This is an unabashedly political song. Its lyrics are equally concerned with populism and the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities. It addresses the fragility of choice when the oppressed and excluded can be led to vote against their own best interests. Ultimately, the chorus recognizes that while easily corruptible, democracy can be a force for progress. Those who abuse and mislead will “reap all the hate [they’ve] mustered”.
All the Things I’m Not
“All the Things I’m Not” is a very personal song which describes the precarious balance that can take place in relationships. You don’t want a partner who is passive, but an overbearing partner can be as bad or worse. Finding a balance between honesty and protectiveness; generosity and self-care is essential, and, without this balance, you feel a sense of futility like “turning keys in open locks” or “stealing time from borrowed clocks”. It’s not a nihilistic song, though. “All the Things I’m Not” is about desperately reaching for balance to preserve a relationship rather than the actual end of one.
Smiling in the Night
There’s great power in boredom. It has the ability to motivate change and creativity. “Smiling in the Night” explores how such boredom affects personal ambition and interpersonal relationships. The lyrics advocate using the desire for entertainment as a force for the betterment of oneself and society. Sometimes periods of detachment are necessary for success, because they engender fear of failure and isolation.
Sam Deffenbaugh wrote “Virginia” in 7th grade after moving from his childhood home to Chicago. Although this song is literally about moving away from Virginia, it is meant to invoke the feeling of absence and longing that comes with any move. Moving makes the old home into an idyllic place that is unobtainable. The danger is that one might not see moving as a chance for reinvention and growth and instead focus on the lost friendships and tarnished memories.
“Breakthrough” addresses questions of identity and self-doubt. In particular, the lyrics explore the vulnerability that songwriting (or any creative pursuit) presents since any criticism can feel deeply personal. Lines such as "it pays well to feel like hell” and “relief, I’ve learned, comes in foolish words” point to the fact that great art can come from intense pain. However, the lyrics go on to question whether productive pain becomes self-indulgent and disingenuous.
Little Old Me
As anyone who has ever played in a band will tell you, hipsters are the worst. They fill the middle ground of concert halls with crossed arms and vacant stares. “Little Old Me” rails against those “bastards” that are not just difficult to please, but actively hateful.
I Don’t Speak for You
“I Don’t Speak for You” is the inverse of the song “Virginia.” The lyrics portray the feeling of trying to run from mercurial, unreliable relationships. Paradoxically, these relationships create a sense of captivity that leads you to seek the approval of destructive people even when it is “beyond our means.” The result is the we end up stuck in limbo between repulsion and attraction. This goes not just for romantic relationships, but for friendships, business partnerships, familial relationships, etc.
We Don’t Talk About Them
“We Don’t Talk About Them” is a horror story in song form. It weaves several interconnected tales together which depict different generations of a family haunted by supernatural and corporeal forces. There’s a mother trapped in an abusive relationship and her son who becomes unhinged and violent. Later a young woman is ignored by her friends as she tries to warn them mysterious lights that “dance above her window”. These incidents are tied together by the chorus which reveals the cyclical and inescapable nature of these sinister events.
There have been more clichés written about love than perhaps any other concept. It’s a shame given how diverse love can be. “Celebration” portrays romantic, sexual, religious, economic, and environmental love on equal footing and looks at the ways in which one form of love can be destructive towards another. The notion of celebrating love becomes incredibly ironic through this lens, but nevertheless something that we should and must do.
The central theme of “Ovation” is technology run amok. The song paints a dystopian view of a disconnected society that is devoid of meaning or generosity. Though it’s not meant to be literal or predictive, “Ovation” demonstrates the profound damage individual selfishness can have on the broader community.
If “The Flood” is the murky view from the middle of a crisis, “Victorious” is the moment of salvation. Despite the many social, political, and persona divisions depicted through Long Division, “Victorious” ends the record on a hopeful note. The song is not a naïve depiction of assured victory over our collective demons, but rather a battle-cry to rise against our worst inclinations. Though our “stars mislead”, we will see that their “trick’s been spent” and learn from our mistakes.