My Eyes Shut: “not in the stars to hold”

Old statue in a cemetery in Prague

Records: My Mind Open (2018)
Look What You Did! (2020)

Pack your bags and a coat for fresh rebirth
Into a world of racing time
’Cause it’s here
For the mind that clings
To the flesh and dreams of eternity

from the songCurtains,” onMy Mind Open,” by My Eyes Shut
The band "My Eyes Shut"
My Eyes Shut (Alexandre Duccini, Emrys Harper, Erik Martin, & Seth Townsend-Tyers,
photo courtesy of the band, used by permission)

Fate versus destiny — what lies beyond our control and what lies, somewhat, within our control, form the backdrop to two dramatic debut records from the Northwest band, My Eyes Shut (Alexandre Duccini, Emrys Harper, Erik Martin, and Seth Townsend-Tyers). Each record, “My Mind Open” (2018), and “Look What You Did!” (2020), forms a narrative rich in the personal explorations of loneliness, self-recrimination, and ultimately, a quiet — if reluctantly hesitant — acceptance.

Far from being desolate, this band drives through (and evolves) their roughly post-punk song cycles to form a singular, compelling and deeply emotional portrait — exploratory as it is revelatory, bitterly confessional as it is imploring. Each begins in anxiety and culminates in a kind of empirical truth.

But each journey is a hard one. There’s almost a compulsive, savage honesty in these song’s lyrics and arrangements on both records, beginning with “My Mind Open,” the most pure punk of the two. And yet, even as “My Mind Open” evolves through its shadows, track by track, there are glimpses of a light that will come later on the new record, “Look What You Did!”

Along the way, intentionally or not, there are also echoes and shrewd nods to the likes of an early Ian Curtis and Joy Division, a young Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club, the blues experimenter Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion, and even an embryonic Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. My Eyes Shut’s records are each an intoxicating mix of youthful buoyancy and gothic narrative. As each record unfolds, this band takes greater and greater risks, moving from an introspective garage band into self-assured studio rats working out their collaborative, discordant storylines at The Unknown in Anacortes, WA. This is the ground floor of some heady stuff.

My Mind Open (2018)

My Eyes Shut (on Bandcamp)

Fate, since antiquity, has been seen as confining, claustrophobic, and even terrifying. Every life lived is a cage. Hopeless. Over half the songs on “My Mind Open” (2018) run to more than seven minutes — long, spare, restrictive guitar-driven meditations, sometimes with cyclical vocals shouted or chanted out like warnings. “Wait,” the first track on the record, sets the pulse and tension of these narratives about freedom versus confinement, revenge versus punishment, fault versus blame, judgement, and acceptance. “Inside Me” and “Corporal Punishment” rage in their self-obsession, bleak at times, but never desperate.

Perhaps the most brilliant song on the record, directly invoking the spectral authority of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, circa “Unknown Pleasures,” is the song “Shallow.” The language is stark (“…but jealousy bites hard…”), subtly menacing (“…you let me fall into my nothing…”), paranoid (“…so you wanna feel / this alone…”) , even possessive (“…. your faults were as inviting as your kiss…”). Here, the band’s guitars pivot from a raging storm into a more defined, controlled tension that will find greater purchase on “Look What You Did!” (2020).

“My Mind Open” shifts with its two final tracks, “Curtains,” and “In Time.” Building on the sonic transformation in “Shallow,” these two final songs move from the confined, internal narratives to a wider rhetorical search for answers, for signs of change. Without this conversion, this record would fall into a bleak portrait of despair. However, this is a band attempting, through their art, to invoke change through naked honesty — “Give me a way out / from this looming curtain” (from the song, “Curtains”).

There’s a raw, naked power flowing through these seven songs. A diary of despair, yes, but “My Mind Open” is also a chronicle of post-empire, post-hope, post-future, and yet it emerges with a kind of restorative power in its honest confessions and surrender, as is almost always the interpretation of fate — “I want your fire / give me desire / control me entirely / I’ll feel inspired” (from the final song on the record, “In Time”).

In time
I’ll wait for you
I want some resolution
Or please satisfaction
If we had solutions
Then maybe I’d know how to grow

from the song “In Time,” on “My Mind Open,” by My Eyes Shut
cow skull and deer antlers by the shore of the Sultan Sea in California.

If you’re riding through life on a fast horse, destiny and fate might look alike from the saddle. Just another pile of bones beside the road in an endless, desperate — inevitable — desert. But they’re not the same. Destiny’s big departure from fate is, of course, choice. Becoming an active agent of change in our lives allows us to, if not exactly change our destiny, deflect it somewhat into smaller outcomes we can actually influence. Consciously decide what’s next. Find those better angels of our nature.

Destiny swaggers forth, literally and figuratively, from the first track on “Look What You Did!” (2020), as My Eyes Shut shift their post-punk gears into a raw, punk-blues guitar storm with their opening track, “A Father, A Figure,” brilliantly mixed and mastered at The Unknown in Anacortes, WA, by Nich Wilbur. There’s even a guest appearance by Gillian Frances (adding backing vocals on the song “On Purpose“). Many of the same conflicts arise in the first five tracks on this new record as they did on “My Mind Open,” however, there’s a subtle shift — toward hope. It’s not all nightmare visions and haunted afterlives.

The brilliant, subdued “Nightcrawler,” the third song in, conjures lyrics invoking the presence of yet another spectral post-punk figure, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, The Gun Club circa “Fire of Love,” combining a brutal fatality with a crooning gothic mystery style. Yes, we’ll destroy ourselves in this life as we “crawl out of the darkness,” but if we ask enough questions — “…O, who knows what we’ll do to ourselves?….” We might just be left with — faith? — if not answers.

Look What You Did! (2020)

My Eyes Shut (on Bandcamp)

Once again, there’s a journey within this second record’s song cycle, cresting with the sixth track in, “It Comes and It Goes.” We begin to move toward sacred spaces and consent. “The cudgel of every path…” (the blows raining down upon us as we make our way through this life) that we face with every choice — “…Praying your way back in after the war…” — are the price we pay as we attempt to deflect what might seem, from the first strike, unavoidable.

Finally, we arrive at “Inventing Authentic,” a hybrid brandishing of punk-blues and post-punk intensity. Destiny’s “tides” might just be adjusted — “Maybe I could live in such a way / I’m not so afraid of how the tides might sway.” “Look What You Did!” concludes with “Another Sad Song,” almost a coda in this record’s journey from enclosure into the spaciousness of assent. This band clearly understands the metaphoric, alternate realities of how each of us perceives pleasure and suffering, and the conflicts that arise from the delusion of absolute beliefs set against the capriciousness of desire.

My Eyes Shut (Duccini, Harper, Martin, and Townsend-Tyers) is a band pugnaciously working their way toward their songwriting perfection. It’s out there. Their honesty and their risk makes the listening all the more exciting. But then again, no one has complete control over these outcomes, not even bands. Fate or destiny? “…But I don’t care if it’s genuine / as long as I keep you in my hands…” (from the song, “Inventing Authentic”).

In the end, what are you going to believe, this band seems to be asking, over and over. What do you think you’re holding so firmly in your hands? Your timeless yet subjective — and illusive — belief system? They don’t say, preferring instead to preserve the mystery, and leave any certainty as an open question for another time.

When we crawl out of the darkness
In the devil’s coach
What does he take when there’s no more faith?
What does he take?

from the songNightcrawler,” on “Look What You Did!,” by My Eyes Shut

photo credits (where not otherwise credited)

“forgotten statue” / by Kajano on Shutterstock
“bones” / by InnaPoka on Shutterstock
“trailer” (footer) / by Kaytoo on Shutterstock