Today we move back to San Francisco from New York with Red House Painters. They were a longer-lived band than American Music Club and Codeine, and generally less “slit your wrists” music. That’s especially true in their later years (they stayed together for over a decade). But their first album, Down Colorful Hill — wow. It contains just six songs, with an average length of over seven minutes. And the most upbeat they get is “Lord Kill the Pain.”
My favorite song on the album is “Japanese to English.” It seems to tell a simple enough story. The singer is on a beach on an island off Japan with an older woman (I assume) he’s met. They are intimate, but they don’t speak the other’s verbal language. And it is a lament about this. Of course, one doesn’t need to take it literally. It is generally very difficult to find a shared language in romantic relationships.
I know for me that in relationships, the more I’ve needed to say, the less I was capable of it. When I was younger, I felt very much like Aimee Mann, “Anything I could have said, I felt somehow that you already knew.” When I got older, it became, “Anything I could have said wouldn’t begin to get at what I feel.” And that is with having grown in the ability to express myself. I suspect most people are like that: the better you get at expressing yourself, the more ineffable what you wish to express becomes.
If you like this music at all, you might check out some of the later Red House Painters albums. They get more traditionally folk rock. Check out, Summer Dress off Ocean Beach. But first, here is “Japanese to English”: