Monday, October 4, 2010

Conversations EP

Conversations EP is a recording just completed by Andrew Dempsen, my brother. (Although with 9 tracks averaging a length of 4 and a half minutes it seems like it might fit the LP definition.) The recording's not professional or polished, and the last song, while full of personal meaning, is the roughest recording of the bunch. But the songs themselves are brutal in their honesty, raw in their depiction of struggling with making sense of a friend's suicide and the day-to-day experiences of transitioning into adulthood and figuring out life. Andrew's vocals are slightly remiscent of Ben Kweller and Coner Oberst, though definitely not mimicking them in any way, and his musical style is understated, mostly unaccompanied acoustic guitar or a piano and guitar blend.

The piano-driven "Freeways" expresses a longing for satisfaction that can't be realized here on earth, that elusive search for something you won't probably get and certainly won't find a freeway to. "Is this the way to the freeway home?" the chorus asks, begging the question if there is a freeway home, or if home by its nature can only be reached through struggle.

"Missing Exits" is a simple unaccompanied acoustic-guitar melody dealing with the unavoidable repetitive nature of being human and making the same mistakes. "My reaction time's slow/ I keep missing my exits..." he says, echoing the thoughts of anyone who feels like they'll never get over the besetting sin they wish would just leave.

"Latte Rush" is my personal favorite on the album, more upbeat than any others on the CD and perhaps more hopeful than any others as well. It's a dose of nostalgia mixed with an effort to keep a pace of life that allows for enjoying it. The chorus begins with this:

"I got addicted to the wrong things
trying to be someone I thought I should be
but I lost sight of who was really me
I'll let you know when I find him again"

It strikes true each time I hear it. It's easy to forget who we're meant to be and let the details of life and outside pressures overwhelm us. Pursuing a call can be choked out easily by the cares of the world.

"Grasping" follows much the same theme as "Missing Exits," speaking of the difficulties of getting past issues that seem to plague us as humans. The guitar melody is haunting and doleful, picked slowly at the beginning then building to strumming at the chorus accompanied by piano. "What's it been, five years now?/ Am I still grasping at these straws?/ ... At the end of the day/ You're all that I have." Paul's thorn in the flesh comes to mind. It also features the word creation "conversative." If it wasn't a word before, it should be now.

On its surface "Hey Rockaway" is a tribute to the town of Rockaway Beach, Oregon, but beneath the surface is about the longing for a place to belong.

"You stood on the shore as the sun went down
nothing's felt more like home
your feet are like lead as you head for the door
'cause you're fifteen hours from being alone
... you weep for the day that has already come
and is forcing you now to leave..."

For Andrew, Rockaway Beach is in a real sense a place that feels like home. For me, I've had that sense every time I'm on the Rez. It's where I feel I belong; something about the place and the people there resonate with my soul in a way that makes me never want to leave. There's again, though, a cast of hopelessness to the song, of a dream that won't be realized, which leaves the song a bitter aftertaste.

"Say You Know" features perhaps my favorite lines on the CD, and I think is overall one of the two lyrically strongest songs on the CD as well. "I've got more friends than I know what to do with sometimes / and I've got more skeletons than I've got closet space to hide." The title refers to, I believe, being known and accepted by God, despite His knowledge of who we truly are in the secret places. The song features a folksy melody and the beautiful harmony of some uncredited female singer whom I suspect is Amanda from The Perennials, but I might be wrong. (The Perennials, incidentally, are pretty darn good. Pete's vocals are reminiscent of Johnny Cash and Amanda's of Feist - very interesting blend.)

"Storm Clouds and Sirens" is about the struggle to repent. "I've sold out completely and I know that I don't deserve you / and now I come crawling back, now that I know that I hurt you / but Ii'm not so good at this, at times I'm worse than the faithless / I've severed my nerve endings and all that is good is now tasteless / ... if ever I needed you Jesus it's now I don't want you..." Nothing more, really, to add to that. If you're a believer, you've been there yourself more than once, I'm sure.

"All the King's Horses" is a gut-punch of a song. Completely raw, honest dealings with something that we all knee-jerkedly want to wrap up neatly so we don't have to deal with it. A friend of Andrew's committed suicide two or three months ago, and he wrote this song in the weeks after. The melody and lyrics are paired perfectly, and the tone set by the melody both highlights the theme and slightly softens the blow, and emotions below the surface of the vocals can clearly be perceived. It's a one-sided conversation with his friend of all the things he wished he could say and didn't get a chance to. The chorus line, "If I had the faith of Abraham I don't think I could understand it better /And if I had God's healing hand I don't think I could piece this back together," hits the nail on the head of my own reactions when I hear about suicide, and takes my breath away every time I hear it.

The last song, "Dying For," was written for the friend's memorial service. While it's good, it feels forced in some ways, and while pain-filled and reflective, the honesty of "All the King's Horses" makes it pale by comparison. The recording also feels rushed, the piano melody often out of sync with the guitar, and with a little more polish it could be a stronger way to finish out the CD.

Overall, the CD's a strong effort with a lot of promise of good things to come. I am blessed to be able to claim this artist as my brother. Now, he needs to find a way for all you good folks to get your hands on his music!


  1. You are an awesome big brother. You listened, heard, read between the lines, and gave affirmation and honesty. I feel that I watched you wrap your arms around your brother and embrace him, lift him, and set him back down as an acknowledgment that you trust him to go out and be a man.

  2. This review is spot on. I love this CD, it is really well done and interesting. We've been listening and watching Andrew learn, develop, and grow in his musicality for many years and it is a joy to have something in our hands to take home with us from Spokane!

  3. sounds like Pauline said it right... good job andrew and jesse

  4. "Spot on" is right, Sarah. I listened once to this album, and I heard him perform a few of the songs on it. Now I just have to nag him for a copy. :) And Jesse, I wish I had your gift for cutting to the core of things. I can sense it, but it's hard to express. So, thank you.