It happens the same way every year, that I wind up in a place that's nowhere to ring in the new year. It's this lake town in the far northwestern-most corner of the state of Iowa, practically spitting distance to both the South Dakota and Minnesota borders. You can imagine that when the winter comes, there aren't many reasons to be here. There is an old poster on the wall of a coffeehouse here that reads, "If you're rich, you live in Beverly Hills. If you're famous, you live in Malibu. And if you're lucky, you live in Okoboji." It might be true eight months out of the year, but this place - while mild today on the final day of 2011 - has been exceptionally cruel during the last two New Year's Eves, with temperatures and wind chills contributing to negative 20 feeling air outdoors. It's enough to drive you to some berserk hibernation rituals, or a lot of puzzles and soup. You take in the turning of the page and the dropping of the ball on television, unable to celebrate the non-holiday, but a moment all the same, with fellow man, just whomever you're sleeping with, whomever is in the same house. It's not all bad. You're still able to do all of the reflecting that you could elsewhere and you're able to jot down the resolutions that you want to adhere to, starting tomorrow, but you do it in a quieter way, without the confetti and the din. You mark the night with a tender kiss and a retiring to bed without having to fight any of the traffic.
Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel of the New York City-based group Holy Ghost! are luckily here in spirit in Spirit Lake and they can be with you wherever you are as well. The dance and electronic group is meant for that free-for-all, never sleeping or turning the lights off scene of the place they're from, but the words that they write are ripe for rumination and being trapped in an undesirable spot for New Year's Eve. It's incredible the way the words mean more, listening with a closer attention, with the bubbly sitting on the counter, ready for popping the corks to only slight excitement. The songs on the group's latest album - a self-titled affair on James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem's DFA Records - carrying with them a theme of apologetic remorse and a sinking feeling, when everything has gotten to be too much to take. They sing about an "IT" surrounding them and the same "IT" then drowning them. There's always a lot to take and looking back is sometimes not all that much fun. It's spotty. We cringe and we chew on the bittersweet.
We wonder why more of the music being played tonight, at all of the packed bars and clubs can't be more like what Holy Ghost! makes, but then it might just be that when we feel like partying, we don't want to be reminded of our many transgressions. Then again, this is the night for reflections and when Frankel and Millhiser sing, "I look back/I was wrong/If I could go back I'd change it all…For a moment, I forgot what I was…/Take me out/Now take me home," they pin together a tale that's like most of the days we lead the majority of the year. We should face them all at the end, on a cold night that can't get much warmer. We don't have to celebrate them, but it's kind of nice to get to dance with them one last time.