23. Song No. 165: “All Ears,” The New Amsterdams
Never You Mind, 2002
This song, like so much of Matt Pryor’s early-aughts output, had me contemplating my own feelings with every replay and excruciating, poignantly felt moment that only exists in too-sensitive but also self-obsessed teenagers who immediately personalized every even remotely relatable song that struck a nerve without considering a broader context because daaaayum, does navel-gazing ever generate one wicked case of tunnel-vision.
It’s about fighting in a relationship, which lands a lot differently when you’re on the precipice of legal adulthood but still so childishly clueless about navigating your emotions that you shouldn’t be trusted with your own heart let alone someone else’s but you plow on ahead anyway. (Which is to say, the point tends to get missed entirely before you have the maturity to get the message years later in one walloping gut-punch.)
But this isn’t about any of that because, even if I’ve finally learned that not fighting at all is just as bad as fighting unhealthily, nothing about the actual lyrics of this song ever really hit me as hard as the sound of it did. I just love the way this song progresses like an argument but without all the anxiety of shifting, escalating emotions guiding the way things unfold and ensuring that they most definitely get out of hand or become about something other than the inciting incident itself.
Lyrics like “Came by to make you angrier again” and “Your anger suits you / It makes you beautiful / Gives you confidence / To come at me with more than your bare hands” makes me feel like it this is one that I should feel a little strange about loving so much, but the raw intensity and transparency of emotion are just so palpable and impossible to avoid crawling inside for a while that it just sticks with me for a while. It feels multidimensional and lived-in in ways that only songs that I’ve selfishly, obsessively loved since high school do.
Plus, the Bamboozle connection makes it a little special, too. I came back to this song a couple more times than I usually do while I was trying to figure out how to write about it, and that just gave way to one shockingly thorough Wikipedia rabbit hole. And then it was all Asbury Park Convention Center, broken windows on drafty days, intimate small-crowd shows tucked away in conference rooms boasting all the charm of a 1970s high-school all-purpose room, literally running into musicians we’d only ever adored from afar, and answered requests that defied their lousy surrounding’s lousy acoustics.
(It’s worthy noting that Asbury Park is thriving these days and has become the kind of place where there is absolutely no question I’d rather be there playing Friday hooky for my best friend’s August birthday than hating my job in person for another wasted beautiful day: Atlantic Shitty–sorry, City–would have been a much harder sell. Mid-aughts Asbury was certainly in much better shape than its late-’90s counterpart that we bravely Weird-New-Jersey’d our way through, but it was just starting to reclaim itself and shake away the decades of accumulated rust and reputation by the time Bamboozle started attracting my friends and me to the musically famed seaside town in the daylight. The convention center was an unholy mess back then, not that we cared when so many of our favorite bands were all in one place for three! goddamned! days!)
And in one of those rooms, The New Amsterdams–which is basically Matt Pryor and his guitar–played a set to a small but dedicated crowd. I was overjoyed because I didn’t think I’d ever experience any of those songs live, so my already tenuous self-control had long-ago yielded to my gleeful fangirling. I don’t remember if requests were welcome or I just blurted out the two songs I loved the most, but I caught myself calling (from the front row, because this is Serious Business) out to hear either this or “Stay on the Phone.” Someone else else echoed the latter, and this one was promised for later.
There are albums that have fallen by the wayside over the years: Para Toda Vida is one of them. But there are certain songs that I never completely outgrow or fall out of love with or shed, and “All Ears” is one of them. It’s exactly what happens when a song as a wholly self-sustaining entity intertwines itself into a memory or a moment and starts to feel like a thing with weight and presence that’s helps it ground itself just solidly enough to ensure that it sticks around for a while.