Today is the first day of our second favorite Brooklyn-based, multi-venue music festival, NYC Popfest! It's pretty safe to say that this year's lineup is the indie-pop obsessed local festival's best yet. You've got Kiwi pop legends The Bats playing at the Bell House on Saturday. UK treasures Close Lobsters playing Littlefield on Sunday night (with a sick support lineup including Ski Lodge, My Teenage Stride, Wolfhounds, The Secret History, etc. etc. etc.) They've even coaxed missing in action mid-00s favorite The Ballet out of hiding to play a free show at Spike Hill on Saturday afternoon. All the kudos! All of them!
But the crown jewel of the lineup is clearly the chronically underappreciated British band The Monochrome Set. Formed in late 70s London as The B-Sides, the band once featured Adam Ant as member. He went on to MTV superstardom, and they went on to be one of my favorite bands of all time, so they clearly won. Smart and catchy in equal measure, they were the class of the British post-punk scene. On Monday, the band played their first NYC set in 30 years. I'm going to see the second, tomorrow night, and I'm beyond excited. But, apparently not enough of the rest of you are, as tickets for that show are still available. This is unacceptable.
Below, listen to seven songs that should be able to get you into this legendary band. They have plenty more, but we're starting with the basics.
"Eine Symphonie Des Grauens"
This pre-album single ended up being a head-fake, presenting a more brooding version of themselves than they'd ever really be. But what a perfectly temperatures bowl of goth-pop! While I like using the lyric video to show how clever these dudes were, I also recommend this 1979 live video to show how handsome.
"The Monochrome Set (I Presume)"
Who doesn't like a good self-mythologizing song named after the band who recorded it? They released a scrappy single version early in their career, but this version from their totally perfect 1980 debut Strange Boutique is cooler for adding jungle drums well in advance of its drowsy python guitar line. When bands go for "tribal" these days, how come it always sounds worse than this? Such great little touches too. That the rest of the band only comes in to shout "The!", the song's least important word, always struck me as weirdo genius.
"The Lighter Side of Dating"
The second song on Strange Boutique which is, as I mentioned, a perfect record, is brilliantly funny and even a little bit shocking once you finally decipher its words. So dirty! The lyric video on YouTube is again invaluable for sussing out cheeky singer Bid's quick, elusive lines like "In silver bells and little else, I wiggle and I sway." Monochrome Set are a super wordy band, but not as distractingly full-mouthed as someone like the Fiery Furnaces. There's an easy sway to it. Best pre-Nirvana "hymen" shout-out?
The third song on Strange Boutique. Seriously, so good. (Do you have it on vinyl? Do you listen to it every day??? The rest of this list could just be the rest of the songs on that album.) This one's got maybe the best balance between sharp wit and bright guitar jangle. "I'm on my way to surgery as happy as a boy can be..."
Love Zombies, also released in 1980 (!) is no slouch, if understandably not quite the socks-blower-offer that Strange Boutiques was. This track has a persistent dance jangle (djangle?) to it that would have been at ease on an Orange Juice record.
"The Mating Game"
To my mind, 1982's Eligible Bachelors is only slightly off Boutique's high bar. It's a fuller, more confident indie pop sound compared to the early, brittle post-punk pop. "The Mating Game" is improbably dirtier AND catchier than "The Lighter Side of Dating." Neither of those things should be possible.
"Jet Set Junta"
I've talked before about how politics mixed into my pop has left a sour taste, but this one is all sugar. Wit, subtlety, satire, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.