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Impossible Sum

by maxwell stern

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    - First 100 orders will be mailed a personalized postcard from Max with a download of “I Reached Out,” an exclusive b-side from the record.
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1.
I put your “get well soon” card on my desk. It was waiting for me when I came upstairs from two long weeks spent on a floor in Chicago, pretending like I knew what I was doing there. I’m always almost home. I’ve always got one foot out the door. I’m always almost home. Always almost home. Swept like a hurricane out from the islands, out of thin air into your living room. Strong disposition with a heartbeat in half-time. Tattooed on my teeth “I hope I see you soon.” They filmed a movie next door to my house. There were flashing lights and cameras and kids with guns. So I stood across the street, drank beer and I watched ‘em. Making up new places* seems like it might be fun.
2.
Water Tower 03:31
Under water tower shadows on a sidestreet: metal met concrete and left a bitter bruise and I drove back wounded, but filled with wanting to simmer sweetly under an April moon. And though I’m thankful for everything I’ve been given, it’s only human to want a better deal. But all that gets you is an awful little screen in a bedroom, peering in on other peoples’ highlight reels. Oh, and when I turn it off, in the morning every silence is a song. Maybe we weren’t built for this. I’d rather have you as something I get to miss. Hiding out in the frequency of every creaking floorboard, a rented room can hold a thousand latent songs. Shaped like wishes, labeled prayers, floated out into the air and then they’re gone. So tell me when did this become something you do and not just something you’ve done? I wanna know where that line’s drawn: between going and being gone.
3.
Not quite t-shirt weather, early April still teases a warmth and then swaps it for a fickle chill. While the passengers on overcrowded subway cars confer, I count my steps from Catharine to Christian to Carpenter. There’s a string of backyard Christmas lights zip-tied to a chain-link fence that serves as a stand-in for tonight’s new audience. So we cleaned up what we could and burnt the rest that night, completing the circle, turning trash into new light. It’s staying light later lately. I was wondering if you’d come meet me. A thousand tire treads as tick marks read as minor misjudgments, failing exit strategies that combine with dust and dirt and worn-out rubber, paint and tar to burn a path between my bedroom and the bar. It’s staying light later lately. I was wondering if you’d come meet me. And we soak in our solutions, bitter brown and clear, mapping an outline of the undulating every-year. And I shudder to think what I’ve missed when I’ve been buried in a screen, wondering who my eyes were supposed to meet.
4.
Shiny Things 03:11
Shiny things make everything so heavy. Shiny things are always tough to tell. Shiny things just make it hard to see if someone’s ready. Shiny things can be the hardest sell. So who’s got space for all of this? You’re stupid lucky now, to even have a space for a burden to be laid down. You’re all filled up with dark now, like some sick inverted star. Just freaking out in the Northeast Regional café car. Yes you are. I curse the current and the choices that it brings, drawing circles round my head like planetary wedding rings. The damaged country sings a plaintive song to me: a permutation of the good we’ve yet to be. And there’s so much left to become. I wanna add it all up to an impossible sum.
5.
Scores for the holidays, bartered-for at yard sales, sold or stowed away. Up from the basement now, holding a thousand unmade sounds. Left in the living room, untouched for months and somehow perfectly in tune. Not asking for much nor more. Somewhere between two and four new chords. Waiting to fill the silence with sweet wishful thinking. Combing over all the gifts you gave me. How could I account for it all? But baby, who fed you that line, “If it’s good, then you won’t have to fight”? Oh, how I loved you then, even in hindsight’s oft-lopsided lens. Background in faded view, almost obscured by all we didn’t do. But we’re stronger now. Strong enough to lean into potential.
6.
Born at the end of a year. There are rooms in this house that I’m still finding, and isn’t that exciting? It feels pretty good. You put your two weeks in and I think that we could potentially spend a couple days back home in the suburbs and fill our afternoons with conversations and crosswords. Return to the pace we’ve been humming along before we moved to the city and pretended it’s where we’re from Bored at the end of the day. I wanna be relevant, I wanna get tired from doing the work that I’m choosing to do. I’m caught on the context and calling you too late, lately. I’m longing for rest stops up in New England and an alternate world where I know what you’re thinking. So re-read the word walls that line the museum: a time lapse of star maps that ask “How Do They Light Up?” Maybe one day I’ll get back there and see you, so put another pin in the map to return to. And I’ll fight my way through mid-morning congestion to gather our geography and spit back a question: How’d we get so intertwined?
7.
They’re building new buildings. They’re gonna block our view. And I do suppose it’s payback in turn from those we did the same thing to. Along bypasses and ring roads, I’ve been rerouting for years. When the feeling gets old and the question takes hold: “Am I siding with love or with fear?” So put on your good shoes and silence your phone now. Brave the trains and meet me across town. We’ll go out spinning stories, trying to pull the stars down. Was never known to be reckless or share the sordid histories of friends. Just the same couple stories that I like to tell at parties to sound like I’ve got an edge. But there’s a buzzing in the back of my brain now, like this conversation’s happened before. Ain’t it a shame to admit your favorite version of something you miss might not exist anymore? Did you take a couple pictures to prove that you were there? Or did you stick to that tired old narrative of “nothing ever happens here”?
8.
Flyover Town 03:08
Idealizing a summer spent in a flyover town where we would drink the cheapest thing we could find and wander around. Ears to the ground like a stethoscope, eyes tracking overhead arcs. Either asleep in the sun or on my way to dance in the dark. You can find me in the headlines, darling, or somewhere between the margins. A minute after midnight, shining on the West Side highway, heading home. Fell out of love with familiar and I upended every plan. So I try not to cling too tightly to anything but family and friends. And if my Midwestern Minutes* only translate to seconds out here, then I wanna capitalize on the time we’re afforded and make a meaningful year. So can you separate out one from the other? We’ve all got the same amount of ground to cover? Or did the floor drop out, and nothing seems familiar? Nothing feels familiar. Nothing was the same.
9.
I made my way out east and everything got quiet. It turns out leaving isn’t loud. They say the city brings an odd, sporadic silence. I guess the landlord left that out. You are a brand new building, springing up overnight, suddenly obscuring lines of sight. Navigate completely unprepared for what it might be like without you there. Some friends bring beer and goodbye cards and good luck charms. Some leave early, most stay late. They cut me off before I get too sentimental. They print a high-school photo of my face onto a cake and I pass out little slivers of myself. I know these nights are sweet, but they put our health through hell. And the weight of all that waits is so much to bear. See if I can hold it without you there. And I wonder “Can I live here?” and if there’s any space to spare. A double yellow line. A never ending equals sign.
10.
She says my name but it’s not my name. She was talking to a dog as he was walking away. He sees a path, she follows through, moving faster than either of them meant to. Catch local stares, they can tell I’m not from here. Backlit neon silhouettes all drinking cheap domestics. And they scoff and size me up, but they clearly do not give one single solitary fuck. Chasing abstract-impressionistic lines of tar outside the orbit of the dive bar commissars. Faith in future seasons bittersweet where our tributaries momentarily meet. Indiscreet and wavering, but strong. And every hill in this half-built Rust Belt town is more than slightly overgrown and so I navigate around. And the debris spell-sings a command, but I was way too busy playing in a band and so distracted by the daunting day-to-day to let it register in any deeper way. She says my name but it’s not my name anymore.
11.
Before I left I took a picture to prove that I was there, in a waiting room to another room where the darkness spanned a year. Ducking out, ripping coats off the clothing racks to a station wagon parked out back with the engine sputtering and my wide eyes wondering about how you learned to round off every sharp edge that I have. Used to use them to cut all my corners from one down to zero, so you do the math. Though I’ve still yet to find a solution to distill all my doubt into hope, I will forever push that boulder up an unforgiving slope. So are we at the perfect midpoint, right between where I’m at and where you are supposed to be? Heading east on the 76 now, towards a new city to sing a song to. We moved out here ‘cause we heard it was cheap and priced out everyone it belonged to. And my daily debate in the commuter car paints a far darker picture than I would prefer. You know you can’t go making everything baby blue and forest green. That same Pacific Northwest color scheme. It’s way too far. But it’s warm in your car and it feels good to be here. And I don’t think I’ve ever been as tired as I am today. So stay where you are and fall into place here. No, I don’t think I’ve ever been as tired as I am today. It turns out leaving isn’t loud. In fact, it barely makes a sound.

about

For my family, both blood and chosen.

credits

released September 25, 2020

Produced, engineered and mixed by Kyle Pulley throughout 2019
at Headroom Studios, Philadelphia, PA - www.headroom.studio

Additional engineering & production by Adam Edward Beck
at Type 1 Studios, Chicago, IL.

Assistant engineering by David Juro, Alex Melendez, Ross Aranow,
Brendan Simpson, and Matt Jordan. Mixing Assistance by Mark Watter.

Artwork by Ryan Troy Ford & Maxwell Stern. Cover photo by Ryan Troy Ford, shot from a train somewhere in Ohio at sunrise. Insert photo by Tom May. Layout by Maxwell Stern.

Personnel:
Maxwell Stern - vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, Wurlitzer, Prophet
Adam Edward Beck - drums on tracks 1-10, drum composition, auxiliary percussion, additional keyboards, electronics, and production
Kyle Pulley - synth on track 1, additional electric guitar on track 6, bass on
track 8, drum programming on track 11
Jonathan Hernandez - electric guitar on tracks 3, 4, 8, vocals on tracks 3, 7, 8
Laura Stevenson - vocals on track 5
Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner - various lap steels on tracks 4, 5, 6, 7, 10

All songs written by Maxwell Andrew Stern (ASCAP)
Contact: maxwellsternmusic@gmail.com

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maxwell stern Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Maxwell Stern has been writing music and touring in various bands since the early 2000s. He has released a slew of LPs and 7"s, and has played shows pretty much everywhere including an abandoned restaurant in Wyoming, a mall in China, several squats in Germany and a pretty nice bookstore in Australia. Lately he's been working a lot. He is definitely not the person writing this. ... more

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