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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Staying Young Through Music

On their track “Tallulah” London’s Allo Darlin’ raises the issue I’ve been worrying about for years now, “I’m/ Wondering if/ I’ve already heard/ All the songs that’ll mean something.” The older I get, the more that becomes a concern. The more you hear, the harder it is for anything to impress. This is true with all media. Humans are pattern finding machines. There’s a massive website TV Tropes that details insane numbers of examples. It’s fascinating and fun to come up with examples, but it also makes it a tad harder to dive into entertainment when you start noticing how similar it is to other things you watched in the past. The more you see and hear, the harder it is for something to excite you.

That is what I was pondering when the new Shook Twins album What We Do arrived at my house. Well that and something that I learned about the art world. Art forgeries are best detected after a few generations. Cultural assumptions are buried in the material, only to become transparent decades later. Take Camper Van Beethoven for example. Sure, at the time it was obvious that the references to skinheads and Central American politicians might not be timeless, but the nihilism and frustration over the pointlessness of any action just seemed natural. It was only recently that I noticed how that was a product of growing up in the Reagan era. It doesn’t always have to take that long. If you’re outside of that culture that a singer is from, they can become apparent almost immediately

The first two lines of the first song of What We Do proclaim, “Now that the world isn’t over/We can keep getting older.” Right off the bat, the (perhaps accidental) theme of the album is proclaimed – impermanence. “Shake” is about the planet deciding to rid itself of these meddlesome humans and “Daemons” has ruin come to humans via supernatural means. A cute song about Laurie and Katelyn Shook’s childhood – the Shook Twins of Shook Twins used to have a thing about getting their money to be exceedingly crisp – has a subtext that questions if this currency will continue to be worth anything. Even a fun song like “What We Do” is a product of its time. Instead of the aspirational acquisitions that musicians liked to talk about, Shooks hope to work hard with their “elbow grease on tap” just to have some Mason jar art and an occasional glimpse of an unfettered night sky.

All of these references to disaster might make it sound like this is a depressing album, but that’s far from the case. The twins’ vocals have a new power on this recording, Especially on “Daemons” and “Id (Annabell),” they take on haunting harmonies that combine with Anna Tivel’s fiddle to create works of ethereal beauty. “Shake” is liable to make you dance and sing along with the idea of a vengeful planet. It might be becoming impossible to make a living, the financial system might be coming to an end, the world itself might be coming to an end but Shook Twins will get on their bus and play music. They’ll hang out with their friends and perform rituals to the summer sun and otherwise take the hand that they were dealt and find a way of making amazingness out of suboptimality. That’s what they do.

And that’s also the answer to Allo Darlin’. This month is seeing new releases from Camper Van Beethoven and Phish. I’m looking forward to hearing both of them. As someone who is of similar age as those two bands, it’s interesting to hear how their changed life perspectives intertwine with my own differences. Still though, where the ennui can set in is where you hear the same references and worldview reflected. What makes listening to Shook Twins – and many of the new jamgrass scene – so exciting is that their perspective and influences are different. That’s one of the powers of music; it can create an emotional response to an unfamiliar worldview. It can become so easy to surround yourself with the familiar as the years pass. As long as you keep finding new bands and new perspectives, you can fight that. I can’t promise it’ll make you healthy or have you look like you did in high school, but having new experiences is what life – and travelling to see music – is all about.


David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.

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