Somewhere between "Birth Control" and "If I Can't See You Tonight," from Crab Claw's 2015 debut Pink Eye, a realization dawns over listeners. There's a lot of pain to be found in the hedonism, anxiety in the absurd. Through all eight of the lush piano-rock bangers and alt-country ballads, it's hard not to wonder where songwriter Walker Trull was bragging and where he was confessing.
In the four years since Pink Eye's heartfelt vulgarity, Trull matured enough to help listeners distinguish between the two modes. But, as new LP Memories Arise will show when it drops on Fri. March 8, the songwriter leaves his puerile humor intact to keep things just as entertaining as Crab Claw's 2015 release. "This album's not really about getting older or learning lessons," Trull comments. "I'm still suffering for my decision-making on half the songs, but you can tell it's more grown-up than the first one."
From the jump, Memories Arise is an artistic leap forward, opening with the curiously stirring "Paula." Intertwined with Corey Campbell's mourning and celebratory piano line and Christian Chidester's jazzy guitar playing, a voice recording of Trull's mother describes the outrageous trajectory her formidable years took when she met her husband. Wolfgang Zimmerman rounds out the band by producing and drumming on the record. "She tells all these crazy stories about him burning her house down, then going to Carolina Beach after that; she married him after that, then I was conceived while they were running from the cops," Trull says.
"When you love somebody to the core of your bones, you don't always make the right decisions," Trull's mother says on the recording, before concluding on a positive note. "I got [daughter] Tristan and Walker," she adds before the music builds.
According to Trull, she speaks on many of the album's thematic material. "Half of it is a breakup album and the other half is basically remembering all of the bullshit family stuff that I [was] dealing with growing up," he says.
While "Paula" covers the familial side of the album, "Buddy Pass" tackles the romantic angle seen on Memories Arise, while also indulging in the crass sense of comedy that became indicative of Crab Claw. In a '70s soft-rock throwback, Trull tells about the perks of dating a flight attendant. "I got a Triforce tattoo and I always wanted to go to Tokyo, Japan/ I'll eat a bunch of sushi, watch some anime in the sand/ I really got to know, is it cheating to get blowjobs from robots/ I sure hope not," he sings in the second verse.
Despite the laughs about a robo-bajowski, the song ends with the leading lady informing Trull that their long-distance relationship is too much for her to handle.
In another breakup song, titled "Instagram," the songwriter finds humor by dissecting petty relationship confrontations. "Can't you see that all of our fights/ Are over social media woes/ Maybe we should put down our phones," Trull belts in the chorus.
From the riff down to the vocal inflections, the band is channeling Neil Young. A melodramatic guitar accentuates the overly dramatic reaction to double tapping a picture on an app or commenting on a post. The hook peaks right as Trull drops the words "discover feed" in the first chorus. For social media skeptics, it's comedy gold.
The album's climactic title track may be the most earnest song in the Crab Claw catalog. "The whole theme of that song and thus the album is, 'If you don't laugh about your situation, you're going to cry about it,'" explains Trull. "The album's very funny, but it's also very sad at the same time."
Trull's mother returns to further talk about the love she shared with her husband before Trull poetically recounts the story told in "Paula." The haunting details he adds to the lyrics are a reminder of his efficacy as a songwriter. "Late at night, these memories arise/ Mama singing to me with a black eye/ An off-key lullaby/ Sometimes you gotta laugh or you'll probably cry," he sings.
It may be strange to say, given the subject matter, but there's a substantial amount of silly fun on Memories Arise. The aching emotions are at the forefront this time around, but Trull confronts the majority of it with a smile in his voice.
If there's one idea followed unshakably over the course of the LP, it's an offhand comment Trull gave in a moment of barroom philosophy: "Life is tragic, but it's also very funny."