Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — Remember When

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at 6:28 PM
Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — Remember When by Hannah McDonald

At 14 years old, I stood in a grassy yard of a music festival. Pressed against the temporary metal fence separating the crowd of angst-filled teens from the stage, my best friend and I yelled ourselves hoarse during the show. 

This was our first time seeing our favorite band at the time, The Orwells. They had just released their first full-length album a few months before and then an EP more recently. 

The album, “Remember When,” had been recorded on a MacBook in the lead guitarist’s basement while the band members were in high school. Now they stood on stage at Lollapalooza. Given, the crowd was small and mostly local Chicago kids, but still. We thought this was the coolest thing ever. 

Not only was the band themselves the epitome of cool for us in our early teenage years, their music was everything we were feeling (or thought we were feeling) amid all of our adolescent discomfort. 

“Remember When” was about wanting to get out of the neighborhood you’d outgrown, failed relationships and vaguely sad sexual encounters, and sneaking out at night and smoking weed. 

“I’d rather stay high, than say hi,” we would sing loudly along with Mario Cuomo (the lead singer) during “All The Cool Kids,” while driving past curfew in my mom’s minivan. 

For most of my summers growing up, my best friend — who lived in Chicago — would come stay with me for a couple weeks. Many nights while she was staying with me, we would sit on my porch and listen to “Remember When” on repeat. 

In the beginning, we talked about the music and what was happening with the rest of the garage-rock music scene (in which we were obsessed). Some of our favorite tracks were “Ancient Egypt,” “Mallrats (La La La)” and the aforementioned “All The Cool Kids.”

The call and response of the guitars in “Ancient Egypt” immediately catches the listener. It holds them in before opening into the chorus full of cymbals and the ever-present bass progression.

The heavily rock ‘n’ roll influenced guitar work of “Remember When,” and The Orwells in general, is part of what makes the album so catchy in my eyes. It had the dirty, rough, grunginess of garage rock but also refined, sharp yet warm chord lines and melody work of ‘50s rock.

“Mallrats (La La La),” is a perfect example of this mixing. Cuomo’s vocals sound like they’re being screamed into your ear, while the guitarists sound much better trained. Instead of making Cuomo stand out and sound terrible though, the two features work together to create the high-energy, head-banging anthem that is “Mallrats (La La La),” The Orwells’ first hit. 

Through the years though, these songs and “Remember When” became the soundtrack for different kinds of conversations: those about our real failed relationships, problems with friends and school, and the ever-daunting future. 

“We’ve got this fear of aging,” Cuomo drawls in his gruff, loosely-trained vocals in the album’s eighth song, “Never Ever.”

In my teenage mind, nothing compared to the honesty of their lyrics and the energy that seemed to be captured in this cheaply recorded record. For a bunch of kids, The Orwells knew how to piece together strong riffs with raunchy grooves. And for a time, all I wanted to do was listen to albums similar to “Remember When” and bands like The Orwells. I searched for music that matched the many feelings of confusion when you’re somewhere between a kid and an adult. 

Today, I rarely listen to The Orwells at all. Their music has changed over the years, as it does when you sign on to a big label and are financially dependent on what is produced. Comparatively, their newest album, “Terrible Human Beings,” sounds uncomfortably poppy and doesn’t capture what they had the ability to do in 2012. 

Yet, their first album is still in my list of all-time favorites. “Remember When” is important to me because I, quite literally, fell in love with it.

Hannah McDonald can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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