“Petting Zoo” is the ninth album of I Divorced Life which revolves around the topic of life, death, and everything in between. Silas Andersen describes his album as a challenge that consisted of using tonality and atonality, harmony and dissonance. This aspect of the album can be found from the first track until the end with well-crafted heavily distorted pieces. His lyricism goes parallel to his sound with traditionally written bursts of creativity. Overall, I Divorced Life presents “Petting Zoo” as a well-thought-out and experimental album. Have a listen, click here! Follow I Divorced Life on Instagram: @i_divorced_life
Photography by Katrin Köhler (Instagram: @wimpernradio)
1. Pez Dispenser (2:59) From the moment the album “Petting Zoo” starts, it shows a clear resemblance to Mindless Self Indulgence with beats and layers. The drum patterns and the layers which compose this track are essential to the final product. The vocals are also very raw and dramatic which creates a tense feeling for the listener, it is safe to say that Silas Andersen does a great job of reflecting emotions through his tone. The same disturbance is seen in the lyrics:
"The pendulum swings/ Between galloping greatness /And flopping failure"
It can be seen that there is a sense of purgatory, being in between greatness and failure. It could be defined as someone's unclear future after birth, either a good way in which there is a success for the baby or there is utter sadness and misery, failure. As Andersen defines the first track of his album as a way of expressing "birth and the consequences of being born" we find his lyricism essential to analyze.
"Stay put/ Stay right where you are not/ Because you cannot be/ Never never ever be Not even slightly more than nothing/ Also you cannot unbecome/ He will not sow/ She will not bear"
Here, Andersen describes a miserable moment after birth. One cannot unbecome after "being" and that it is the greatest consequence of being born, there is no chance to start over or go back. In the same way, one won't ever be more than nothing in existence and so there is no cure to emptiness. The nothingness theme is also seen in the title of his track, Pez Dispenser.
2. Don't Cuss At Crows (3:12) Like the first track, drums and layering have an important part in the second track, Don't Cuss At Crows. The significance comes from the track being his first use of bongo drums in a recording. The song has a sort of mystic, eerie and mechanic feel to it from the start. It is as if we walk through a darker version of Alice in Wonderland. The feel completes itself with vocals that remind the listener of Nine Inch Nails. It shows a connection to the title of the album with themes of animals (in this case crows) and "Petting Zoo" itself. What's interesting on this track is how Andersen depicts "abuse, disappointment, and degradation at the hands of strangers as well as loved ones" through a long list of flowers:
"A tulip and don't look back at him/ A daffodil and please don't push so hard/ A poppy but not too fast/ A sunflower but the money upfront"
As seen it is seen clearly in the lyrics, there is a direct theme of hurt. With sentence fragments like "don't push so hard" the reference to physical abuse is shown. 3. Why I Drive Sober (5:38) Even with the title of the track, the song makes us wonder why wouldn't someone drive sober anyway? Similar to the first two tracks, this song uses a high level of distortion. There is an intense layering with what seems to be background noises of screams, knocks on doors, instruments, and the vocals themselves. It is safe to say that this song is also a great companion to those before it. The audience knows from the start that Andersen covers what seems to be "darker" themes. What is different about "Why I Drive Sober" is that it covers the topic of possession with allusions to the female demon Antaura. The theme completes itself with the emphasis on death. ”Everything is blood and everything is death', she ejaculated," the lyrics say which refers to the demon calling for death.
"They celebrate the complete disintegration/ Of her already shattered ego/ Discombobulated/ Yet takes the pain in stride"
A complete disintegration could be a reference to the feeling of haziness when someone is drunk. In a state where empty feelings rise, it is normalized to ask about being sober. After the song ends, the audience is left wondering what sober means to the protagonist of this song. 4. Rug (2:59)
The fourth track on “Petting Zoo”, Rug begins in a disturbed and distorted mood. This mood is further emphasized by the swelling vocals. The vocals were recorded before the music on his old mobile phone and then fed back into the computer via several guitar effect pedals. The song is about family, and given the mood, the song can be interpreted as the reflection of the struggle within a family which is also seen in the lyrics:
"And I'm terribly sorry / That my heart melted like chocolate / And I'm awfully sorry / That I stained your precious rug"
There are a lot of sonic elements such as a radio with terrible reception that create the atmosphere and the dissonant vocals which makes this song unique. Moreover, improvisation is a key element of this song. It was a quite good choice made by I Divorced Life to use improvisation because the song reflects very personal and raw emotions. These emotions or thoughts could only be appropriately reflected by spontaneity.
All of this soundscape goes well with the intended theme of "having had enough". The song in general resonates or dissonates closely with the audience especially in the hardships of 2020. Rug is an experiment that challenges traditional music writing. 5. Squassation (2:33)
The fifth track of the album, Squassation is about a lost mother who did her very best and the unfairness and torture that surrounds us. In contrast to Rug, Squassation begins with a calmer tone. However, the song eventually builds up as the drum pattern kicks in. At first, the lyrics describe a very relatable scenario: "When someone enthusiastically waves in your direction/But the wave is not meant for you/Witness a torrential downpour of/Just Forget About It And Move On". The synth and the drum pattern are very close to an 80s disco song, nevertheless, they are used in very a different narrative that somewhat gets an ironic or sarcastic tone. This agitation in tone is reflected in the vocals that build up throughout the song. This perhaps reflects the singer's struggle with the inequality that surrounds us. Near the end, the vocals peak: "Squassation!!!" and this moment might be interpreted as the climax of the torture or the point where patience and ignorance can no longer exist.
Squassation is primarily an experiment with vocals that portrays I Divorced Life's eagerness to push himself far away from old music habits. The song accentuates the small scale mental torture we are exposed to and expose others to in everyday life and the ritualistic torture seen throughout human history. None of the vocal performances were rehearsed before recording, meaning that melodies and delivery happened in the heat of the moment while recording. Very rarely was more than one single vocal take recorded per song. Similar to the rest of the album, improvisation was the mother of this song.
6. Ants and Honey (5:26)
The sixth on the list, Ants and Honey is about apathy and all its dangers. This is, again, a relevant topic for our age since many people are indifferent to a lot of problems in the world due to technology and other developments. Most of us are stuck in our chambers. The song starts with a unique synth pattern and then develops with a drum pattern and rhythmic vocals. The song quickly creates a volatile atmosphere with dissonant sound effects appearing irregularly. There are points where a great part of the sounds drop and the lyrics are emphasized. One of the lyrics that reflect the theme of apathy is "You always act as if everything is fine regardless" which tells that even though a lot is going on around us we somewhat ignore it and continue to act as if everything is fine. At 2.24, "what is that!" is underlined by an explosion, and the listener is drawn into a territory of dissonance. This soundscape features drone sounds created on a micro modular synthesizer. Then the lyrics go: "because you are scared / Complacent / Apathetic / And low-key just want to die" which is almost like the inner criticisms of the society.
Ants and Honey is like a stream of consciousness spread into 5 minutes and 26 seconds of a musical critic. The song does not disappoint those who are looking for unique and experimental soundscapes/lyrics.
7. Abyss (3:17) The seventh song of the album is Abyss, which throws the listener into the abyss with the walls telling their ''damp'' story of anguish. Andersen's distorted vocals spit the cursed reality throughout the song. This song is about the emptiness and loss of meaning in his life. When he says "She's carrying/ In her purse/ A conflicting fear and wanting/ Of random violence", the track continues showing the image of himself he has in his mind. Odd rhythmic choices further deepen the feeling in the song. Percussions continue in the background whilst the lyrics hit the listener. When the lyrics proceed to ''Prime time/ Public deflowering ritual/ In front of eagerly gazing eyes,'' the insecurity against the public and its lack of empathy is criticized. After this point, the linear synth is added besides alarming percussion. ''The bump bursts open and imaginary insects start scuttling around''. The synth becomes dominant and the song shifts to a feeling of total terror. However, the song doesn't have a distinct climax. The harmony is irregular and mostly demonstrated through vocals. The background percussion, which turns into ''noises'' at some points, distorts the harmony. The song doesn't include verses and chorus. It rather communicates the constant state of depression and ''abyss.'' It's a corridor, in which the listener hears the harsh truth of life, as they pass through it and find no light but only a hopeless silence at the end. 8. Venus Fly Trap (4:37) The eighth song of the album, Venus Fly Trap is written as if it was the remaining part of the previous track, Abyss. It continues with the themes Abyss introduced at the end, the place of the individual in the microsocial structure.
Background beat and sounds still contain rhythmic syncopes but the pattern is constant, unlike Abyss. The true value of the song lies in the lyrics. As distorted melody goes on in the background, ''When people are too stupid to stop'' the song continues. The song then evolves to the emptiness of all this: the meaning of life and death set by the society; how values are based on such blank space. The slow, full-scale arpeggio in the background gives space to harmony at some points of the song. The rough thump of the percussion keeps hitting the listener in the heart and distorted voices speak from the radio just before lyrics hit again: ''He's too non-charismatic to even be offensive.'' After this point, Andersen fits the society as a target, which had set him as a target before in the cursed balance of offending and defending. He lists the outer voices ''Misfit Mismatch Mistake.'' The ''mis-'' -a label- drives the song to its climax in which the vocal turns into a scream of absolute internal terror. Then tension falls through its ending which is the constant sound of the synth. A blank for the listener to stop and get over the song. Just before moving on to the Petting Zoo.
9. Petting Zoo (6:12)
The ninth song of the album, the end of the hallway of shame, curse, and reality. The track starts with distant noises, ghost synths, and glasses. Petting Zoo is a space of comfort in the misery and is a freefall with the no more tied ropes of life.
The song starts with the idea of not looking back and then counting berries to stay busy, not to look up and see the fingers pointing at you. The ballad is continued by Andersen whose vocal abilities are clearly shown in the Petting Zoo. He doesn’t have any patience anymore. Near the middle of the song, the voices cut off to hang the listener up in the space. ''Agaritas'' is the sharp scream that tears the silence and shocks the listener, which then continues with the voice of anguish, showing an unstable state of mind. The use of imagery of different berries, their meaning, and how little they are all reflect the inside of a depressed soul which is lost inside loneliness. Berries that look like a scapegoat's scat. Overall, Petting Zoo is a song full of personal images and is a journey that each listener would enjoy... or suffer in their way.