Jukebox Breakdown: Small Brown Bike – “A Table For Four”

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Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.

Jukebox Breakdown: Small Brown Bike – “A Table For Four”

by Marcos Gossi

Marshall, Michigan must have seemed worlds away, far from the punk apexes of the United States. Tucked between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, off of I-94, that distance could also serve to incubate, drawing together the four young hooligans who would go on to form post-hardcore greats Small Brown Bike in 1996. The band routinely released great records but, it wasn’t until the release of 2003’s Nail Yourself To The Ground EP that Bike was able to expand on a style that was always more substance than system. With Nail Yourself To The Ground Small Brown Bike built songs that maintained their poignant power while exploring a more mature, honed, direct voice. And “A Table For Four” is the culmination of all of that growth.

The song is in perfect symmetry with the aura and grip — the punk — that made Our Own Wars and Dead Reckoning such legendary LPs. And yet its obvious polish sets it apart. Every piece seems so tirelessly etched out, like a personal note written just for you, but only after a few tired nights and a floor carpeted in crumpled paper. The lethargic opening riff sets a striking mood with each loose strum, broken only by the subtly-stinging voice of Travis Dopp: “…Brother of mine, where are you going?”. It’s the kind of simple, direct statement profound enough to break your heart.

The song lumbers forward at a tight, bobbing pace, each instrument equally spaced out in a cool wash of reverb. Then something familiar: the song picks up and the strained shouts that filled so much of Small Brown Bike’s earlier records churn out a longing, “Stay! Stay! Stay! Where are you going? / Why are you leaving? / Please, just come back home…” The language is reassuring – part and parcel of the blue-collar ease that was always so much a part of Small Brown Bike’s ability to communicate. Those yelled words are so obviously intimate and blunt, a workout for your empathy.

Small Brown Bike continue their trek, dipping in and out of tempo and volume with smooth, dynamic expertise. This breeds drama, begs “Please, please don’t end this song.” Just as you’re settling in, getting comfy, the band finds the crux of their mission statement: “We’re taught to fail, We’re made to crawl / We’re built to stay, stay together.” Lofting and heady, the song soars with new plumage, each member engaged with their sonic facet, the whole more organic than mechanic. They’re talking to you, having a conversation about the contentions one faces when you’re forced to proverbially “grow up.” It’s tough — really tough — to hear, which might be why it’s important for them to say.

Those fantastic ideals, friendships, and experiences that we all found in youth are so often broken apart in our adulthood; “A Table For Four” confronts that issue in a way that is as tangible as it always actually feels. Painful, sure, but Small Brown Bike never shied away from that; they always embrace it, making us love them all the more. They have that ability to convey personal truths in ways that make them expansive, dynamic, and captivating. Small Brown Bike remain significant because they related to us as kids and as adults. Because you can’t always be eighteen; you might not always tour the country with your best friends; and maybe you’ll lose them in time, but that’s okay because Bike will always be there to remind you, and reminisce with you. “Like glue, I’m bonded to you”.

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