Being an astronaut is cool. The profession regularly makes the list of most desired jobs for boys graduating kindergarten. While 5-year-olds aspiring to Pro Athlete or Fire Fighter seek a socially imposed brand of masculine heroism, astronauts-to-be aim at the ethereal. In the upcoming music video for “Mind Moves” by Wall of Ears, actress Jordan Corbin floats in a spacesuit through stars and rainbow sound waves, but never sets foot on a planet or inside a spacecraft. Intoxicated by searching nothingness for nothing the child’s fantasy is an actual astronaut’s worst nightmare: floating in space.
With Hello Beautiful Nothing, the second album by Seattle-based band Wall of Ears, lead singer & songwriter CW Lott realizes his childhood dream. Detached from earth, a self-proclaimed “balloon in the sky,” Lott leaves his body on earth and sends his mind to the moon. In the album opener “Sea Legs,” “Your head floats off.” In “Floating off the Line,” interviewers “speak to your body when you’re floating outside your skull.” Even thoughts themselves can’t remain contained, spilling into the visible: “There’s a light bulb hovering above your brain.” Lott vows to boldly go where no man has gone before: the intersection of boyhood dreams and the fucked-up now, the infinite space between the ears.
Born to a devout Louisiana family and a former member of the Christian metal act, As Cities Burn, Lott grew up on equal doses of MTV and Jesus. In “Brain Thaw,” he sings, “Every joke I make up is something I saw on MTV / It’s the little me coming back.” No coincidence that The Moon Man served as the channel’s mascot since its 1981 inception. For children of the 80s, the logo of an astronaut spearing moon rock with an MTV flag, claiming ‘space’ in the name of ‘music,’ was more recognizable and central to our collective identity than its reference point, the misplaced nationalism of Buzz Aldrin two decades earlier. MTV’s founders conflated the astronaut with the pop star, the Final Frontier with three-minute pop dream sequences, conquering a generation’s inner psyche.
With his devotion to the interplanetary and neon VHS blur aesthetic, Lott lives at this intersection, yet complicates his spacey-ness with poetic sensibility. “Language fits incorrectly in my jaws,” he writes in “Talker,” but that intentional ’incorrectness’ is what distinguishes him, constantly undermining rock clichés through oblique word choice. In “Floating Off the Line,“ Lott encounters a Saturday night. Whereas incalculable songs have invoked the evening to unlock its party anthem potential, Lott swerves: “On Saturday night I think I feel reset.” A lesser lyricist would finish the phrase with “brand new,” or “just right,” or “reborn” but Lott’s choice combines release with the grounding coldness of electronics. Later, the song repurposes the René Decartes’s axiom, “Cognito Ergo Sum,” in English: “I think, therefore I am.” Lott’s version, “I sing; therefore I am,” syncs the two actions into one; thought and song “transmutate,” as Lott would say, or perform what a Catholic would call transubstantiation: something ethereal becomes bodily. The mind grabs the balloon from the sky and places the string in your hand. As Lott think/sings in “Sea Legs,” “Now we are everywhere at once”: floating in space, floating in the 80s, floating in Instagram.
In his 1987 book, The Overview Effect, “space philosopher” Frank White cataloged astronauts writing about their revelations and out-of-body experiences upon seeing the earth from space. White writes, “One of the primary rationales for space exploration is that it transforms how we think, how we see ourselves,” which sounds super-cool, but also amusingly vague. Substitute ‘space exploration’ with ‘weed,’ and the quote would fit comfortably in a stoner comedy, rendering The Overview Effect’s revelation achievable through earthly means, i.e. tripping on your drug of choice, attending a religious ceremony, or spinning a favorite album. One needs not don a spacesuit to visit the beautiful nothing with Wall of Ears to stamp the passport of your mind.