In my 20s, the sequence of studio adventures was as follows:
Smart Went Crazy Con Art (1998)
Dismemberment Plan Emergency & I (1999)
Fugazi The Argument (2000)
Beauty Pill The Cigarette Girl From The Future (2001)
Dismemberment Plan Change (2002)
These were strong records, some now accorded “classic” stature. I should have recognized this as a “winning streak.” I did not recognize it.
In 2003, I found myself wanting to make more subtle, melancholic, insinuating music. I wrote a suite of songs for Beauty Pill that I felt was strong and purposeful. I wanted to make a textured, adult, three-dimensional album.
Punk in spirit and mind, if not in sound. A work of inference.
Aesthetically, The Unsustainable Lifestyle was probably the furthest away we had ventured from what people expected from our label, Dischord Records. For example, the opening song “Goodnight For Real,” was diaphanous and understated (almost ambient?), not raw and clangorous.
Anytime you run afoul of people’s expectations, you court rebuke. Rebuke came. Pitchfork bit first.
“Fans of Smart Went Crazy who just can't accept the fact that Chad Clark is capable of producing anything short of brilliance should save themselves the trauma…” is how it opens. Normally, this is the kind of square review you read and laugh, but Pitchfork’s cultural weight in our field at that time was gravitational. In the mid 2000s, Pitchfork was a tidal force. The tide had turned against us.
That dumb review affected everything. Copycat reviews ensued. It hit us directly in an economic way: booking agents turned away from booking the band. Some of my friends started saying “You should make more of a rock record next time.” (For some reason, this was the only remedy anyone suggested: Do more of what people expect. Ugh.) The consensus seemed to be we’d made a mistake and we should simply try again.
The band tried to persevere, but we had no money and ultimately morale dissolved. I didn’t know where to go from that point, but I knew I did’t want to make the rock music people told me to make. So I sank into a bleak depression and decided to keep music to myself.
I had failed. I disappeared for a decade.
In 2016, Beauty Pill would ultimately come back together and release Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, a lush double album that was more stylistically daring, not less. Times had changed and listeners and critics were more willing to embrace the experimentation. It was a relief to be in synch with public interest as opposed to on the margins.
In promoting Describes Things, I learned that people had come to love Unsustainable Lifestyle and You Are Right To Be Afraid (its lofi companion EP). People came up to me and expressed awe and cherishment for those records.
Something had shifted. Or maybe I had been wrong all along? I’ve lost perspective. Or maybe I never had perspective? Maybe I’m insane? I don’t know. You tell me.
Regardless, here we are: reissuing this work and putting this music on vinyl for the first time! I am surprised to be excited about it. I am thrilled about it! I am surprised to find the songs have endured. The songs feel modern and rich with meaning. And Ryan Nelson created an imaginative package design that refers to and expands on his original designs from that period. I love everything about Blue Period now.
Where previously, I wanted this music buried, I now want people to have it. I want people to hear it!
I wanted to title this anthology Blue Period for three reasons. (1) The records we released during this time had blue covers. (2) comparing our music to Picasso’s art is plainly absurd. (3) It was a blue time of despair in my life and I’m glad to have come out of it.
I guess we’ll see how the world feels now.
Beauty Pill - Blue PeriodJanuary 20, 2023
Ernest Jenning Record Co.