Tag Archives: So Good at Being in Trouble

Personal Soundtrack

14 Mar

The Song


So Good at Being in Trouble by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

So Good at Being in Trouble” is one of those songs that may very well be everywhere within a few short weeks, either due to an appearance in a national car/bank/insurance ad, a tasteful placement over some wistful closing sequence on a popular TV show, or maybe an insertion into the playlist rotation by a canny producer at your local Adult Contemporary Rock station.

It’s tailor-made to be that kind of ubiquitous song – muted, laid-back, achingly pretty, non-threatening, and catchy as hell.  Everyone from your 18-year old barista to your mom can get behind it and picture themselves as the irrepressible subject of the song; they’ll imagine how much trouble they can get into sometimes and will smile knowingly as they sing about it.

When that kind of universality happens to a song, it usually runs the appeal of the track into the ground – quickly – and it becomes easy to hate the song and maybe even the artist because they’ve come to represent things that have nothing to do with their music itself.  Commercialism, mass taste, modern popular culture, etc.

So before all that happens, before the hypothetical cultural explosion of “Trouble” ruins it for all the hip and jaded listeners out there, we should appreciate the song for the small, fragile, and well-crafted piece of music that it is.  “Trouble” comes from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a group that almost seems to stumble across undeniable hooks, beautiful melodies, and tightly-wound beats without ever meaning to.

On the surface, UMO mostly affects a New Hippie-type of vibe; the group dives into the psychedelic part of the pool with their loosely-kept appearance and the hazy gauze they wrap around ramshackle and jangling rock songs.  They are most definitely a free-wheeling group that if pushed, will always choose the weird routes over the more conventional ones.  However, the band is also a focused bunch at times, refusing to let their music just take off in a fuzz of discordant guitar jangles.

The group has an ear for melodies and crunching chord progressions that can quickly find their way into becoming straightforward jams.  If they want to, they can write well-crafted songs that stick in your head while also striking some deeper emotional pressure points.  And one great example of this ‘want-to’ would be “Trouble.”

“Trouble” comes across like an acoustic sketch on the surface, all strums and spare backbeat.  Underneath that shaky, fragile cover, however, is some deceptively crafty songwriting.  Frontman Ruben Nielson fills in the song’s open spaces with lyrics both yearning and world-weary, and when the the melody and lyrics comes together for the chorus, it becomes like a scientifically-engineered strummy hook delivery system.

For a band that seems to pride itself on earning a ‘different’ label, this is a surprisingly affecting song that will not leave your head anytime soon.

The Activity

Ever since you parted ways with That One, life has dissolved into one big montage.  Like a full-on, flirting occasionally with out-of-body, observing-not-doing, actions-out-of-your-control sequence of scenes.  This is probably partly due to the fact that you watch too many movies and TV shows, but no matter the direct influences, that’s what things have come to.

And not just a normal, quick, motivational montage either.  No “Eye of the Tiger” shit here.  No, you’re in the full sad-sack montage.  Populated by glum walks through the drizzly mist outside; big pints of Cherry Garcia and Sinful Devil Cake Fudge serving as paperweights on your overflowing coffee table; silent yet painfully expressive tearful breakdowns that rear up after the sight of some esoteric romantic reminder on the street; misty-eyed scenes of solo sunset-gazing as people go out of their way not to sit on the public bench space next to yours; awkward call-back scenes to the earlier montage shots of those esoteric romantic reminders, in which you’ve taken your tearful breakdowns to the figurative and literal next step and are now lying prone on the sidewalks in aforementioned esoteric grief while alarmed adults hurriedly shuffle their pets, children, or selves across the street and away from eye contact; strangely anachronistic scenes in which you huddle over a tape player, fanatically starting and stopping the tape at the right moments of anthemic or rueful or just-plain angry love songs, followed by you carefully writing the names of said songs in black marker on the side of a tape cassette, furthering this scene that makes no contemporary sense; and as the montage wistfully, thankfully comes to close, we all take a big leap (probably about 9.5 days) forward in time and, rest easy everyone, you emerge one young morning after a storm, with the dew-tipped grass twinkling almost as brightly as the wide eyes above your tastefully unkempt ‘I’m Sad’ memorial beard, and the forceful look on your face tells us all we need to know: things are going to be okay, and it’s time to write a song.