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Song Sources: Dyslinguany

October 30, 2022

This is part of an ongoing series about our recordings. To read more in this series, click on the category “Song Sources: Stories behind the recordings.”

“Dyslinguany” is a made-up word that would mean, if it were a real word, an absence or corruption of language. It also contains mixed roots (Greek and Latin), referencing the subject matter of the actual story in the song. I realize this is a ridiculously pretentious title, but such is life.

In the story, a teenager nearly drowns, and suffers a peculiar form of brain injury that causes them to forget how to speak English — they speak what sounds like gibberish instead. The story is narrated by his younger brother, desperately searching for a way to communicate again. The narrator is dealing with the anger and frustration that comes with not understanding someone he looks up to and a deep jealousy of the other people who are able to communicate with the older brother.

The condition in this song is fictitious, but there are a few real-life accounts of things like this happening. Sometimes it appears as a semi-gibberish language and sometimes it turns out to be a language that they once knew but had forgotten (for instance of a man who it turned out was speaking I think the Belorussian of his grandfather). The song was inspired by those stories and also by a near-fatal crash my cousin was in when he was 17 (he emerged with a personality shift — almost completely different person) and by an essay called “Feet in Smoke” about someone whose brother was electrocuted on stage by a faulty microphone while standing in a puddle of water and suffered a personality change. In some of the stories, people forget how to speak a language they’ve spoken all their life.

This is the oldest song on the album — it goes all the way back to my first February Album Writing Month in 2013. And while it’s very close to its original version, this song got the biggest facelift when the band started playing it.


When they pulled you from the water
You’d been in it for an hour
And you shivered unconscious in the summer heat
And your shirt clung close to your chest
Wrinkled hands and blackened feet
And they took you home, south to Tennessee

It was days before you wakened
Indignantly shaking
And asking for our mother even though
Now you spoke a different language
Born inside your twisted ribcage
And we couldn’t understand a single word

The next night you came to dinner
With your hair arranged in tatters
And you taught us your new words for salt and beef
You asked for something for me to hand to you
But I couldn’t understand you
And your crying that night kept me from sleep

When the neurologist examined you
She said maybe in a year or two
Though she said maybe it would be a little less
So our conversations vanished
Because all I spoke was English
And I missed you more than you could ever guess

I wanted to walk home from school in silence
But you kept saying something unpleasant
And I was mad because I didn’t have the right to be rude
And that day you gave Gail flowers
Tasted bitter and sour
Whenever someone comprehended you

But mostly I remember
Mostly I remember
Mostly I remember
In the first snow in December
You pushed me from the top of the hill
And when I fell and you said sorry
And I knew that you said sorry
That’s the first I knew what it means to understand

I already described the basis of the story in the introduction, and the lyrics are straightforward, so I won’t break down the story much further here. The lyrics are very, very close to the original video I made in 2013, with a couple fixes where I might have messed up some words and a deliberate fix to the line “Whenever someone comprehended you.” (The original line made it sound like the younger brother was jealous of his brother for liking Gail, the fixed line makes it clear that he’s jealous of Gail for being able to communicate with his brother.)

While there are some songs on the album that I didn’t feel certain about when they were first written, this song affected me pretty deeply when I first finished it and still does 9 years later. I remember being able to see every scene very clearly in my head: the dock on the mountain lake they pull the brother from and the ambulance crew, the dinner table, the doctor’s office, and most of all the snow-covered hill they fall from, which in my head is the hill in Herring Run Park where my family used to go sledding in the snow when I was really little. And every time I sing it I still feel the little twinge of pain at the end of the fifth verse, and joy at the last line.

Music and Recording

For the verses, I stuck with a picking pattern and key (E) that allowed a lot of droning with this chord:


This doubles the high string and also puts an octave on the low string, and I keep the drones going throughout the verse except on the B chord at the very end of the pattern, which makes the song sound very modal.

When the band started working on the song, they made two really great changes: Chris Hamilton suggested we go to half time on the chorus, and either Rick or Joe suggested we go to the minor chord exactly once in the second chorus (and in the chorus repeat). I can’t imagine the song without these parts now, and they really helped break up a very long song.

For the recording, we got a good take with me, Joe, Rick, and Chris Hamilton at Beat Babies Studios in 2016. The band’s arrangement from that session is what you hear on the record, but we had to make some small changes to the drums to get something more dynamic: The original drums were actually played piecemeal because we were being very particular about the bass drum and hi-hat, and they might have even been looped, but we really needed the part to breathe more. Chris and I ended up retracking the drums and bass during the pandemic sessions (I did a drum take at my house to give an idea of what I was looking to change, gave it to Chris Freeland, and he re-played it much much better).

The main guitar is played with the Cardinal Tremolo on “bright” mode, which modulates only the low-end of the signal. Joe’s acoustic is in the background mostly playing single strums while the bass has a lot of quarter notes to stick with the bass drum, and there’s a lead guitar part that I don’t really play live.

The weird sound you hear bubbling away is a second bass guitar run through a fuzz, volume pedal, and a particularly wild-sounding build of a Mutron III envelope filter. The fuzz keeps the bass signal very steady, and I can use the volume pedal to trigger the auto-wah sound and make alien noises. Why not just use a wah pedal? It turned out that the Mutron was just more chaotic sounding.

Chris Freeland spent a lot of time on the recording, and he was picky with the details down to the very last minute — even sending a revised final mix to Mat at Mobtown after hearing the song mastered.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s probably my favorite recording on the album. I think the end product was worth the nearly 9 years it took to get it on a Midway Fair record. A lot of maturity gained over the last several years’ solo recordings went into the final version of the track, which doesn’t really sound like something I would have produced (or co-produced) even a few years ago.

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