Casket was another gem of an AbsolutePunk discovery from my freshman year of college. My computer had 500GB of built-in storage and I carried an iPod classic with me everywhere I went, which meant that I: a) kept my entire mp3 library on my computer's whirring hard drive and; b) wore out the digital grooves of "Shiver" until it was burned into my brain.
A few years down the line, I got a new laptop. I remember the salesman at Best Buy explaining flash memory to me; my new computer would be faster but would be limited to 128GB of memory, less than my iTunes library, so I bought a 1TB hard drive to keep music on. In my naiveté I brought it everywhere. Late night ahead of me at the library studying for a midterm? Better bring my external drive so I have music to study to. Friends inviting me over to get stoned and watch Curb Your Enthusiasm or Trailer Park Boys or some other show I never really cared about until we came up with something to do? I’ll just bring my hard drive and rip stuff off of Soulseek at their place. Needless to say the thing was corrupted beyond repair for technical reasons I still don’t understand within a few months, and at the time my fearsome procrastination skills had extended to buying a second drive to back up the first.
Casket also has no online presence to speak of. Zilch. Zip. Nada. I consider myself decently internet savvy and even running their old socials through Wayback Machine is failing to produce anything as rudimentary as the names and roles of the band's members. They had a Bandcamp at one point (presumably that’s where I downloaded their EP the first time around) but it’s been deactivated since at least 2014. As I began the long process of piecing together a facsimile of my old mp3 library on a new external drive I realized I didn’t even know how to search for this song. Casket isn’t a particularly SEO friendly band name. And shit, was that song called “Shiver”? “Driver”? What was the EP it was on called again? I could mostly just remember how it went.
In 2020, with some newfound free time on my hands, I renewed my search and finally found an abridged upload of the EP at Trends Die Records. I hit play on “Shiver” to see if it still sounded how I remembered and-lest you think I just wrote about this song to trojan horse in my stupid mp3 odyssey-it sounded fucking great.
“Shiver” is a brutally depressing song—the lyrics are pretty bluntly about all your friends being addicts and alcoholics, and the volatility of those friendships, and the harrowing ways they can end. It also rips, so hard in fact that it was buried in my synapses for a half-decade before I even really bothered to consider what it was about. Casket are hardly the first emo band to touch on such a heavy subject, but they flip it on its head. They flatten despair into a snide irritation; in the first verse they’re mostly just annoyed nobody is down to hang out. Throw in the muddy bass, mixed to the front and center, and some rollicking tom-heavy drums, and “Shiver” sounds downright cathartic, almost danceable, while retaining a menacing edge.
The crown jewel moment, the part that played on a loop in my head for six years, the passage I sang to my friends to see if any of them still had an errant file on an old computer they could send me, is the bridge. The drums drop out and the gang vocals (“HEADACHES… NIGHTMARES!!!”) come crashing in; this is where we realize that Casket, too, are dealing with their own various addictions and withdrawal symptoms, that they needed sympathetic ears and grounding and emotional support from their vagrant friends as much as they missed the casual companionship.
Naturally, they make these harrowing revelations sound exhilarating, daring to imagine an alternate universe where “Highway to Hell” was more about hell than the highway. Or maybe it’s Wile E Coyote soaring off of a cliff as is his wont, except instead of crashing to a cartoon-mushroom-cloud demise he lands in a weird gothic iteration of Mario Kart? We’re talking Japandroids levels of anthemic fist-pumping on a song about missing your dead friends and also maybe wanting to die yourself.
There’s some evidence to suggest that forcing yourself to smile can reduce stress, an inversion of cause-and-effect that mimics happiness by reproducing its outcome; by that same token, could you self-induce an exorcism by screaming and throwing your body at any nearby walls? Casket would seem to argue yes and, further to the point, that you can even transmute that relief into something resembling genuine joy.
In the end, sadly, real life isn’t Friedkin, and Casket were dealing with demons that were more tangible than metaphor. By all accounts (i.e. like two YouTube comments) they flamed out spectacularly; the lead singer may or may not have smashed all his gear onstage at the final gig. The drummer is now active in Toner, an excellent fuzz-rock band based in Oakland. And we’ll always have Casket’s S/T.
A Little Year End Housekeeping
This is the last Tributary of the year 2022. If you’ve made it this far, I want to say thanks for reading: both this post and this newsletter as a whole. It’s an idea I had kicking around but was nervous to start, until I admitted to myself how much I’d hate if somebody beat me to the punch on it. I published the first post on my birthday as a present to myself and am unbelievably grateful that any of my friends subscribed, let alone strangers on the Internet.
I know myself well enough to know I can’t promise to be much more prolific with these posts in the coming year, but that’s my vague goal. I also published one piece of writing elsewhere in 2022 (this 20 year anniversary piece on Northstar’s Is This Thing Loaded?) and would love to do a bit more of that in 2023 as well.
In the meantime I wish you all happiness and health in the new year. I’ll be ringing it in at an Irish pub attempting to bribe the karaoke MC to stay until close. Feel free to hit me below with suggestions for what to sing (they unfortunately don’t have “Web in Front”, I’ve asked) and I’ll see you all back here next year.