The first time I was in Texas my band was on tour with the industrial group Skinny Puppy. It was an awkward pairing because my band was not industrial in any sense of the word. Our loud amphetamine and whiskey fueled rock was not popular with the majority of Puppy fans and we spent most of our shows fending off outward animosity and hostility from angry crowds dressed in black. After a while it became a game to test how much we could infuriate them by playing sloppy KISS covers and Dead Boys songs. Texas, however, was much different. We played some of our best shows to amazing audiences in that state. By a stroke of luck we had ZZ Top’s road crew for that leg of the tour and they took such good care of us making sure we had everything we needed (and that we never drew a sober breath). Since then I’ve had an affinity for that state and the music that comes out of it.
The Division Men are Caroline R. Portillo and J. Spencer Portillo. A husband and wife duo from Austin by way of Berlin where they originally formed in 2008. Their song “Heaven Knows Why” is cinematic and I can imagine driving Devil’s Backbone, a precarious stretch of road outside of Austin, at night in a beat up V8 Mustang with this as the soundtrack. It’s dark and eerie and evokes images of deserted ranches illuminated by an expanse of cold unforgiving stars. Behind the upfront acoustic guitar is a sea of lush instrumentation. Piano and chimes swell and ebb beneath Caroline R. Portillo’s voice and convey a penetrating sense of foreboding that lingers after the song is finished. It feels like a hymn to the unknown and forgotten. The chorus is sung with a sad weariness that resonates within its spiritual entanglement and reminds us that we’ll never have the answers. It’s a beautiful resignation to the vulnerable nature of our tenuous existence.
I was visiting a friend in Austin a couple months ago and I brought home a small painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. To me she represents the pinnacle of muses. The ultimate creative force connecting the human and the divine. This connection allows art to transcend the mundane and ordinary into something powerful that moves us on an emotional level. The Division Men have successfully touched this chord with “Heaven Knows Why”. Like towering storm clouds it plays in equal portions of awe and dread felt in the depth of a black Texas sky. And gives me one more reason to pay attention to the music coming out of that immense southern state.