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Killer Klassix: Alkaline Trio- “For Your Lungs Only” EP

Alkaline Trio cultivated a tight-knit cult-ish following with their emotionally apathetic lyrics, ironic themes, emotional, sludge-like punk rock sound and overall dark tones.

Success is subjective. Truly! It takes time to understand what we want out of life and how we are able to attain it. Some strive to attain a luxurious car, money, influence. Others strive to have the ability to do what they love; a substitution for the pay off. When doing what we love sustains itself, there remains the necessity to survive. The necessity to provide enough for ourselves not just to be content as artists, but to satisfy the necessary requirements to ensure a sheltered, clothed and fed tomorrow. We as the up and coming youth, are expected to know what it is we love and are forced to turn our craft into a means to provide for ourselves. The artists, artisans are strained by this notion.  

“It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction,” says Tennesee Williams, “for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial. The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable.” 

What Williams touches on in his essay “The Catastrophe of Success” is; that success deteriorates the struggle to create; the detriment of being loved by an audience. However, what if success means you can do what you want, just long enough for you to make something new, a departure from comfort and embarking on a new exploration? Chicago punk trio, Alkaline Trio sought to do this prior to the release of their debut album. 

“For Your Lungs Only” is the second EP by the infamous Chicago trio, Alkaline Trio. Released primarily by Chicago punk label Asian Man Records in 1998 (and re-released once again in a self-titled compilation album made up of their EPs in 2000), Alkaline Trio cultivated a tight-knit cult-ish following with their emotionally apathetic lyrics, ironic themes, emotional, sludge-like punk rock sound and overall dark tones. 

Composed of only 4 songs and coming in at a run-time of under nine and a half minutes, the EP has a contemporary goth, punk-rock, feel with moments of influence dating back to the early days of rock.

“Snake Oil Tanker” is boundless in its artistic and musical exploration as an initial track. It works as an exhibition of the band’s overall musical versatility. Given the out-of-box introductory guitar riff for the track, the song and lyrics are tight; refining the talents of an up-and-coming band at the time. The lyrical layering of the metaphorical use of the snake oil salesman as a means to describe how easily one gives into emotions and how one sinks into one’s delusions of that same self in the face of heartbreak. While dark in its lyrical application, the overall melodies and hook perfectly contrast the nature of the track, increasing the track’s instant recall based on intricate melody. It is worth noting the song is less than a minute and a half, deriving similar curtness and mischievousness from early punk influences such as “The Damned” and “Jaw Breaker,” who the band was huge fans of. There is little room to understand what the band might be saying and find a way to sneak a melodramatic, relatable line in there for their listeners. 

“Cooking Wine” is a literary masterpiece as far as lyrical material goes. Moreover, the musical composition really pulls the track through as a means for exploration. While melancholic, the sub-melody perfectly caters to Skiba’s vocal and bass melodies. Lyrically, Skiba’s writing follows playwright Tennessee Williams’ dialogical utilization of polyptoton, where the beginnings of words are similar to cater to a specific sensation or idea in order to solidify a particular theme. Skiba’s lyrical shortcomings of “I’m late” “I can’t see straight” and “I couldn’t wait,” establish an explicit self-deprecating containment where the song is in and of itself, literal stagnancy. Though dark in tone, its execution is brilliant, though fast paced-still is emotively weighed down under its melodic structure.  

“For Your Lungs Only” is the titular track of the EP as well as the closing track. As far as easy listening goes, and if you don’t already feel like utter shit, this track will definitely solidify the sentiment. The track brilliantly veils an interpretation of absent fathers and artistic dedication in melody.. The metaphor used is a manual-gear car in which the vehicle has a more complex mechanism in order to switch gears. Particularly, Skiba’s notion of choosing to be a good father requires a complex decision to always return to their son, highlighted by the line “Have to choke and choke and choke/Repercussion, what got us this form.” The line is representative of not just an individual’s inability to connect with those who are around them, but also inhibits an overt action to avoid facing an innate duty; the responsibility to cater to something we create and nurture our creation to its fullest potential. The argument could be made that Skiba has wanted to abandon music, with the distinction of his own art not necessarily acting as a separate entity but as a part of who he is and what success might have looked like for him.

It’s really difficult to describe how this release just works so well. You have Skiba acting as the creative backbone through the background role he gets, as the writer, bassist and vocalist. However, the emotive powerhouse the album works as is insane, with Adriano and drummer Glenn Porter perfectly cradling Skiba’s dark, enveloping vision. The EP is a true attempt to make your craft work regardless of the rejection you face. When success is subjective to the point of obscurity, the only thing to do as an artist is to take that which is crazy, dark, and human to a detriment, and make it your own. Only then can an artist be successful in their craft, and be able to make success their own.   


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