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Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Fifth

August 21, 2006

5. Stupid Mouth Shut—Hem

Hem - Rabbit Songs - Stupid Mouth Shut

Hem’s another band I got into when I was DJing at KXUA, this time in the spring of my senior year. This wistful Brooklyn “countrypolitan” group is special to many of my friends, not least for their first album, Rabbit Songs, which opens with a lo-fi tape recording of Hem’s singer, Sally Ellyson, singing a bit of lullaby called “Lord, Blow the Moon Out, Please”—an audition of sorts in response to the singer-seeking ad that band leader Dan Messe had posted in The Village Voice.

Mr. Messe writes the words and Ms. Ellyson sings them. And what words and what a voice they are: you’ll have to hear Ms. Ellyson sing to get the full effect, but Mr. Messe’s words are impressive on their own, full of surprising turns of phrase:

The sidewalk bends where your house ends
Like the neighborhood is on its knees
You’re surrounded by a chain-link fence
That keeps me out but lets me see

Well I come by most every night
The shutters pounding in the breeze
A clothesline strung like paper kites
That blow my words right back at me

But someday when my heart exhales
I’ll tell you everything
These sweet words spilling all about us
I’ll say please please be with me
And I’ll breathe so easily
But instead I’m turning blue
I look at you
And keep my stupid mouth shut

The hall light streams out through the screens
And the shadows capture me in webs
Just tangled up in what I’ve seen
And every word I have not said
I have not said

‘Cause the sidewalk bends where your house ends
Like the neighborhood is on its knees

It’s lazy, screened-in summer porch, on the bed with the ceiling fan turning unproductively music. And very American, in the best sense of the word.

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