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Underground Unusualities #4: Cartographs Captures Shattered Screens and Fragile Romance

peace was never mine to be found

In this series, Jenna scours the musical expanse for unusual (but fitting) albums to soundtrack life’s tumult.

“There’s the big Internet and the small Internet, and presently, I’d like to smash both into shards to be swept up in the wind.”

It’s sentiment I never thought I’d being expressing, but the panic of every notification and the itching of chronically bloodshot eyes is only eased by the view of the brick wall outside my bedroom window. The trade-off for an endless supply of blank pages is a world of heartbreak trapped in a tiny handheld screen. I guess it could be worse. I could be enough of a high roller to upgrade my iPhone 6 to an X, and then I’d have to carry around an even heavier reminder that I’m not shit.

I think the worst part is that I’m old enough to know better. I’ve hit the point where my Facebook feed is flooded with engagements occurring for other reasons besides unexpected pregnancies, including, but not limited to, a love strong enough to build a life together. Meanwhile, I’m over on Twitter, interacting with other music journalists, namely fellow recovering scene kids who are stumbling backward through the adult world. That’s how I met him, like something out of a goddamned indie movie, sans the ending scene where we walk across a bridge holding hands in our grandma sweaters and tattered chucks.

It probably didn’t help that I did, indeed, watch an indie film in which life imitated art so closely, yet with no cigar. The New Romantic tells the story of a young journalist named Blake who lives as a sugar baby for an immersionist report, but when her daddy turns out to be as scummy as one may expect, another young man on her publication’s staff proves to be her knight in shining armor. Hell, they even hook up at a costume party while both dressed as Hunter S. Thompson – a type of #goals that I’ve never considered but would be open to trying.

As I watched the quirky couple parade across the football field to attend their college graduation hand-in-hand, I recalled a phone call I had earlier in the week with him. It started with us talking shop about our endeavors from the safety of our respective time zones, but it quickly shifted into an hour-long discussion of where we grew up and the places we dream of visiting (his list included my city, Portland). His baritone voice reverberated in my chest: “So, do you have any siblings?” That so happened to be Blake’s go-to date question, which her knight asked her at a post-all-nighter diner date before she even had the chance to ask.

It was all quickly turning into a form of escapism from the gravely serious work world in which socializing is comprised of clutching hard soda water and stiffly debriefing the status of your research. Meeting someone who’s exceptionally smart, but in a fashion that’s dazzled by language, angles, and beauty is more difficult to find than your key ring after a night out. There’s that unease that won’t rest, creating the sense that time is of the essence until you find them. Once you do, you’re sure to stow them close to the vest.

Late nights of sharing edgy memes and goofy selfies made early mornings of twitching eyes and jittery hands worth it. All attention to e-mails and last-minute editing was forgone during one gray area between Thursday and Friday. Suddenly, I was hit with the realization: I need to make him a playlist, and I need to do it now. My love language is apparently sharing the tracks that serve as the soundtrack to my smitten dreamscape.

As I collapsed back onto my bed — half out of exhaustion, half out of exhilaration — I let the final song of my masterpiece, Cartographs‘ “Safe Travels,” pull at my electrified heartstrings.

The Danish four-piece was my latest find in my descent into an extremely special and underrated wave of post-hardcore that emerged earlier in the decade. Like a take on Senses Fail for, well, recovering scene kids, the barren trees depicted in their visuals represent a degree of vibrancy that has been lost as the years drift away. Even though tunings have aimed steadily downward, the compellingly climbing riffs and wispily visceral screams paint a picture of a whole kingdom that’s secretly hidden away in earth tone-shrouded bodies. Cartographs’ premiere album Safe Travels especially captures this ghostly bliss. Its title truck beat onward: “Past in present / Repeating his words to decipher the message” covered my bedroom walls like torn photos from magazines.

Maybe, just maybe, he felt it, too.

Five years proved to induce a jaded edge in Cartographs’ music, as their March 2019 release Wilt & Blossom sits enraptured in melancholy. Appropriately, it was blasting crisply through my phone speakers as my own spirits were dulled in a matter of five seconds. I was absently scrolling through Instagram in bed. I had drifted away from a criminology reading that had said the same thing, just slightly differently, from the one prior. I saw he posted a new video and quickly tapped to engage the audio, as I always enjoy his short pieces of cinematography. A young woman, whose hair was that distinct shade of blonde that mine has never been able to achieve, nuzzled into his sharp jawline as if she was trying to be cut. Yet, I was the one who was hemorrhaging the particles of my parallel universe.

It was a flirtation that existed nowhere but in the confines of my mind, and thus needed to be completely wiped clean from the server. Somewhere between 20 miligrams of Lexapro and $300 of therapy, I felt nothing but an overwhelming urge to be delivered from it all. The road to this mirage is paved with red flags, and after making the wrong turn so many times, I no longer had it in me to invest in a fantasy that will never come into fruition. Some things are much too fragile to be feasibly tucked away for safekeeping. I deleted all my social media apps and chucked my phone a few feet. Wilt & Blossom’s folk-fused finale “In Teal” muffled through the summit of bedding that had formed.

After unknowingly being cooped up inside until dusk, I escaped from linen prison, bounding down the stairs of my apartment building. “Though distinctions are far and few/this essence keeps pulling through / pick up your bones, rebuild anew / since 1992” blared through my headphones as I went in search of something that I couldn’t put my finger on. The mist in the air was warm, but not muggy. I looked to my right to cross the street when I noticed blocks lined with all that’s lush and green in a scene fit for a screensaver.

While my walk provided much-needed refreshment, my evening writing duties loomed. It was time to face the screen I couldn’t avoid: the big Internet. My bedsores still too tender to return home, I took a seat in a corner coffee shop. Habitually, my finger jumped across the keyboard to the “t” key. The URL instantly appeared. I took a deep breath and hit enter.

In a long line of messages for a group chat of which he and I are both a member, his was the very final. He said he was losing vision in his left eye. My heart sunk, brushing my own self-indulgent absence aside to type, “Are you okay?” As he replied indicating a minor case of eye strain, I stared at the bluish reflection in the window, sinking into the seat’s metal bars as if my shoulders had been nailed inward.

Peace was never mine to be found.

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