You know those artists whose work you love intensely but almost no one else has heard of? There’s the tension of loving their work so much that you wish they were better known, but at the same time holding on to the excitement of having this amazing thing that no one else knows about. John Congleton is one of those artists for me. He is an engineer and producer for some well know acts, but the work that I love him for is his music with his former group The Paper Chase and his current project John Congleton and the Nighty Nite.
The first time I heard The Paper Chase I was driving home from my job at Barnes and Noble. I was listening to KNDS, the local college radio station. This is what I heard. Go ahead. Take a listen. I’ll wait. The creepy piano. The eerie strings (maybe a theremin?). Something that sounds like a pair of scissors (not the first time scissors have been used as an instrument by The Paper Chase). I desperately scribbled down as many of the lyrics as I could in order to look the song up when I got home. After finding out “We Know Where You Sleep” was what I had been listening to I bought the album as soon as I could. After that it was a matter of working my way backward through the existing catalog of weird, dark, insane work that had already been released.
How to sum up the essence of this music…catchy melodies juxtaposed with discord and dissonance, all with a not too buried undercurrent of the horror and darkness of being alive. In spite of all the darkness there is always an essence of optimism and acceptance of things as they actually are. Remember the stock footage of the fox decomposing that we all saw in a science class at some point? It’s watching that fox decompose without turning away and realizing that is the fate that awaits us all. To do otherwise would be false. We can pretend we’re not going to end up exactly like that fox someday. But we know it isn’t true. And the temporary comfort in that denial isn’t worth the long term psychological pangs that come along with it. You can either accept it or walk away with your eyes closed.
Nowhere in John Congleton’s catalog is the sentiment of staring straight at the darkness of reality laid bare more evidently than in his newest album Until the Horror Goes as John Congelton and the Nighty Nite. “Your Temporary Custodian” distills this idea to its most concentrated form. After describing how both the world and his personal incarnation could end he responds with the refrain “What an extraordinary thing it is to be this ordinary thing.” And it’s hard to disagree. As the song reiterates over and over nothing really matters except the things that really do matter. His work is an honest look at the darkness (and light) that permeates the world. Pretending it’s not there won’t make it go away. Face it. Experience it. Know it. Walk through it.