The Perilous Consequences of Getting Side-Tracked

Ok, if you’re a person who tends to shy away from inventive, unique (read: strange) music, then this post not may necessarily be for you. However, if this kind of music is your cup of tea, then you are very much in luck.

John Butler

Originally, I was going to write all about the new John Butler Trio album, April Uprising, released earlier this month. It was going to be a wonderful shout out to the hippest skateboarding Aussie bad boys around – I was going to talk about his lack of dreds, and John Butler’s assumption of a rebel persona to fit the album title.

Then I got distracted. In one of my many journeys around the internet I stumbled upon something odd, to say the least. In fact, I would have to say it’s the strangest yet best thing I’ve listened to in long time. Hopefully, some of you will agree with me.

The cover of the rock-opera, "Everyone Might Be A Senator" by the Nebraskan band Shelter Belt

I don’t really know where to begin with this piece of music. Let’s start with the basics. The name of the band is Shelter Belt. The name of the album is Everyone Might Be A Senator.

The 30 minute long rock-opera seems to be centered around several main characters: SAMUEL DES PAIR, the overly pessimistic MC who introduces the album; JOHNNY the protagonist; DANNY, Johnny’s friend, SALLY, Johnny’s girlfriend, and the SENATE, represented by a chorus of upwards of 30 men.

Rachel Kearney, who sings lead vocals in Shelter Belt, and plays the role of Sally on their latest album

The album has two main plots: Johnny’s paranoia that everyone who surrounds him is a United States Senator, and his troubled relationship with his girlfriend, Sally, who recently left him for a Senator.

Ok, let’s stop and take a breather here. The first thing that stands out is Johnny’s obscure, irrational fear that everyone he knows is a Senator. This is problematic for a few reasons, the most glaring being that the U.S. Senate is made up of 100 individuals, thus making it very difficult for everyone we know to be a Senator. In response to this dilemma, Danny (the good friend that he is) concedes, “[v]ery few people are actually Senators, Johnny.” Johnny’s well thought-out response to this statement is the cornerstone of the album; he says, “Everyone might be a Senator.” Well, ok – wait, what? To compound the confusion, in Track 2, “Are You A Senator?”, Johnny tells us:

Sometimes I get drunk and dress in a suit and pretend that I’m a senator. / I walk around the house rehearsing my speeches, planning my grant proposals, and worrying that behind every closet door waits a real senator who wants to hurt me. / When I wake the next day, I feel shame, but I know with absolute certainty that I am not a senator.

Pause. Why do real Senators want to hurt Johnny? The explanation given is one of a vague past trauma:

JOHNNY: HE was a senator and HE ruined me. I didn’t know HE was a senator. HE was a senator.
DANNY: Johnny, you need to move on.

Do You Know YOUR Senators?

But all of the silliness aside, some of the music is really good if (not surprisingly) a little strange. Track 9 on the album, “The Strangest Feeling” seems like it has the potential to be a single, a lovely duet with a bopping electro beat and a great horn section. And Track 15, “End Theme” is a lovely bit of music that sounds like it could have been orchestrated by the likes of Andrew Bird or Owen Pallette. Over all the album makes use of a wide array of instruments, from horns to strings to electronic samples. Some of the songs sound a little amature, but in the context of the rest of the band’s music it seems to be a put-on.

SO, if you’re still reading at this point, here’s the link to the Shelter Belt’s website (the “Belt Cave”), where you can read the full lyrics and download the album for yourself, and listen to some of the bands other (more normal work).

PHEW, trying to figure out Senator from non-Senator is an exhausting.

I know not all of you will like this, and probably most of you are wondering why I am even writing about it. Mostly, it’s just because I feel strongly that this bizarre exploration is what music is all about, even when it doesn’t entirely make sense. I’m sure you could extrapolate some existentialist meaning from the lyrics if you tried, but that would ruin it for me. If I’ve learned anything from “EMBAS” it’s that you can write a rock-opera about anything. Literally anything.

For those who haven’t gotten anything from this post, I apologize. Here’s the link to a snazzy video by the John Butler Trio for the song “Close to You” off of their latest album.

Screen Shot from the video for "Closer to You" by the John Butler Trio

Happy listening! And may you steer clear of all Senators in the near future.




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