Released in 2000, The Art of Drowning is one of the few albums I have on vinyl that belonged to my husband first. We’d both seen AFI perform at the same show in Bozeman, Montana, though we didn’t know each other at the time. He had no turntable, but he still purchased the record, and copied a friend’s CD. Two years later, we received a turntable as a Christmas present. My fondness for the album may have a lot to do with our coincidental concert-going, but The Art of Drowning is one of AFI’s best, if not arguably the best album.
I’ve talked about many of the songs before in other music posts, so let me use this opportunity to collect and expand upon those thoughts. To be honest, one could write essays upon essays in somewhat literary-criticism fashion on singer Davey Havok’s lyrical gymnastics, but we’ll keep it simple today.
Nestled midway through what they call This Side (AKA… Side A), “Of Greetings and Goodbyes” has one of my favorite lines of any song:
Deep within divinity, let’s start another secret show
It’s damn sexy. So many possibilities spring from it that it makes me want to start writing, which is a (personally) good sign for any bit of art. The bassline is also excellent, and I’m a sucker for all those Woah-ohs.
“The Days of The Phoenix” might have been the song that brought AFI out of cult Bay Area status and into wider attention as a great punk rock band. It has Ohs instead of Woahs, and the way Davey sings “I want to/ I want to/ I want to stay” is one of the more romantic moments on the album. Yes, friends, punk rock is not entirely Damn the Man, Save the Empire — for even punks and goths and other fringe characters want someone by their side.
Still, my favorite song on the album — and a major contender for my favorite AFI song in general — is “Wester.” I’ve talked about the larger implications of sexuality contained within the song in a previous Alphabet Soup column, but if you’ll let me somewhat repeat myself, I want to mention my favorite lyrics.
“Wester” is all infatuation and romance and secrecy. It’s breathless and dark, and I love it so:
I’ll meet you tonight
In the whispers when no one’s around
Nothing can stop us now
Tonight, in the whispers where we won’t be found
Of all the love songs he’s written, it is the least complicated, the least doomed. He sings of the first thrilling moments when two people find each other, each private moment needing to be recreated as often as possible. When he’s not wrapped up in drama (as he often is in other songs), he captures adoration so well, even if it all occurs in the shadows.
I creep through the twilight to that hidden place
Beyond the lonely, I’ll meet you
I can feel you dreaming of me
Add in some excellent drumming from Adam Carson, and “Wester” is near perfect.
The vinyl release has one extra song, “Dream of Waking,” which shows a lot of the band’s Misfits/Danzig horrorpunk influences, and while I enjoy it, it’s not quite as strong as some of the other songs.
The Art of Drowning is where the band really hit their stride as a cohesive unit, though their previous release Black Sails at Sunset began that journey. It’s one of my All-Time Favorites, and though the band’s sound has changed a fair amount since then, I don’t begrudge them for it. They’ve been together since 1991 — to expect them to stay the same would be folly.
The Lost Souls
Ever and a Day
Of Greetings and Goodbyes
Story at Three
Dream of Waking
The Days of The Phoenix
Catch a Hot One
6 to 8
The Despair Factor
Show Me How to Shine Now