words by maria sledmere
I wasn’t yet a teenager when I first heard Suzanne Vega’s song ‘Luka’. Better than any soap opera plot, it captured an experience that lingered in my peripheral vision, an experience I could only just about piece together with my childish mind. Vega sings from the perspective of someone who is being abused in her own home, by someone they love, addressing a neighbour as if reaching for help but then withdrawing into silence and secrecy again: ‘Just don’t ask me what it was’. I always found the violence of that song was hidden in the simple sweetness of Vega’s Sunday morning honeyed acoustic, the unassuming lilt of her voice, singing lines like ‘They only hit until you cry’ with a kind of conversational admission.
On new single ‘Cave’, Kansas City’s four-piece Mess approach a similar topic, but with all the rage and helplessness of watching a friend’s relationship crack from within. Writer and vocalist Allison Gliesman describes the song as ‘written in a tense headspace, characterised by the helpless feelings paired with watching someone you love be controlled’. Shifting between pared, nervous riffs and heavy walls of sound, the song dramatises the precarious duality of moods within a toxic relationship, the ever-present sense that one wrong move could shatter everything.
Amidst slamming chords and fragile shrieks of guitar, Gliesman’s voice is the guiding light. At once narrator and concerned confidante, Gliesman describes the harsh reality of the situation, while trying to convince the friend in question to escape, to do anything to get free; over and over the longing refrain, ‘Don’t you think it’s time to call it off?’
Having played with bands such as earnest post-hardcore outfit, The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die and pop-punk dreamers Turnover, Mess sit somewhere between that abrasive declaration of pain and the sweetness of empathy and fantasy: the urge to call, to come away, to lose yourself in a new story.
Released in advance of the band’s debut LP, Learning How to Talk, expected this autumn, ‘Cave’ shows a band in rising stride, unafraid of being vulnerable, pushing deeper into the darker corners of life.