Earlier this month, Philadelphia sludge eulogists Quiet Man released their debut LP. The Starving Lesson is a churning collision of harsh distortion, art-house doom, and Neurosis post-metal. The promo text initially grabbed me with the promise that Quiet Man are “bringing the darkness back to psychedelia.” Then I quickly realized that the band was a newly conceived identity for the promising God Root project. As their new name implies, the band wields quiet as a weapon as well as distortion (see: “From Tomorrow’s Dead Hiss”). Harrowing and deeply textured, it’s an album well worth a deeper dive with an attentive listen. Below, play the album and read the track-by-track contextual guide written by Quiet Man vocalist/bassist Ross Bradley.
“We try to give listeners a lot of meat on the bone with our music, and we’re huge fans of references–AKA ripping shit off,” Bradley quips. “The stuff on The Starving Lesson has a lot of lines and phrases that we collected and pulled from books, music, movies, comics, etcetera that I think are pretty interesting and add a little more context to the songs. We thought it would be cool to break down a few of those and talk about the songs individually. I think it’s a good sit-down record so listen and/or read along if ya got the time and enjoy!”
“Pressure to Burrow”
The first song is about watching the people you love falling prey to chaotic drug use. This one is really personal to me (Ross). I had a dream about someone very close to me finally succumbing to a very long battle with drug addiction and a lot of the imagery was taken from that dream. It’s heartbreaking not knowing what to do and it’s something that people want to ignore and pretend doesn’t exist. It lives underground. A big running theme is the murdering of our planet and in this song, we draw some parallels between that societal self-destruction and personal self-destruction both of which are being perpetrated by corporations but are being blamed on the individuals. The line “Leaning with intent to fall” is a reference to a Dystopia song of the same name also about addiction.
“At Operating Temp”
A noisey passage that introduces sounds from numbers stations, encoded and usually automated messages sent to espionage agents over shortwave radio frequencies. These transmissions will outlast all life on Earth.
“From Tomorrow’s Dead Hiss”
[This song] is also about ecological genocide. My parts were written while I was reading about the poisoning of water and air from lead dust and fracking and I was feeling the weight of this dull toxic atmosphere that is slowly killing all of us for someone else’s profit. It’s surreal to live in a dying place. I think everyone feels it at least subconsciously. The line asking “Is man a cancer on the Earth?” is meant to poke at some of the eco-fascist bullshit that comes from the same anti-life impulses as the machines it claims to fight against. “Lift until I break” is actually a line stolen from “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind. They use it to talk about meth, but here it’s part of a plea to feel something vibrant again. The whole album that song is from is an unimpeachable classic and dark as fuck. Very relevant.
“Set to Boil is the New Standard”
This depicts the Military-Industrial Complex as we know it today as a sort of supermachine that has built itself up over centuries out of the physical machines, on-paper hierarchies, and commercial relationships that make up America. The physical implements of destruction develop alongside the abstract systems of trade and empire across generations. It’s about viewing today’s Military-Industrial Complex as the culmination of a process that’s happened over many successive generations and as a project that we’re all part of, whether we like it or not.
“The Post Abandoned”
We used sounds from shortwave stations including the “dead hand system” which is a constantly maintained signal that is meant to trigger nuclear retaliation in the case that there is nobody left alive to “push the button”. The quiet riff is a riff I (Ross) wrote laying on my floor during one of the worst days of my life so it felt appropriately apocalyptic haha.
“The Starving Lesson”
“Hic Rhodus” is from a latin phrase “Hic Rhodus, hic salta.” The phrase means something like “Here is Rhodes, Jump here”. It comes from one of Aesop’s fables where a man is boasting that he can jump farther than anyone in existence and all the people back in Rhodes saw him do it. Someone else challenges him by saying basically, “This is Rhodes now, Jump here and prove it dickhead.” Where we took it from was actually this book “Against His-story! Against Leviathan!” which is a collection of green anarchist essays. It essentially is used there as a plea to stop talking about what to do and just do something. We’re drowning. There’s no more time to wait, this is the time to jump.
There is another (secret) line during the noise section uttered but buried in the mix which is taken from the last thing you hear on the Crass record “Christ the Album” (one of the best of all-time, lyrically and musically) which is “I want you to sense your own strength.” We have the ability to do something. Whether it is to abstain from violence or set the machine on fire, we have the power.
“All Along We Were Beautiful Radiant Things”
This is a recontextualization of a very hopeful and inspiring quote from Emma Goldman’s Living My Life: “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things. Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.” The sounds decay into pulsing equilibrium. What comes next?