Written by Rob Aldana
People handle unrequited love in different ways. Before their rejection, they are intoxicated with a feeling of fatalistic certainty that taints their every thought and judgment. Innocuous glances appear to be piercing gazes, benign responses are coded messages, and romantic reveries are prophetic visions. In the mind of the subject, infatuation thus becomes a ubiquitous informer of experience, a lens through which reality is received. In this mindset, it can only be expected that the words ‘I don’t love you’ will have a disruptive effect on the psyche. Any experience of unreciprocated love jolts us from our subjectivity, and forces us to unravel and reinterpret our internal fantasy: How could my understanding of reality have been so far out of alignment with the truth? How could something I held so dear have been a mere projection of my self-delusion? These questions fundamentally challenge our perception and engender a variety of behaviors. Some may sulk, others may take comfort in self-deceit; almost all misplace their enduring emotions. Whatever our response to this loss of ego may be, these questions fundamentally interrogate the subjective experience of the self.
While many artists and musicians express the painful symptoms of unrequited love, few reflect as intensively on its source: the self. On the EP Oh Interesting!, McFabulous (the pseudonym of solo artist Ben McFadden) conveys the very personal emotions of loneliness and rejection through very intimate, one-sided-dialogue driven vignettes. This occasionally awkward method of storytelling pairs well with the glimmering pop and fizz of Oh Interesting!’s electro-funk arrangements, and allows McFadden to show, rather than tell us, his own self perceptions. All of these factors create a narrative singularity and emotional depth that carries throughout the record.
In “I Live About the Hobby Shop,” the listener is presented with a simple plot: guy meets girl at a party and invites her back to his place. However, as the title suggests, the plot of the song is not as important as it’s delivery. From the opening lines McFadden sings in a gentle voice, “Let me take you back to my spot / I hope you didn’t take that wrong.” The awkward invitation and immediate apology are sincere and innocuous, and these sentiments are reinforced by the following lines, “This party’s just a little too hot / I want to have a conversation.” In addition to the introverted tone, it is the foot-in-mouth flirting that strips the encounter of any ulterior motives or affectations. After telling the girl that he lives above the Hobby Shop, the speaker states, “You might have been there once or twice / Maybe in the same night / I hope you found it nice.” A part of the speaker’s true self shines through in the failed small talk, as the interaction is clearly unplanned, and his awkwardness glows with an endearing charm. But just as the timid lyrics might be mistaken for a lack of affection, intricate runs of electronic tones and soulful singing between the first and second verse suggest the exact opposite. Returning from the solo, the song reaches its lyrical turn as the speaker says to the girl, “I get a real kick out of you / Do you get a kick out of me?” The speaker’s vulnerability sets up his rejection, but more importantly is his characteristic response, “Well if you should feel so inclined / To visit on some other night / My door’s open wide.” The response could not be any more passive or calm, and yet it is followed by a highly expressive synth solo and clapping chant that create an anthem for the heart-broken introvert. The song never once mentions the beauty of the girl or the pains of the lover, and yet it creates a picture of the self far more telling than the average ballad. The speaker’s timid one-sided conversation and expressive solos are juxtaposed to display the individual condition of unrequited love, making it both personal and relatable.
On all five tracks of the EP, themes of unrequited love and self-reflection are present to some degree. In “Parallel Asymmetry,” the only lyrics are the vocoder-tinged chorus, “you and me, rocking back and forth in parallel asymmetry,” which evokes the irrationality in relationships that is embodied by the paradoxical statement. Songs like “Cool Kind of Sweetness,” and “How U Treat Me,” playfully touch on slightly masochistic tendencies that can develop if two partners are not equally invested in a relationship. Each song is reflective of the speaker, and as McFadden explains, “I think a lot of my songs that are about being hurt by somebody else can also be transposed to me dealing with hurting myself in a way, like how I treat myself, you know, ‘How U Treat Me,’ could be called ‘How Me Treat Me.’” Even “Dressed Up,” which at first seems like a physical appraisal, actually describes viewing others and oneself in a healthy way, as the ending lines conclude, “Tonight I’m gonna see you / Exactly how you want to be seen.”
Listen to more McFabulous on his Bandcamp.