Prior to the advent of the Internet and its influence on music consumption, there were few more effective ways for listeners and musicians to connect than through detailed liner notes. Listeners could pore over the notes included with their newly purchased album, following along with the lyrics as they’re sung. But from a business perspective, between an unfriendly economic climate for most musicians and the average music consumer’s current preference for digital media, liner notes have fallen by the wayside–they add to an album’s production costs and there’s less of a market for them. Additionally, websites like SongMeanings and Rap Genius allow fans to crowdsource lyrics, so if an album doesn’t have a lyric sheet, chances are at least one fan would happily take on the task of transcribing vocals. These factors combined have essentially rendered thorough liner notes obsolete.
However, liner notes are still sometimes included with new albums despite the fact that much of the listening world has stopped buying them in physical formats. Some are very descriptive, like the notes accompanying So Many Dynamos’ 2009 album The Loud Wars, whose lyrics contain footnotes explaining certain lyrics or certain parts of the music. Even Taylor Swift’s new album has liner notes that go beyond listing studio musicians and songwriting credits. Felix’s 2012 release Oh Holy Molar, on the other hand, has no liner notes to speak of aside from song titles and a brief list of musician/production/record label credits on the back of the album sleeve–precious little material for fans looking to decipher meaning to work off of.
But investigating Felix’s Twitter feed reveals clues about some songs, like how “Oh Thee 73” was written about the 73 bus in London, which goes from Victoria Station to Seven Sisters Station. The route itself goes through Central London and passes some of its many trendy clubs, which may be what inspired some of the song’s lyrics (including the sarcastic “Electro? / How retro!” and the self-reflective and bitter “Then you know you’re getting old because you’re going home / Say what you will, I will see you in hell / Where we’re all right now”). The band also mentions being inspired by an old jazz standard during recording, the title of which is repeated in “Don’t Look Back (It’s Too Sad).” And Twitter aside, Brainwashed’s page for the album provides this curious context:
The album was recorded in a vast, spooky 1940s cinema in Nottingham, England, now converted into a studio. After recording was completed the band discovered that underneath the live room lay an abandoned Dental Laboratory. “Oh Holy Molar” indeed.
These facts only serve to raise more questions, however. Did the band really just happen to record an album with lyrics about teeth over an old dental lab without knowing? If so, why the focus on teeth to begin with? There are things at work here that neither the audience nor perhaps even Felix themselves can fathom.
And maybe that’s the point. Questions and research aside, perhaps it’s Felix’s thought that liner notes with lyrics and song explanations might take something away from the rest of the music. Maybe, as its video suggests, we’re supposed to be carried away with the wind and the tide while listening to “Blessing.” And at the same time, maybe we’re supposed to strain to hear some of the lyrics in the second verse of “No Love.” Maybe we’re just supposed to go with it all, whether enjoyable or difficult.
One of the most striking moments of the record comes in the bridge of final track “Little Biscuit,” where a simple piano melody gives way to a gorgeous ambient layering of vocals. This bridge could represent a sigh of relief, perhaps experienced, as Brainwashed posits, through the very British ritual of drinking tea and nibbling on the accompanying biscuits. But some of the song’s lyrics (like “Sing, choirs of angels, with the softest kiss”) suggest that the little biscuit in question might literally be the body of Christ received at communion. Whatever the case, the search for clarity continues; the reprieve is a blessing.
Felix – Oh Holy Molar
1) The Bells
2) Sunday Night
3) Oh Thee 73
4) Don’t Look Back (It’s Too Sad)
5) No Love
6) Oh Holy Molar
7) Blessing Part I
8) Blessing Part II
10) Who Will Pity the Poor Fool?
11) Pretty Girls
12) Practising Magic
13) Little Biscuit