Ten years ago, I was at the height of my obsession with The Early November. The Room’s Too Cold had come out the previous year, and I told anyone willing to listen why I was obsessed with it. My friends enjoyed the album, but constantly reminded me that emo bands never last. I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business arrived quietly with a self-titled album alarmingly quickly, almost exactly a year after TEN’s debut album. I loved the album by myself since no one I knew would listen to it, and saw it as a wonderful and patchwork contrast to TEN’s sound and themes.
The greatest legacy of Like Nobody’s Business is that it was an oddity for years. Ace Enders’ side project was originally an indie acoustic pop record infused with a wide array of instruments (violin, cello, keyboard, electric guitar, xylophone) and a slight tone of country influence. It was weird, lovely and the perfect counterbalance to the harshness of The Room’s Too Cold by spinning off in the vein of the standout acoustic tracks from that album.
But Enders didn’t return to ICMAM for a long time, leaving it as a one off album. TEN’s follow up The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path used a lot of the influences from ICMAM (LONG NAMES BE DAMNED!) for The Mother disc. The most obvious of these influences being the ambient country influences for songs like “Driving South” and “From Here to L.A.”, most notably Bill Lugg’s sexy slide guitar originally from “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy” on ICMAMLNB.
Beyond that though, I Can Make a Mess weren’t heard of again for the most part as Enders took up another solo project under the banner of Ace Enders and a Million Different People, with a select couple of ICMAM songs played at live shows.
I fell in love with The Early November because of the harshness of the lyricism coupled with the underproduction and ragged songwriting that somehow worked between genres of both hard rock and acoustic ballads. I Can Make a Mess was not even just the opposite of that, it was ironically kind of a mess. The entire disc was acoustic focused, and much quieter, but interjected with two ‘rock’ songs (I still don’t know what to label them as) that utterly ruined the flow.
It’s not even that they’re bad songs, but it destroyed the theme of the album as well as the concept, and cut the record into parts. “Untitled Track 2” is a hellish rock song led by a sizzling electric guitar that cuts the surreal and dreamlike acoustic ballads in two; poppier songs on the first half and softer ballads on the second.
Then there was the background noise; eleven songs worth of what sound like random television and movie scenes running constantly under the music. On paper, this is an annoying idea but in practice, it’s intriguing. The sounds provide a minimal bass layer beneath the music that allows itself to be heard during the quietest moments before finally fading out during the aptly titled “End of the Background Noise”. It’s a distraction that doesn’t take away from the music, instead it melds the songs together which is one of the things Enders likes to do (The Room’s Too Cold, Dustin’ Off the Ol Guitar).
Enders’ lyrics have always intrigued me. The Early November tend to run to the center of emotions, cutting through the fat and hitting the heart of the matter. In recent years, I Can Make a Mess has reflected this basis as well, but not nearly as much. ICMAM is the outlet without parameters and ICMAMLNB is probably the best reflector of this.
The first half of the record is almost mystical. “So I Finally Decided to Give Myself a Reason” is the most dreamlike. It’s a surreal conversation with coming to terms with past mistakes amidst a chorus of “So tonight as I walk the moon makes faces at the trees / It’s so nice to make fun of everything that I lost, and I miss, and I love but never had”.
The most iconic song is “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy”, a ripe country flavored song complete with a “yeehaw” and slide guitar. It’s also the start of ICMAM’s recurring theme of money and inspiration as Enders sings, “So follow that tune / Quickly or you’ll lose the melody you never heard / When you were young you didn’t care / It’s the one that stole your father’s pride / That mighty mighty dollar sign”.
The second half of the album is slightly less romantic and a more straightforward with the themes of coming to terms with yourself. “I Know the Sum and Substance of My Evil” is one of the more telling songs as it pulls everything together in a self-evaluation that is so straightforward that it beckons reminders of TEN. “We all knew this day was coming / Our bitter hears can hear it calling / So proud of what you’ve done, so proud of who you are / Standing tall next to all the buildings and filling up with all the reasons why you should never trust yourself / The way you fool yourself… I’m fooled”.
I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business is a patchwork still in progress, not quite ready to know what it wanted to be. It’d be six years before further ICMAM albums would help put this one in perspective. It’s a great release from Enders, but somewhat pieced together and cut in weird sections.
At the time, it almost felt like a secret in the music community since absolutely no one would listen to it with me. It was an oddity of experimentation and honesty that helped launch Ace’s other solo project and influence later TEN records while maintaining a spirit all its own. It was the first time I knew that Ace Enders had the skills as a songwriter to not fade away with all of those other ’emo’ musicians and made me proud to bother people with how much I adore his music.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and apparently likes to write about Ace Enders in embarrassing amounts of detail, enough to tag his other two articles in this one. Ugh. The Early November is one of the few bands whose albums have never left his rotation ever since he first heard them in 2002.