Is Anyone There?: On the Captain Cuts Mix

When the Captain Cuts trio released If You’re Listening It’s Never Too Late towards the end of last year, I–along with other people–sat down with the roughly 32 minute mix and wallowed in the nostalgia of late aughts pop-punk/emo/scene sound.

The production trio gave themselves a fun challenge to create a peanut butter cup-like creation that is a love letter to their teenage years. The result is an enjoyable listen of both aural and emotional highs and lows. There’s a particularly sublime moment where Paramore’s “Misery Business” transitions into Adele’s “Hello.” There are, of course, a few jokes thrown in too. Briefly: “Uptown Funk“/”Fat Lip” works too well, “Trap Queen” moves into “All The Small Things” with the prior song retroactively upstaging the simple rhymes of the latter and, of course, there’s an appearance by the “Numa Numa” (“Dragostea din tei / Words of Love”) song by O-Zone.

If You’re Listening… transported me to the latter half of my own teenage years. It conjured up the ennui that came with being a teenager in the suburbs. Having returned to my hometown due to economic circumstances for the second time recently, that malaise felt a little too fresh during my first few listens. However, I didn’t really start listening to these bands until I went to college miles away in Albany. It was there and then that I was introduced to Long Island’s own Taking Back Sunday along with white belts and asymmetrical hair.

After a few listens, I had some thoughts:

Was Sum 41 supposed to be a parody band? Make your jokes about Canadian punk bands being an oxymoron, but there are good ones. Sum 41 is not included on that list and “Fat Lip” is a good reason why. Here are some actual lyrics from the song:

I know I’m not the one you thought you knew back in high school
 Never going, never showing up when we had to.
 Attention that we crave, don’t tell us to behave,
 I’m sick of always hearing act your age.
I don’t want to waste my time
 become another casualty of society.
 I’ll never fall in line
 Become another victim of your conformity
 and back down.

It so perfectly encapsulates the rage of a teenage boy whose sole issue is that the rules of everyday life are somewhat arbitrary or not immediately obvious. Perhaps it is distance from that time, but lyrics like those are so silly now that it’s hard to imagine them sung in earnest.

The lack of female voices. I expected to hear mostly straight white people singing, with Drake and Fetty Wap being notable exceptions, but I expected to hear a few more women singing. Out of Hayley Williams of Paramore and Adele, who I’ve previously mentioned, the only other women you hear are Lorde and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHΞS. I had forgotten how dude heavy the whole scene was. I wish the selection of contemporary voices provided a little more contrast to the guys whining and pining all over.

The Mark-led blink-182 songs were the better songs, right? Speaking of whining, I had forgotten what Tom DeLonge’s “singing” voice sounds like. Maybe I’m being unfair comparing the solemn “Adam’s Song” to the love song “All The Small Things.” Then I remembered that I’d rather listen to the slightly sophomoric “What’s My Age Again?” than “I Miss You.”

But then, I kept on listening to it.

I noticed something: phones show up a lot through out the whole mix. Not every song, but there’s enough songs that do have them for there to be a pattern. If they aren’t explicitly about calling, they are things like pleas for someone to listen or someone wanting to remember a sound or a voice.

This includes “Adam’s Song”:

I traced the [phone] cord back to the wall
 No wonder it was never plugged in at all

Say Anything’s “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too“:

I had no interest in the things she said
 On the
phone every day, I’ll permanently hit the hay-hay

The All-American Rejects’s “Swing, Swing“:

Did you think that I would cry,
 On the

Of course, include were two of the biggest hits of 2015:

What does it say about people that two biggest songs of last year were about phones? On the face of it? Not much, there have always been songs about calling someone. But these two songs aren’t just about phones, but a lack of communication despite the ease of connecting. Drake is singing about someone who used to call, but doesn’t. Adele is singing about calling someone who isn’t answering. (I’m not the first person to point this out, but both personas/narrators should really move on.) To explore the topic of connection and communication via phones, let’s first briefly talk about the history of phones and calling people.

Invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell, phones were often tied to homes only up until recently. At first, if you wanted to speak to someone, chances are you both had to be home at the same time. The answering machine was invented eventually, so people no longer had to rely solely on serendipity to connect. Mobile phones were invented in the 1970’s or ’80s, but they didn’t enter into popular usage until the late 1990’s and the aughts. It is only when people started using cell/smart phones en-masse that the idea that you could be contacted at all hours of the day just about anywhere gained traction. Now communicating or not communicating via phone call is about negotiating access to oneself.

Casting calling someone, answering or not answering in this light and applying to the songs on this collection, it’s hard to not see these songs as a series of expressions of desire or romantic power plays. Added to this is that it’s all personas acting or reacting to something, telling their one-sided versions of a story. There’s the lyrics from the songs above, but even more from the songs not explicitly about phones. For example, The Early November’s “I Want to Hear You Sad,” is a textbook ‘I’m better off with out you and I want you to know’ song. This line in Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down” lays out an emotional battle out bare:

I’m just a notch in your bedpost
 But you’re just a line in a song

Over time it became easy for me to imagine something of a story or at least suggestions of one. The persona of “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” becomes the past version of the persona of “Hotline Bling”: a guy wonders why she doesn’t call anymore is revealed to not have listened to her when she did. Similarly the persona who ‘unintentionally’ makes a pawn out of guy in “Misery Business” grows up and years later wonders what went wrong in “Hello.” I began to think of the past and present interacting with each other.

I also began to think of this mix as a machine presenting a warped recording of the past to the listener; a darker sci-fi take on the mix-tape concept.

This is mostly due to the last mash-up in the mix: “Sad Machine, We’re Going Down.” It’s a mash-up of Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and “Sad Machine” by Porter Robinson. The songs work exquisitely well together and helps to conjure up this image of a robot or AI playing this mixtape, an artifact of history. The lyrics for “Sad Machine,” though you don’t hear them in the mix, begin:

Is anyone there?
Who survived? Somebody new?
 Anyone else but you?

The song tells the story of an A.I./Robot/something that is awakened by a sole survivor of some major event. The two become friends, but the chorus reminds the listener that the person will eventually die and this story will repeat itself with the next person, if there is one.

However instead of the vocaloid and the chorus, we get Patrick Stump. I go back to this lyric–

I’m just a notch in your bedpost
 But you’re just a line in a song

–and I think about how history is written. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story, indeed. The past is calling us sometimes, with recordings being one of the many ways. Who will hear it?

Towards the end of the mix, Stump asks:

Am I more than you bargained for yet?

And after entertaining myself with these flights of fancy and thinking about how people communicate just based off a fun mix that hit all my nostalgia receptors, I have to say: “Yeah.”

Originally published at on January 29, 2016.

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