some fall in love. i shatter.

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Visions Of Penelope (#36)

In Stories Volume 2 on December 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm

She reclined upon the bed, propped against the pillows, and felt the crush of flower petals against her skin. Every surface of the studio apartment: the floor, tabletops, kitchen counter, bookcases, bed. A latticework of long and thin green stems and petals, both tightly coiled and widely blossomed, of white roses. That latticework weaved everywhere but the bed – refuge for hundreds of little petals only. Across the thin sheets and pillows, billowy and tufted like the arctic ground after the wind’s blown across the snow.

The crush of white petals. Her bare skin had longed for such a feeling for such a long time. The cling and satin feel as the pigmentation collapsed out of each thin membrane. The air was flooded in sensuality. Her long and thin fingers fanned out and spread themselves over the top of the bed, passing through the drifts. She lifted up handfuls of the flowers at a time and allowed them to trip softly downward, gently falling over her lips, her eyes, her naked breasts and thighs. Coolness slung to their satin, it transferred itself to her skin in little goose bumps that raced along her body. A smile met the sensation, her lips curving into a little crook, her light hair framing the gleam of her teeth.

The lights off, the room mostly cast blue from the moon hung upon the sky. From another corner, one she couldn’t well see, long orange and black lines trickled into her view. A handful of candles on the window ledge put out long amber reds and shadows. They warmed her, ushered away those goose bumps, and offered her a different caress. She was near buried in white roses, the pink of her lips like a beacon, a buoy against the white caps.

A noise. She opened her eyes again. There he stood, as naked as she, the man who had built this living dream for her. The man who had himself been a dream for so many years. He knelt by the foot of the bed. She felt his hand upon her body. A buoy against the white caps.


A History of Persia (#35)

In Stories Volume 2 on December 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm

A wave of nausea washed over him for the second time in as many minutes. Three blocks removed from where they’d parted. Five before he reached the nearest subway station. She was probably four away from her apartment if he recalled the address correctly. He stopped before a crosswalk, felt the 2am drizzle intensify and the pressure of history and consequence expand with each drop. In the future, he would forget what he had worn that night but it was his maroon leather jacket, raindrops making a distinct popping noise upon collision. That color would bring something indistinguishable to mind every time he saw it.

When he stopped short, Hill knew it was his moment: either a moment for failure or for glory, but definitely a mark for the future. At the crosswalk, neither crossing nor walking nor deciding because he already knew the coming action, he just wanted to muster a little support for himself. Rubbing some of the rainwater out of his hair, Hill turned around to face north on Third Avenue. The rain falling past the orange street lamps reminded him of old film reels while little puddles formed in the pockmarks of the sidewalk ahead. A police siren cut through Hill’s reflection and spurred him forward, first at a brisk walk, then a hop, then a jog, then a slight run. Up Third Avenue the sidewalks were empty and his long legs spread out in front and behind him. Traffic lights lit up in his favor though few cars drifted off the artery and onto the side streets.

Hill turned the corner on 73rd and his eyes charged up and down the block, hunting her shape. He couldn’t see her but knew she would be walking eastward. A cab honked as he crossed against the light, distracted and looking much further ahead. Only when he reached the corner at Second Avenue did he catch a glimpse of her nearly a quarter of the way towards First. Traffic was heavier. He couldn’t beat the Don’t Walk sign. He watched her walk further away until the cars ceased their overrunning of the crosswalk. Hill ran halfway down the block before she could hear the heavy footsteps of his boots. Her eyes, brimming with panic and a readiness to fight, softened upon recognition.

“Is everything all right?” Her relief had quickly turned to concern. Hill did the best possible reading of her eyes in those two seconds, trying to do quickly and successfully what he had failed at over long periods past. Like every time before though, he lost himself somewhere between the iris, the pupil, and the retina. He remained inside, losing himself further as he slowly brought his face to hers, crossing a boundary. Her eyes closed with him still lost inside. Their lips met on that secretive stretch of 73rd, just steps away from the brightly lit intersection with First Avenue. One eye fluttered open to ground himself in reality. It rested on the steps of the brownstone behind her and it beckoned the brain to relax a moment or two, knowing that whatever heavy lifting was coming, there would at least be this brief moment of happiness and comfort to revel in.

Then she pulled back.

“You’re leaving,” she said

And there was nothing he could say but “I know,” because there was nothing else to say. There was no lying about it, no denying it; it had been the tallest hurdle between them.

She leaned upwards to kiss him again and he kept both eyes open as her smooth eyelids collapsed. He searched for a clue to what a kiss meant when it followed, ‘You’re leaving,’ while she tore through the blackness of her closed eyes for the same answer. She had known this was coming, had alternately thought it inevitable and written it off, never imagined it would be so dramatic as it turned out to be. She tried to relax, to appreciate the cinematic quality of his chase in the rain, the breathlessness at 2am, the wild, passionate look in his eyes, but she too felt burdens. Most importantly, though it was hard for her to say which was most important, the burden of being the one placed in the spotlight and making a decision based on the actions of one who’s had months to think things over.

She pulled back again but only as far she could while maintaining her grip on his waist.

“I have a boyfriend.”

“I don’t care about your boyfriend.” The right corner of his lips twitched with the ring of confrontation.

“But I do.”

“Do you?  Honestly?” She answered with silence, uncertain of the dividing line between what she felt and what she wanted to feel. “I think I know the answer to that question, Claire, but only you can say for sure. And I’m not asking you to.” Hill stepped out of her grip.

“I kind of have to answer that.” She hesitated, leaving him uneasy on the sidewalk, unsure of what to do with his hands, and unconcerned about the rain that had lightly but perceptibly picked up.  All he cared for was what she had to say.  He felt possessed by a different idea of a different man, one more inclined towards meaning.

“I care about Paul,” she said. “I don’t know how much but this isn’t the time or place. I need to think about things. Plus you’re leaving, it’s not quite fair to gloss over that fact.”

“Fairness isn’t important.”

“Fairness is so important, particularly in a situation like this.”

“Nothing will ever be fair between two people, Claire. Equal footing is a myth. It’s something we strive for in relationships and friendships in order to have something to strive for. No matter when we met or when this happened, we’d always be in different places.”

“I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.” She smiled broadly at their inside joke. He barely laughed. “Even if you’re correct about the false pedestal of fairness,” she said with equal parts seriousness and sarcasm, “it’s something worth striving towards, particularly in situations when so much lays upon the decisions of two people and the state of each person affects the decision of the other. Maybe I would feel different about Paul if I knew that you were staying. Maybe you wouldn’t feel the urgency if you weren’t leaving, or if I was flying solo.”

“We both know the footing now.”

“I guess we do.” A silent deflation, the quietest pinprick against thin balloon membrane.

“I’ll let you go then.” He hesitated, uncertain of the words to say or the words said. “I’ll get going. You know where to find me.” They looked in each other’s eyes for a few seconds, giving the other a sort of pass-over, scanning the image of that person in that exact moment to be stored away for whenever they felt lonely or angry or self-righteous. Hill felt that same wave of nausea from earlier. “Goodnight,” he said. Hill had long ago slipped his hands into his jeans pockets. Uncertain of his movements, he pulled his right hand loose and placed it against her lower back as his cheek hung next to hers and his lips hovered in the air, the most polite of empty farewell kisses. He turned to go, wishing the rain would ease off for at least a few minutes.

“Hill.”  He didn’t bother turning back, aware that it would only prolong an already awkward situation and he took great pains to avoid awkward situations.

He would see her again, there was no way to avoid it, and yet it was still farewell. Hill knew that there was no regaining the footing that they had just abandoned. The logic of thought that she so desired to insert signaled the death of any flash that may have come afterwards. For just a passing moment he allowed his hand to linger on her side, in the vague hope that she would have a sudden change of heart – of mind, really, he thought; it is the offending organ – then he turned and began away on that silent and empty city block. Something weighed on him but he couldn’t place it. It was the same thing that had compelled him to act, to put himself so blatantly on the line like he never had before.

A noticeable lack of horns and sirens, shouts and stereos, and his thoughts had that much space to move around. They were able to stretch beyond the space in his head and into the night sky, caterwauling amongst the stars hidden behind the orange haze of the city night.

As much as Hill told himself that it was all meaningless, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a lie; that it was so meaningful and that he had begun to lose some of his very own meaning.  That something about her promised a type of redemption.  No, redemption was too strong of a word. Or, actually, yes, he decided, redemption was the right word but ‘promised’ was wrong.  She brought the possibility of redemption.  She opened up a path to the dreams and the aim that he had been so desperate for of late.  No guarantees he would attain those things but she could show him the way.  She had that in her.  She still had that inside of her, but it wasn’t to be for him.

A wave of cars came floating up Third Avenue.  Still adrift, he thought, still adrift.

The Baltimore (#34)

In Stories Volume 2 on December 17, 2012 at 11:50 am

The Baltimore. Eight floors of modern brick exterior. A city block. Sixteen apartments per floor. Four apartments with eastward facing windows. Nineteen windows total facing eastward across Samson St, from the Baltimore to the Hamilton. 

The Hamilton. Eight floors of pre-war brick exterior. A city corner. Five apartments per floor. Two apartments with westward facing windows. Ten windows total facing westward across Samson St, from the Hamilton to the Baltimore.



Annabelle Wethers stepped into apartment 51 of the Baltimore as the clock on the microwave ticked over from 9:17pm to 9:18pm. Her dirty blonde hair and white dress, which she thought better suited for someone ten years younger, stood in stark contrast to the long black coat that had shielded her from the cold and the wind just minutes earlier. An extra glass of wine at dinner caused her fingers to brush past the light switch that operated the lamp in the corner of the living room and she continued forward into relative darkness. The thin slats of the wooden blinds were up and allowed in the stray ambient light of the city. Annabelle dropped her black purse onto the cream colored couch and slid her feet out of the dark green ballet flats that were on the very edge of giving her a tiny blister on the inside edge of her right foot, just behind the big toe.

One hand on the nylon cord knotted around a hook to keep the blinds up on one of the living room windows, she paused, her gaze arrested upon an apartment across the way. The Hamilton. Apartment 5B, though Annabelle didn’t know that. All she knew was that the apartment was lit up like a spotlight, the curtains still pulled tall near to the ceiling on all five windows. And a man stood in the one to the far right. He held something in his hands, something that held his attention and arrested his movement, but Annabelle couldn’t be certain. He stood in the center of the window, offering a three-quarters profile through the pane of glass. There was nothing particular about him that she could have explained if commanded to in the moment, and yet she couldn’t pull herself away.

He looked like maybe any other guy in his late twenties or early thirties. Average height, short but floppy brown hair, neither over- nor under-weight. There was no particular sparkle to his smile – he wasn’t smiling at all – and there was nothing special on the walls of the apartment that caught her eye: just a mirror, two shelves, a few framed photos that Annabelle couldn’t make out, and the lamp that shone like a spotlight. And yet she leaned against her own dark window, forehead and right palm against the glass; stability in her falling reverie.

As he lingered in that far right windowpane, Annabelle began losing herself in the projecting light. In a blink, that light bulb became the sun, casting it’s light down through the trailing branches of a weeping birch. She looked down to see her tanned and bare feet scrunching up bits of grass and dirt. A childish giggle; Annabelle looked forward to see Stephen, the son she had only imagined having, walking toward her. He had on little brown pants and a little green t-shirt and his feet were bare. His hands were raised high above the small mop of brown curls atop his head. Holding the sweaty grip of each hand, for she knew well how clammy that grip could become, was the man she had met from across the street. He was bent over to hold each hand, wrinkling up the front of his khakis and white linen shirt. Strands of hair fell into his eyes and his feet stepped cautiously behind their son. Laughter came from both of them as they jerkily stepped their way towards Annabelle, picking up speed and momentum on the little slope. Smiles were everywhere, blinding her. She glanced away and in her peripheral vision saw a patio, a picnic table, and a “Happy 1st Birthday” banner in green and white. A gray cloud encroached upon the sun, darkening her domestic vision.

But it wasn’t a cloud, or course not, because she was still back in her apartment and her mysterious ‘he’ was in his own apartment. He’d just drifted from one window to the next and the column of brick had intruded as the gray cloud. As he stabilized in that second pane of glass, Annabelle tried to find that vision again but her eyes caught upon a candle flame on the table in front of her. She recognized before even blinking the interior decor of Le Gigot. The dark wood of the walls, the heavy chairs with the pinned maroon leather, the lingering scent of pipe smoke even though her favorite French bistro had been smoke-free for years. Across the table from her was her husband, who she’d met from across the street so many years ago.  A bottle of Bordeaux from Médoc sat nearly empty in the center of the table, between the two candles, where they now leaned forward just an inch or two to hear the other over the restaurant noise. His right hand reached across the table and held her left. His grip was strong; he looked older; he looked happier. She felt the same way.

The candle blew out on a gust of wind. Another passage behind the walls. Another window. Another splash of bright light. Annabelle grasped for a moment before recognizing the café area of the Literary Feast bookstore. She’d gazed up into one of the overhead track lights while lingering on the first bit of foam off the large cappuccino nested in her lean and so slightly wrinkled fingers. She set the mug back down on the wrought iron table, next to the ballet and cello magazines she’d purchased when they first came in, careful not to spill anything. She came with a purpose; her husband’s purpose was to have no purpose. He wandered through the aisles, Annabelle could just make him out now, waiting to find whatever inspired him. His tall and lean frame, relaxed in jeans and a white t-shirt, moved higher in the fiction writer alphabet. Two books were already tucked under his left arm while his right index finger glided through the air, tracing the spines of books and using it as a pointer to direct his easily distracted eyes. Annabelle watched him roam as if he’d never been in the store before returning to her drink and the ballet. He’d be by soon enough, five books purchased and a headache on the horizon because he’s chosen to look for books before first ordering a coffee.

Annabelle felt a hand on her back. Her husband had slipped quietly into the apartment after stopping at the front desk to pick up a package.

“What are you doing in the dark?” he asked.

“Nothing. Just looking out the window.” She leaned back to kiss him on the cheek.

“You mind if I turn on the light?”

“No, no; go ahead.”

Annabelle now heard his footsteps clearly against the floorboards and after two seconds, the room exploded like a starburst. Her pupils dilated and after squeezing them shut and reopening them, she saw that her man at the Hamilton had become aware of his presence upon the stage. She continued to stare as with one hand he pulled down one window’s curtain, then the second, the third, and the fourth. As he stood in the fifth window, he hesitated, just for a moment, before giving her a short wave and then letting down the last curtain. She waved back but he and the waking dream were already gone.


Fear Is The Heart Of Love (#33)

In Stories Volume 2 on December 10, 2012 at 9:28 am

Calvino was a doctor, tending to those ill in body and spirit; the head of a hospital people could only ever find when they most needed it.


Wolfe was a sportswriter, dramatizing the ups and downs, the wins and losses, the seasons and years.


I owned the ink supply shop back when ink could command it’s own store. Father John Paul II Street, in a shop that functioned on Floor 1.5; not ground level but only five steps up from the sidewalk.


Calvino would come by for espressos after midnight, whether his work had come to a close or was just beginning to get interesting. I would know right away which one it was. He either strolled through the door, reaching up to ring the entrance bell that hung an inch too far from the door frame, a question on his lips; or, he banged on the door, shouting, “Woolf! Come now!” I’d find him waiting for me at Quo Vadis, his knee tapping with impatience and his lips quivering with the stories of his shift. The waiters knew the signs and would have our orders ferrying towards us.


Wolfe and I didn’t get along, not early on, but he felt a kinship through our misspelled but shared last names. He came for ink – everyday – saying he didn’t like what the newspaper provided him. He came everyday and bought enough ink to last a week, even for a man such as himself. What he did with all that ink, I never knew.


They say ink can be a poison but I’ve never understood if it’s meant to be for the body or soul.


Calvino was afraid of spiders.


Wolfe feared sharks.


Neither were practical phobias but who can say if that’s for the best or worst.


Others say ink is a narcotic and that ink suppliers are the most visible drug dealers. I used to counter with the peddlers of alcohol or tobacco until someone noted that we’re so open, nobody even knows we’re addictive. I stopped arguing the point after that.


When Calvino was shot, those who were there say he bled black. I wasn’t there that day. I had traveled south for a meeting with my sisters about our father. He kept leaving home, barefoot and for days, in search of the perfect Communist, he said. Nobody understood what he meant until years later.


They say Calvino bled black after Wolfe shot him; shot him over Plath, who came to our seaside city from the mountainous areas to the east.


Did Wolfe love Plath? Probably, though her suicide and his subsequent departure left little in the way of concrete answers. If he wasn’t in love, he was infatuated.


Did Calvino? Most certainly. He was a doctor and she a mechanic, perhaps the best our world has known. Calvino fixed that which God created and Plath fixed that which man created. Both struggled toward immortality.


There was a crowd for the shooting and after Calvino reeled and Wolfe strode away with his head in his hands, everyone bayed for Calvino to be brought to his own hospital. But his was the hospital that nobody knew existed until they needed it, needed the life-saving expertise of the ex-patriots and former exiles that worked there. Unless you need that hospital, there’s no way to find it. And for Calvino, poor Calvino, the only doctor who could repair the bullet hole that bled black from his heart was himself. So there was no hospital that could save him, merely a dusty town square that turned darker each moment as the sun set on so very much.


Days before the shooting, I tried to warn Calvino; tried to tell him that he was too important to the hospital; tried to tell him that Wolfe was sincere; tried to explain that Plath was only Plath, only a person, only one amongst billions; tried to tell him that bluster and bravado would be his undoing and would rid the town of the best doctor it had. That it was only love.


It all ended so quickly. Everything. Peace returned to our town but tenseness had taken root alongside it. Wolfe still covered his sports beat and came in for ink everyday but he was colder. Even still, he lingered longer than he used to. There was something between us, something wound tighter than our names. There was something and if I’m honest, it was my something that held him. He had places to be. I made him stay.


I tried to calm Wolfe as well but he would not be calmed. Not could not, but would not. There are times when men give themselves over to their baser urges and their animal instincts, and then there are no inroads, no egresses. But other times, man is at his most calculating, his most logical and most clinical. This is to be feared above all else. A dumb beast can be deftly side-stepped or stopped with blunt force, but a calculating man will redirect himself or find a way around the force. Wolfe had become a calculating man.


There were more deaths in town. Accidents and illnesses; the kinds of things that Calvino’s hospital would have attended to but nobody could find it after he died. Some people think it shut down, some think it moved on, and some think it’s still waiting for new patients. Those patients being attended to when Calvino died all came wandering home through the woods one week after the shooting. They were emaciated and their feet ragged. Each one died within a month.


Wolfe could be heard every night outside of Plath’s house. Even as the aggressor, the killer, we pitied him for being so desperately driven as to kill the man he once considered one of his few friends. To see someone become so consumed left us all wary for our own souls and our own sanity.


She never answered his plaintive calls, Plath. She maintained a normal life: shopping at the grocery, visiting with friends, tending to the non-stop work that came through her garage, albeit with a mournful air. Her laugh, still existent, had diminished in quantity and volume. When Plath declined to come to either the window or the door of her home during the twilight hours in which he made his entreaties, Wolfe began attempting to reach her at her garage. Her assistants kept him at bay. After he figured out their shift changes, their lunch breaks, Wolfe almost snuck through to where she laid underneath a 1963 Mercedes Benz the color of the sea. That afternoon, Plath hired a kid to watch the door the entire day. Barring this new hire, the absence of Calvino, and the great sadness that encircled her, Plath’s life remained normal.


There was no punishment or retribution against Wolfe. Everyone seemed to think that he was suffering enough without the intrusion of outside agents.


Plath suffered the most: the loss of Calvino, her grief over him, and finally her own death.


Since his death, someone has placed a glass jar atop Calvino’s grave every year on his birthday. Inside the jar is a spider that can fit in the palm of your hand. Affixed to the lid of the jar, concealing but not covering the punctures that allow the spider to survive, is a note, which reads, “You no longer need fear.”


Wolfe, truth be told, should be next on the list of those who suffered the most. Murderer, rejected lover, he left our city unable to bear the pity we couldn’t help but smother him in. In the decade that followed, stories and rumors of Wolfe would come limping in to us: conning tourists along the Dalmatian Coast, advancing the causes of dubious individuals and institutions, losing himself for years in the darkness of war-torn countries. Intimations of another murder twisted itself our way. It’s been years now since we’ve heard anything and I often wonder if he’s still alive, wonder if he’s been put out of his misery.


I took over the sports desk once Wolfe left. I believe they chose me from the pool of applicants simply because our names matched phonetically. By now I run my own paper while still maintaining the ink shop from 8pm until midnight every night. I’m lucky to get two-dozen customers a week. The quietness haunts me in a beautiful way. The store looks the same as it did back then.


I believe that when he killed Calvino, Wolfe’s soul discovered the most wretched and hurtful place it had ever known. And after it had moved away from that place, it could hardly believe what it had seen there. Like a drug, like an accident on the road, he needed to encounter it again. The road of depravity and hurt could never bring him again to that same place, and yet he could not help himself from trying.


Actually, there is one difference at the store. Near the front door, I keep four framed photos. Calvino, Plath, Wolfe, and myself from a long time ago. I long ago took down the bell that only Calvino would ring when he entered. It now sits in a glass case on my desk at the newspaper.


I’m next on the list. I lost everyone, even Wolfe left me and now time and distance have left me to miss him more than he deserves. Time, the curse; time, the destroyer.


The moment that I rushed back to hear the news is seared forever in my mind. The moment when the telephone rang and I didn’t pick it up the day that Plath killed herself. The call came at 2:41 in the afternoon and the police say that she died in the morning. So it wasn’t like that but… no, it wasn’t like that, but I wonder.


Oddly enough, Calvino had it the easiest. The immediate victim. He lost everything but at least he lost it all at once. The rest of us lingered like so many shepherdless sheep.


I no longer drink espressos at midnight. It’s not the staying awake that bothers me, it’s the waking dreams. Quo Vadis used to know my order and every waiter knew my name.


My thoughts now slur in age and rye. I miss the world I knew. I miss the city I knew, the friends I knew. I miss Wolfe more than I should.


Blood On The Tracks (#32)

In Stories Volume 2 on December 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

The Hartford Record


Record Review

Transistor Heart

Break It or Leave It

5 Stars

– Ethan Ludson


For Transistor Heart to release their fifth album, Break It or Leave It, after two years in which bassist Andy Morris and drummer Clive Kessler stepped away in order to form the critically acclaimed Contract Killers, is a minor miracle. To have it be the best album of their career is a major one. It stands to reason that the Contract Killers, both the band and their eponymous debut, have exerted a measure of influence unheard of on any of the previous Transistor Heart albums. The lyrics are once again coming from the Jonathan Trim and Suzanne Figure side of things (though there are no collaboratively written songs on here) but Morris and Kessler have taken the music writing reins this time around. The atmosphere they cultivated on their side-project, most reminiscent of Interpol’s 2002 debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, has been recreated and superimposed over lyrics that no longer seek to mask the tension and aggression between Figure and Trim, the once principle duo in the band. Their inclusion in the creative process reignites what had felt burnt out for the last couple of albums. The recent Trim/Figure divorce has already put an end to Transistor Heart, but it only seems fitting that this final album for this sometimes promising and sometimes delivering band is carried in large part by those who have, until now, been the least central characters in their arc.

Regardless of the shifting dynamic within the band, any review of a Transistor Heart album is contractually obligated to make mention of the ‘love story’ between Trim and Figure. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t completely warranted; the trajectory of their relationship has been a key ingredient in the tone of each album and the band has both been formed and now dissolved on the solvency of said relationship. It’s become modern mythology how Union, the band’s first album for a major label, was comprised of rerecorded versions of the lo-fi bedroom project EPs Homespun and Stand, which Trim had recorded as love letters for Figure. The energy in the lyrics and beat, the looseness, the plaintive honesty that Trim wrote and the earnest delivery that Figure gave. This was a blossoming romance and their sophomore effort, Keep Coming Together, offered more assured writing, equal to the more assured emotions that Trim and Figure felt for one another.

The Fox and The Hound came a year after their marriage and ultimately became the signpost of when the unraveling began, both musically and in the dynamic between the couple. As a nod to creative expansion, Trim relinquished songwriting duties to Figure for half the album; he as the titular hound and she as the fox. Nobody could have foreseen how well Figure’s half of the album would be received because she’d never had the opportunity before, and nobody knew how frail Trim’s ego was until he suddenly stood on the edge of the spotlight. The next album, Treble Times, took nearly 18 months to come out as the band dealt with the distractions and the intrusion of the outside world. People wanted news but instead of being about the music, most reporting became focused on the relationship and all indications of wear. This was broadcast loud and clear on Treble Times and it’s universally known as Transistor Heart’s worst album. Trim maintained all composing responsibilities and took back all of the lyric writing. This led to beyond-cryptic lyrics that were heavily veiled statements about the relationship, reportedly too cryptic for even Figure to comprehend, and instrumentation of plucking guitar and brushed drums that was barely there.

That entire recap is meant to say that Break It or Leave It was expected to be the death knell, the nail in the coffin, the terrible album that broke Transistor Heart’s back. Turns out it instead broke it’s heart and gave us the remains to lovingly sift through.

Where the music had been growing sparse in order to put their damaged-emotion lyrics center stage, the instrumentation now lives a fuller life. The skeletal acoustics that dominated Treble Times have been fleshed out and plugged back in. Not only are the lyrics given more meaning in front of the angular and jittery instrumentation, but the music creates a room for itself in which it thrives, turns around, and grows on itself.

The lyrics, which had grown increasingly opaque as Trim sought to simultaneously expose and cloak his feelings, and which seemed to hinge on references that we were never privy to, have become more honest. A portion of this comes from Figure having taken back more of the lyric-writing responsibilities. Directness worked for Trim during the courtship phase and directness has again become the trick that propels this album. From “Keep Coming Out to the Shows,” which is a bitter callback to their second album, we get this repeated chant at the end of the song: “Keep coming out to the shows/ Find the validation/ Press yourself into your fans/ Indulge your inclination.” In the wake of Figure’s rumored dalliances with fans, the only thing we’re left uncertain of is just how much Trim seethed as he wrote these lyrics. This emotion, unblanketed and unvarnished, is what we’ve all been looking for in this incarnation of Transistor Heart. In “Once More Around,” Figure leaves us with these lines as the bass hook pulls us into a loveless undertow: “Dream what you want/ I won’t be there tomorrow/ Say what you want/ There’s no love left to borrow.”

We also have here a return to the format of Union, which presented us with the lighter fare upfront and the heavy meat in the back half. In past interviews, Trim has said, “You don’t court a woman by approaching her with the heavy stuff. You make her laugh, you make her smile, you get her to trust you, because a lot of guys are people that you shouldn’t trust. You win her over to you as a person and then you lay out the heavy stuff.” He followed this logic on those EPs and subsequently began to lose that sequencing focus that elevated really good songs to great songs. But now, an invigorated Trim has taken the time to set the sequencing in such a way that he lulls us in with the light stuff. The album opens with ‘I’m Not Your George Gershwin,’ a back-and-forth duet with two characters singing what they want each other to be and the other responding that it isn’t going to be happening any time soon.

Break It or Leave It ends with “5th Floor Walkup,” a pedestrianly named song that flays the listener just when presuming that the worst is over. It’s sound is of a time that hasn’t existed for this band since their debut album and it’s a reference to that apartment where Trim recorded those EPs for Figure and where they once lived together. Transistor Heart has always been, at it’s most fundamental, Jonathan Trim’s band. And just as he began it, he lays the final brick into the building and calls the project complete.

The album ends with the lines: “Just let me go/ Don’t fight so hard anymore/ Just let me go/ Forget those things that you adored/ Just let me go/ There’s nothing left for you to see/ Just walk away from me.” A part of it sounds directed towards Figure and the other part sounds directed towards the rest of us.