Band Spotlight: Pants Yell!
Getting It – Pants Yell!
by Seth Tippey
Pants Yell!’s music is likely disregarded for being unremarkable. And maybe, musically speaking, the instruments do come off as simplistic and understated, giving them a subdued sound with very little punch. The song structures are mostly very basic, the lyrical content is drawn largely from simple adolescent feelings and interactions, and the only flourish beyond guitar/bass/drums is the occasional keyboard. With Pants Yell! though, a grandiose epic with multi-layered tracks and a bevy of additional guests playing more exotic and eccentric instruments is not really the point. In fact, put alongside the songs of Pants Yell!, most other bands miss the point.
Pants Yell! presents the universal through the highly intimate, stripping away grand statements about youth, love, rejection, and leaving the listener with incredibly relatable details that focus on specific instances of universally felt emotions. The effect is akin to listening to your friend tell a story about his/her first love instead of listening to someone preach about what love is, or listening to an artist express that love through indecipherable code. Pants Yell! is direct. Every song contains the word “you,” “I,” “we,” or some combination of the three. As the listener, you’re either being sung to, or sung about, while being brought into the world of the narrator or extracting the words and applying them to your own world.
In the first song on Songs for Siblings, songwriter Andrew Churchman draws you in by painting a picture of every high school in existence: wandering the halls, seeing the teachers in their “earth-tone pants,” crossing paths in the hallway, the bleachers by the football stadium and the trivial rivalries, and ultimately wondering what the point of it is with “seven months left in this brick building.” But “Go Big Blue” hits its pinnacle with an overt dispelling of such trivialities with a chant about the true sentiments of all youth – removing the benign elements of life and placing the greatest significance on the distrust of the three factors that most influence adolescence: love, family, and music. “We don’t believe in love. We don’t believe in our parents. We’ve never trusted your songs, give em up, give em up, give em up, give em up.”
It’s in those juvenile sentiments that Pants Yell! begins to show its understanding of the importance of music, and rather than focus on how each band member feels at that moment – a mistake that dates music and detracts from the universality of a song – Pants Yell! sings about a life that’s past, a life we’ve all shared, and feelings many of us no longer feel yet fully understand.
Just as important as the generalizable specifics of place are the use of proper names in songs, which adds a unique human element to the quaint little stories. While most artists use proper names sparingly, reserving them for songs dedicated to a person whose name appears over and over throughout the song, Pants Yell! take the opposite approach, giving proper names to secondary or tertiary characters within the narrative. In other words, names are not reserved for the select few worthy of the artist’s focus. Just as storytellers move beyond the main protagonist(s) to encompass elements that exist beyond the scope of a single person, so too do Pants Yell! take the time to root the story in a complete world that’s at once familiar and unique. As the listener we put ourselves in the place Churchman makes for us (“you”) and relive the experience we may or may not have ever had.
Their second album, Recent Drama, starts with the song “Kids are the Same.” The track title shows the awareness of the universality of childhood, and jumps right into the same pattern of singing about you and me: “On a trip to Portland, Maine, I met some kids who felt the same, as he and me all agree to write our journals in bed.” Uniqueness is relegated to the specifics, which, honestly, aren’t altogether unique.
Certainly counter-arguments could be made, offering up the notion that every experience in life is unique since our own point of view, which has been created by every facet of our lives, influences the manner in which we experience an event to the point where everything is unique. And this might be true. But it seems more interesting to follow the antithesis of that sentiment, allowing all human experiences to be in some sense universal, thereby assimilating specific stories about trips to Portland, Maine the listener never took, with people the listener never met, into our own concept of what it means to take a trip and realize there are always other people out there who feel the same.
Pants Yell! produce a kind of music that’s genuinely enjoyable to listen to. The melodies, while simple, are always catchy, and the songwriting goes beyond the grandiose to the simple, making it fun to return to – like returning to an old friend and retelling the stories you’ve already told and heard a hundred times. They prove that humility is sometimes the best songwriting tool. They don’t profess to “understand” that which cannot be understood, nor do they attempt to do so. They just write songs that show an understanding of how people feel – a delicate sensitivity to the human experience.