinking a smoothie at a downtown beverage establishment, taking pictures like an insufferable tourist, and eating pancakes at a diner named Dix that wasn’t shy to let you know they were open 24/7 and heavily promoted their Dix Special. Oh, and there was an adult upcharge for ordering off the kid’s menu and this frame was frozen on the TV the entire time I was there.
But childish puns and semi-occult diner vibes aren’t the only things to be found in Denton. The city also serves as the home base of Fishboy, an eclectic pop project fronted by Eric Michener. Michener’s songwriting is quirky and narrative-driven, reminiscent of similar acts like Say Hi or even Danielson. It’s the sort of music that is perhaps weird in some respect but not for the sake of weirdness itself. And this is fine – the themes are removed from reality. Much like there’s absurdity in dragons and fairies that we readily dismiss in film, some of the oddities here are, to borrow from the programmer’s lingo, “features, not bugs”.
The recently-released Waitsgiving is a foray into an adventurous world of indie-pop smothered in playful lyrical quips. The songs teeter between piano-fronted and guitar-centered. At times, the songs feel theatrical; other times, folk-punk vibes eclipse these arrangements. But whatever sonic form Fishboy takes, there’s a running narrative on the album – one of the life of people longing for creative breakthroughs in a world where a holiday centered on waiting has been introduced.
There’s undeniably meta-commentary here on the creative process, but the line between fiction and fact are blurred quite carefully. And not all of the commentary is positive, either. “Bass Digger” speaks to how the pursuit of artistic success can damage personal relationships and that sometimes putting your desires aside is the best choice you can make. Of course, that’s not to say such a sentiment should be generalized – it is aimed at another character in the story. But there’s nonetheless some universality in this, having seen a friend’s marriage destroyed from similar reasons.
Michener’s voice is characteristically-whiny. But it’s fitting. These are whimsical-yet-urgent songs that thrive off his character. Every word he delivers feel imminent. There’s no crooning or crazy vocal runs – most of it is spoke-sung, again characteristic of folk punk or even bands like CAKE. Ultimately, it adds to the storytelling angle of the album, presenting Michener as narrator and the characters as unique voices.
In terms of narrative, “The Last Waitsgiving” sees the various characters’ lives coalesce. Much like La Dispute’s Rooms of the House, there are intertwining references to other songs throughout the album – but here, we see disparate stories come together more plainly. Understandably, this is the most lyrically-dense of the tracks as it reveals the interplay of the album’s cast. While it’s not the proper closing track, it does a good job tying everything else together.
With all this said, Waitsgiving is not the album for everyone. That’s also perfectly okay. This is a quirky, semi-comical album with a bit of artistic commentary mixed in. It’s not the mood everyone will care for and it certainly lacks the biographical element I tend to appreciate lyrically. But if you’re willing to accept it for what it is – a fiction-driven rock opera – you can enjoy the intricacies of these characters as they see life unfold in unexpected ways. Some songs have fuller arrangements, while others are a bit more barren – but all are carried with a similar level of energy and urgency. If you’re looking for something with more substance and character than the Dix Special, give this unique concept album a spin.