Lily Konigsberg & Andréa Schiavelli
Good Time Now
[Ramp Local; 2017]
When Lily Konigsberg welcomes us to her side of Good Time Now, her remarks sit atop a regal, flowered ensemble: a particularly jangly acoustic guitar and Matt Norman’s warm, richly arranged one-man horn band bring us in. A jubilant mood settles, and it’s easy to take Konigsberg’s words at face value: “I wanna have a good time.” “We’re gonna have a good time now,” she might tell us.
But these welcoming remarks aren’t our introduction to the back and forth that is Good Time Now, a split album unconventionally divided by alternating tracks rather than by two separate sides. Instead, Andréa Schiavelli has the first word. Like Pan pursuing a wanderer, he pleas, loftily and sweet, “I could be the devil that breaks you/ I could be the window that holds you/ like someone put the planets in order.”
This is the tension within the duo’s record-long conversation. Schiavelli’s writing is seductive but self-interested: at once infectious, straight-faced, and in retreat. A familiar brand of self-effacing masculine pop arrives from the remote island that is Schiavelli’s home studio. He doesn’t let us in, but he insists on showing where he’s at. On the other hand is Konigsberg, whose words-in-song come out warm and direct but tough to grasp, untraceable. Konigsberg’s compositions are brief — almost unanimously shorter than the tracks that surround them — and challenging in their transitory structure. They steer clear of indulgent repetition and refrain, often carrying a melody and its development to a conclusion as quickly as possible. These compositions pick up the sort of fragmentary songwriting that characterizes Frank Ocean’s 2016 output, Julia Holter’s work, early Guided By Voices, Dean Blunt’s verbal meanderings for Babyfather, and Frankie Cosmos’ diary clipped micro-songs. Just as such a formal style has lent those artists their distinctly vulnerable feeling of immediacy, it stands here in great contrast to Andréa Schiavelli’s calculated product. Schiavelli’s compositions are unequivocally experiments of a different kind. Taking on repetition, refrain, character work, and elementally clear production as points of interest, Schiavelli’s songs come across as researched findings set against Konigsberg’s questions in motion.
It is in this divide that Good Time Now thrives. The ties binding the two become taut at their most visible connections. The back and forth of their rally gets fuzzy when, just about halfway, Schiavelli engages in Konigsberg’s chamber pop tendencies with his “Inst 2-2 (Dre’s National Anthem).” Its title is a callback to the earlier presentation of “Lily’s National Anthem.” It’s MIDI instrumentation and saccharine ambience performs a snide yet respectful mimicry of what Konigsberg has brought to the table all along: a sound already steeped in self-aware, playful masquerade. Schiavelli’s caricature, in its confusion, recolors Konigsberg’s brilliant affect.
There is no artifice of balance between the pair. Schiavelli’s character has a clearer, stronger presence that objectively and perceptually takes up more space. Despite this, however, it feels certain that Konigsberg’s aesthetic voice is essential to the album’s gestalt beyond providing the glue that holds it together. Perhaps the contrast is simply refreshing or perhaps it unearths the similarities that had influenced each other. It draws upon the affinity that brings the two into relation. The pairing and its back-and-forth presentation allow for an album that triumphantly draws from differences. As a collection of sketches from two dissimilar burgeoning distinctive voices, Good Time Now is a remarkably cohesive work.
An illustrative moment arrives via the distance between Konigsberg’s smokey “North Porsche” (a reworking of a song previously released under her Lily and Horn Horse project). On it, she empathetically (if ironically) evokes a sort of melodrama for an unlikely protagonist: “I’m driving up north fast/ I’m driving up north fast/ I can’t wait to get back to my bed/ I’m driving a Porsche fast/ I’m driving a Porsche fast/ I can’t wait to get back to my baby.” This starkly contrasts the smirk behind Schiavelli’s closing lines for the album: “In a world with no end/ You take the wheel like a man/ You drive a Mercedes Benz/ … In a world without friends/ You take the money and run/ With a gun in your hand/ You drive a Mercedes Benz.” In between these character sketches is the bolo tie laden Springsteen who, with hair slicked back and a self-confident stare, opened his 1987 synth-blues record Tunnel of Love with the quirky and strangely honest self-portrait, “Ain’t Got You”:
“I got a pound of caviar sitting home on ice
I got a fancy foreign car that rides like paradise
I got a hundred pretty women knockin’ down my door
And folks wanna kiss me I ain’t even seen before
I been around the world and all across the seven seas
Been paid a king’s ransom for doin’ what comes naturally
But I’m still the biggest fool honey this world ever knew
Cause the only thing I ain’t got baby: I ain’t got you”
And somehow, there is hardly a clearer precedent for the pairing of these two artists. Springsteen — who had risen to glory through empathetic character sketches, semi-allegorical narratives, and a bubblegum rock good-time ethos — reaches into his personal situation of wealth and fame, pulls out an honest feeling (perhaps at odds with the outlaw ballads and working class anthems that lit up his previous discography), and frames it as just another character sketch. Distance, honesty, irony, and genre are collapsed within a space that is moralistic yet non-prescriptive. For the most part, all that exists in totality is the song, perfectly written.