CMJ Wednesday: Tropical Popsicle, Races, Guards and Weekend

by |
10/20/2011 2:18 PM |

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For night two of CMJ, we headed over to the underground lair that holds Cake Shop’s stage for the Indigenous/Spaceland Showcase, made up of California bands playing under the moniker of “Lost Angeles.”

Imagine Bauhaus on the beach, with gothic synth lines accompanying lo-fi surf-rock, and you’ve got an idea of the sound Tropical Popsicle’s going for, and occasionally achieve. Lead singer Timothy Hines’ whispery, emotionless echo vocals steered the band’s minimalist gloom, and although some of the songs blended together, one of their self-proclaimed new ones caught me completely off-guard. It slowly creeped, as if the song had never seen the warm San Diego sun, from where the band hails, and the lyrics were right out of a Birthday Party track: “In the universe of dark shadows, there’s no hope for you now.” The coldest song was the one that received the warmest response from Tropical Popsicle’s set, and they might be wise to continue down the occult angle for their next EP.

The overhead white Christmas lights that had been turned off for Tropical came back when recent-Frenchkiss Records signees Races (former Black Jesus—good name change, guys) took the stage. Theirs is music that’s shiny and vibrant, with earnestness to spare. The sextet went for the same kind of epic, emotive heights as Arcade Fir (if Win and Régine sang songs called “Lover, Lover, Lover”), complete with eyes-closed choruses from singers Wade Ryff (whose voice reminded me of Gold-era Ryan Adams) and Devon Lee, who also played the floor tom and tambourine. It’s rare these days to see a band so young shoot for such a big, theatrical sound (and jokingly ask the audience, “How you doing, Madison Square Garden?”), and actually accomplish their goal. Their debut full-length LP, Year of the Witch, is set to be released soon, and it’s one that’s definitely worth hearing.

If Cults does gloomy girl-pop as well as anyone out there, Guards plays self-proclaimed “pop wave doom” that’s not quite as noticeable. The melodies were pure pop; the lyrics sung in piercing falsetto voices; and the band produced huge guitar hooks with accompaniment from a dreary synth and an ever-present Omnichord, but the sound felt too calculated, too intentionally throw-back for any real emotional connection. That said, their fast-paced cover of MIA’s “Born Free” was pretty great.

The last band we saw for the evening (morning?) was San Francisco’s Weekend. Picture, if you will, a woman standing next to the Cake Shop stage. For half of Weekend’s set, she woozily gaped at the ground, her hair completely obscuring her hair. And the other half: she slowly and deliberately gyrated from side to side, dramatically raising her hands above her head ever so often. That’s a fair visual assessment of Weekend’s music, a band that’s able to play shoegaze, post-punk, and melodic noise-pop with equal conviction, sometimes in the same song. You’re not sure whether to sway or to stare, but you know what you’re hearing is great. From where I was standing at the beginning of their set, inches away from a large speaker, Shaun Durkan’s vocals were high in the mix, commanding over the droning music. Then I walked a foot forward, placing the speaker behind me, and the sound was flipped: Durkan’s voice was but a low murmur underneath the crushing blows of his blown-out bass, Kevin Johnson’s sonic guitar, and Abe Pedroza’s bashing, yet precise drums. (There was one song in particularly where the drum-work sounded like the never-ending ticking of a clock, and it nearly drove me crazy—in a good way.) The band played for about 40 minutes, rarely taking a breather between songs, and when the set ended, Pedroza left the stage without a wave, while Durkan and Johnson dropped their instruments in front of their amps and fiddled with their pedal boards, inducing a beneath of warbling feedback. Album #2 for Weekend is going to be good.

Tropical Popsicle

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Races

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Guards

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Weekend

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Photos by Nadia Chaudhury