I’m a sucker for hilariously misguided attempts by non-English speakers to communicate like subjects of the Queen. I find things such as signs inviting one to “play bowling – breaking down the pins and get hot communication” to be endlessly amusing. Part of the fun is trying to figure out exactly what the fractured language was actually trying to express. The danger of trying to communicate in a language one doesn’t know intimately is that words don’t always mean exactly what the dictionary says they mean or can mean multiple things at once. Attempting to communicate in a language other than your own is asking for trouble.
The rub is that every human being on earth speaks their own personal language, and the combination of words, gestures and inflection that is perfectly clear to oneself is often completely mystifying to another person. When it comes to interpersonal communications, everyone is attempting to communicate in a non-native language – one in which one wrong word or phrase could lead to a night in the doghouse or worse.
The Washington D.C. area combo Deleted Scenes understands this problem, and on “English as a Second Language” they use an ESL class as the backdrop for a relationship gone haywire. Signals get crossed, cues are missed and conversations are misunderstood, and Deleted Scenes amp up the confusion by distorting the vocals just enough to make following the chain of events difficult. The only thing easily understood by everyone is the frustrated “What the fuck?” the song climaxes with – it’s a sentiment that anyone left bewildered by the unexpected end of a relationship can understand.
What’s not confusing is the pure pop melody of the verses and the irresistibly springy bounce of the synth-pop backing. Deleted Scenes juggle their distorted lead vocal with disembodied Beach Boys harmonies and throw in a church organ solo for good measure. Like the broken English often found on signs in foreign hotels, the music of “English as a Second Language” is odd and somewhat slippery to grasp, but in the end it makes its own sense. It’s the kind of song that could say “we are satisfied you. Would you like more happy?”
Click here to listen to Young People’s Church of the Air on Spotify.