Sorry Joey, we have to go there. We’re going to have to talk about music. More specifically, the music that Joey Agresta has just released as an album called Let’s Not Talk About Music. Joey Agresta, aka Son of Salami, aka Joey Pizza Slice, is getting personal, cleaning up his distortion and going by his real name. Did you know that if you remove the eraserhead on a cassette recorder, you can record over the same tape multiple times but can’t hear the existing layers as you record, creating really weird layers of sound that compress and don’t really line up? I know that now, thanks to Agresta’s past work as Son of Salami. It’s bizarre, but there are some people who find it brilliant. Full disclosure, I am not one of those people. Agresta traded his eraser head-less cassette recorder for four-track and twelve-track recorders in his bedroom studio, which is above the junk store in Vermont where Agresta also works (this all makes so much sense when you hear this record.) When compared to the earlier work, this album is incredibly clean and accessible to the masses. When compared to anything else, it is still distorted, weird, and very DIY.
Agresta’s vocals are mumbly, warbly, and partially spoken. These vocals are combined with sparse synth, electric guitar, and percussion. He mixes in vintage elements, making “I Won’t Give Up” and “More Than You Know” sound like hazy homages to ’50s pop. It’s a strange mix already, but then you add in the lyrics…
These lyrics are personal, depressed, and maybe a little bit hopeful despite the crippling sadness. One of the most upbeat, tambourine-slapping songs on the album is called “I Feel Like Shit and I Want to Die.” As hopeful as a title like “Don’t Be Sad” sounds, he’s asking someone else not to be sad while he goes away because he can’t get his shit in order. He cares too much, he loves more than you’ll know, but he’s a mess, he wants to die, and he can’t figure anything out… he’s in a dark place. He is grateful for this life, though, as he sings on “Jerks.” “I Want to Live Again” sounds like he’s doing a cover of that sad synth band from the roadhouse in Twin Peaks, which is depressing enough but somehow gets sadder when sung by a mumbly sad guy.
“Baby Girl” is particularly grating because 80% of the nasally lyrics are the words “baby girl” repeated, the rest are about wondering where baby girl went after he broke her heart. It sounds like a song I would make up while looking for my cat (pretty sure I have warbled “baby girl, baby girl, baby girl, wheeeere’s myyyy baby giiiiiiirl?” to her after drinking.) Agresta says “baby girl” 44 times in the 2 minute, 15 second song (though it feels like many, many more times.) It ends abruptly with a puzzling gong sound.
It’s not all terrible, there are a couple of exceptions. The album opens with “A Win Song for Bernie” – wait, did I mention how this album was sad and depressing? It was three years in the making, so this title was probably not written ironically, it was probably from a time when there was hope that Bernie Sanders would run for President, making it even sadder when you realize that hope has been dashed. This (no-)win song is like a watered-down-M83 take on the “Chariots of Fire Theme” (you know, the song that always plays when someone is running in a movie.) The other OK track is “I Didn’t Do for You.” It embraces the aspects that make the other songs so grating. It takes the distortion and turns it into shoegaze, though the wall of sound is more like the buzz of one annoying bumblebee. It creates an angry, lo-fi rock feel and franticness. Agresta’s voice and the fuzz have much in common with this sound. These elements work against every other song but are good for this track.
As much as I disliked this album, “I Feel Like Shit and I Want to Die” might be my new crummy day theme song. The lyrics are what I imagine would happen if the Smiths got really blunt and simplistic. If your day gets so crappy that you can’t wrap your head around anything deep, give your brain a break and listen below. Then go find yourself something else to listen to because “Baby Girl” will make you want to break something.