Every good road trip needs a soundtrack. If you’re journeying through the wreckage of dysfunction, addictions, and internal darkness? I Didn’t Come Here to Die by White Collar Sideshow is your soundtrack.
White Collar Sideshow is the brainchild of husband and wife duo TD and Veronica, self-described as “Arkansas shock rock.” Their concept-heavy art has garnered a devoted underground following over the years, a following that has been waiting since 2012 for another album. I Didn’t Come Here to Die delivers with another concept album accompanied by a film, the most melodically accessible set of songs from the band yet while maintaining their truly one-of-a-kind sound.
“Valley of the Skull” sets the stage for the journey through the wasteland, the folk-twinged verses leading into an industrial rock chorus that harkens back to the sound of acts like Nine Inch Nails or Alice Cooper. Although that pairing of sounds might seem contradictory, it perfectly matches White Collar Sideshow’s musical fingerprint: experimental, unrestricted, imbued with a refreshing wildness. Here TD and Veronica’s vocals call back and forth, trading places as they will continue to do for the rest of the album.
That rich sound continues in psychotic-sounding “Bring Out Your Dead,” a phrase borrowed from folklore surrounding the days of the black plague, when households would bring out members who had died and add them to piles of corpses. That concept provides the foundation for a song about a vicious culture that abandons their own: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.” Veronica’s voice leads “Hug Me Or Hang Me,” an eerie, unsettling song that feels like pure grunge. “American Psycho” shows off their blending of industrial, electronic elements with hard rock sensibilities. White Collar Sideshow’s endlessly shifting sonic textures are punctuated by spoken word moments, such as on “Pig in the Middle” (a subtle reference back to the imagery in the band’s 2012 album The Witchunt).
Thematically, the album is ultimately about our vices, about the ways they hollow us out. “My Warped Places” teases this theme to the fore: “who am I? That question always lies inside my warped places.” Listeners had already heard the determination in the title track “I Didn’t Come Here to Die,” the white-knuckled desperation to escape our internal demons. “Tombstones for Eyes” sounds musically skeletal as it reaches a terrible point of self-realization:
I’ve got tombstones for eyes
and I realize
and I recognize
in a web of lies
Manhandled and mangled
Suffocated and strangled
Self-medicate this anger and hate
My prayers have been dead.
That rock-bottom point of the valley sees the landscape beginning to shift with the intensely industrial “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” a call to courage and change. “Fist Full of Grace” answers the long journey through desolation with the one and only thing that can breathe life back into our self-created death:
I don’t need no vice
I only need a taste of freedom
With your fist full of grace.
One of the things that makes White Collar Sideshow a breath of fresh air is that they legitimately display a level of creative craftsmanship that allows them to feel unpredictable. It’s like heavy music having a hoedown– but it’s also so much more than that. As a listener, you never quite know where a riff or a melodic hook is going to take you next. Beyond that musical excellence, White Collar Sideshow’s relentless dedication to be unflinching in dealing with the worst of human nature in order to plant sign posts for the way out continues to make them a vital voice– and has us hoping it’s not 7 years until the next album.
Related Artists: The Ongoing Concept, Children 18:3, Nine Inch Nails