Artist Spotlight: Crywank – Narcissism As An Art Form

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Ynce Iche

Hi, and welcome to my first (albeit repeatedly postponed) artist spotlight on the Avocado! I wrote it all today without editing, both because I’m a damned fool and because I’ve had a shit week. Luckily, a shit week is the best week for this particular subject matter. Crywank is the nom de plume of acoustic punk artist James Clayton, or was, until the lineup expanded to include bassist Tom Connolly and drummer Dan Watson in 2013. Alternating between crude, raw, expressions of pain and bitchy sarcasm, delivered with simple chords in an off-key wail, their influences range from earlier folk punk (particularly the band formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad) to the currently burgeoning lo-fi scene. The band has a unique connection to its fans, probably because of the intensely cathartic nature of the music. It’s something to sob along to, as the name would imply.

Clayton’s debut was James Is Going To Die Soon, released in 2010. It’s definitely an album hyperfocused on love and heartbreak, which lines up with the assertion that Crywank was founded after a particularly tough breakup. While Clayton returns to this particular well many, many times, there’s more of a sense of individual heartbreak in these songs than in later ones, which tend to be about depression and loneliness more broadly. “Welcome To Castle Irwell”, a standout on the album, has lyrics that are legitimately tender, despite the the tone of the surrounding music.

This is a stark contrast to Love (a song appearing on the EP Shameless Valentines Money Grab), which features the line “Love is fucking stupid, and I hate you.” The vocals and melodies on JIGTDS are also a little more conventional than those of later efforts, and although this isn’t necessarily to the detriment of the album, it doesn’t really showcase what makes Crywank most interesting. This album does, however, begin the band’s continuing legacy of weird song names that have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the music. So yes, “Harvey Milk Shit On The Table” is also a breakup song.

Narcissist On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown is the direct followup, and it’s a worthy one. Here, the most memorable tune is probably “It’s OK, I Wouldn’t Remember Me Either”. It’s slow, quiet, and a little soul-crushing (like most of the album), and sets a tone very different from the previous, more traditionally angry tone of JIGTDS. The song is about the end of a friendship, but its sheer simplicity elevates it to a more universal level. “I don’t want to be awake again” is the most direct possible distillation of the feeling that life is worthless, and an effective one at that.

Tomorrow Is Nearly Yesterday and Everyday Is Stupid, the 2013 album (and the first one to get a physical release), is probably the most Crywank of Crywank’s albums. The song “I Am Shit”, in particular, is a discordant tune that ups the ante by leading up to a truly off-the-rails finish: “I am shit, I am shit, nuh nuh nuh nuh, fucking dick!” “Notches” is another highlight, a typically self-pitying offering that nonetheless shakes things up with its distinct guitar picking and surprising level of musicianship.

Shameless Valentines Money Grab is both short and pretty much skippable, save for its central song, the previously mentioned “Love”. It’s my favorite song of their entire oeuvre, the romantic yearning of the previous albums coagulating into the chronicle of a singularly unfulfilling relationship: “This is nothing more than a love affair with myself, stick together for the sake of my mental health.”

Don’t Piss On Me, I’m Already Dead is Crywank’s first studio effort, making it a little more polished, and a lot more audible. It doesn’t skimp on the rage or self-loathing, and its quality is really a matter of opinion. It does drain a little bit of the crazy out. Honestly, all of Crywank’s music is a little similar, but this album is markedly different. The vocals are very strong, not to mention more lamenting than ever before.

It includes a redo of “Love” with a much cleaner sound and actual band backing, and while it has its merits (mostly including sounding like an actual song that was not recorded in a basement), it’s a little bit like a cover of itself. The studio approach works best with the new songs, such as “I Am In Great Pain Please Help Me” (a Rick and Morty reference, par for the course in a band that previously recorded “Deep Down, I’m Really Kirk Van Houten”). The drama of the vocals and building intensity of the music provide a worthy counterpoint to the verbose pseudo-philosophizing of the lyrics (“the life unexamined is not worth living”, a quote from Socrates, or technically Plato).

Crywank is a good band for a bad day, providing bitter anthems that blend into a writhing mass of whispers and screams. Since James Clayton chooses to quote from prestigious sources, I’ll follow his example and paraphrase Tolstoy, who opens Anna Karenina with the now oft-repeated chestnut that “Every happy family is alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I propose that Crywank owes its success to the fact that every happy person is happy in their own way, but every depressed person sounds alike— and they tend to sound a bit like this band.