Frame of 'Reference'

"You're not going to like this, man."

Shane Bartell nevertheless slipped me a copy of his debut EP Reference at a Centro-matic show in the spring of 2002 at the Mercury, just after we'd clicked over a mutual love for the Outfield. He knew through the Chronicle of my fondness for space rock and experimental fare, but he didn't know my alterna-pop roots were steeped in New Order, the Cure, and even Tears for Fears.

Slightly inebriated and in a monthlong fog after the recent collapse of a long-term relationship, I threw on the CD for the ride back to an empty house.

"Now that it's finally over, now that she's finally gone ..."

I was hooked. It was "Up for Air," about coming home to an empty house after the end of a long relationship.

"Now that the coffee's burning, now that the milk is old ..."

I was flattened by the same kind of powerful voice, fresh arrangements, and dark undercurrents that once possessed me to sing along to entire Morrissey albums.

"When you come up for air ... I hope that I'll be there to help push you in."

Angry, sad, dramatic, cathartic, and desperately confused, Reference is all of those things, like a prize-winning author getting ahold of Radiohead's "Creep."

Bartell has made a much more elegant and subtle concoction with Too Soon to Say, but Reference will always have a warm spot on my liquor shelf.

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