Brontez Purnell + Jason Kendig - He Never Knew What Kissed Him
Brontez Purnell once asked me if it was still affordable to live in Long Beach. He started to describe a fantasy about retiring there, the foggy mornings and dancing at night, but drifted off mid-sentence, clearly lost in the daydream, in the vision of this person there next to him. I understood his jitters and the way he sank into them. It was like a fever. You just have to wait it out.
For a long time I could only think of two great songs about this experience. The first is "Intertube Tomorrow" by the Frumpies. "East coast/west coast/I think I hate them both/Another day/It's always two thousand miles away from someone/I care about." So much disappointment, a sense of something unsolvable, of wanting a miracle technology to solve the distance. The halting delivery of the lyrics, the notes held too long, all tells the story without needing words in this way.
The song itself tells the same story, running past you, breathless and precise. There's this one bell sound, I think you can make it with a guitar, something you hear in "For What It's Worth" or "Nowhere Man." When it appears in "Intertube Tomorrow" it feels nostalgic but also cuts through with this awful presentness.
The other one I think about is "West Coast Love Affair" by Unrest. This song is all warmth and closeness. That first little descending string of notes tugs you up next to the speaker. In that intimacy, the strain is just apparent in their singing, but the promise of a reunion, the steady, oath-like repetition, keeps everything hopeful. The notes grow closer and closer together, the song doesn't get faster but it feels like a heart beat quickening.
"He Never Knew What Kissed Him" stands between these two songs. Reverent, dismayed, wistful, far-seeing. Feverish. Brontez sings with such understanding, the plainness of a line like "it's a mistake/my darling/but it's okay/my darling" feels revelatory. The organ notes pull with an identical energy to "West Coast Love Affair," the feeling of sinking. It's unavoidable but without despair. There's also a timelessness, sounds that feel lifted from the droney, delicate tapestry of forgotten 60s records but a language that could only live in these days.
The song is full of surprises, compressing months of wondering and daydreaming: the surprise of a postcard, the sting of an unanswered phone call, the circled date on the calendar with scribbled flight information. In the New Yorker in 2013 I read that one of the primary, debilitating effects of sleep depravation is that it suppresses the ability to discern from the past and the present. "In a sleep-deprived brain," a scientist explained, "there is only an eternal present." That is how this song makes me feel. The ache of distance, the anger at ineffective technologies and the thrill of pending reunion all live so vividly in the song that for 134 seconds I am pinned outside an empty mailbox, standing in an airport with a bundle of flowers I couldn't really afford, listening to voicemails over and over and over. Brontez absorbed all those moments and laid them bare, adding this supremely generous brush of hope, making "Never Knew" one of the truest and kindest songs I've ever heard.