Articles by

<Jeff Klingman>

01/14/15 9:10am


Sleater-Kinney and Belle and Sebastian came up at the same time and were embraced by overlapping circles, but the bands began by evoking completely disparate ideas: While one band punched and clawed its way to a finer future, the other daydreamed of a more vibrant past. Their respective ideas of indie-rock have long felt suited to completely different goals and activities—demanding the spotlight versus drifting happily out of view; storming the pit or just taking the bus. And yet, despite their opposite dispositions, these two groups wound up being two of the most enduring bands of the 90s. Now, both start their third decades with return albums. No Cities to Love is the first by Sleater-Kinney after a ten year hiatus, and it’s-a-stomped-boot-on-the-gas-pedal of an abruptly announced reunion. Meanwhile, in spite of Stuart Murdoch’s time off spent directing a film, Belle and Sebastian have remained conspicuously active in the last decade, embracing a new identity as crowd-pleasing pros. Their ninth album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, is the fullest evidence of that creeping extroversion. Again the groups take different routes—one clarifying their resolve, the other expanding their boundaries.


01/05/15 8:45am


No Cities To Love
(Sub POP, January 20)

There’s something admirable in a sainted rock band deciding to embark on a reunion tour to support new material instead of merely working through the old hits for an expanded pool of ticket buyers. But this is likely to be even more exciting in practice than it is in theory. Simply put, there’s going to be a new Sleater-Kinney record!

12/03/14 4:05am


It seems long ago that touches of house or disco in indie-pop could be a thing of great novelty, or a possible cause for alarm. But after a decade of smudged genre lines, of the synthesizer continuously gaining on the guitar, the briefly dominant sound of New York City’s DFA Records has returned to the margins. Aside from a couple precocious singles by teenaged Shamir, the best current version is being made by the same people who were making it then. DFA OGs The Juan MacLean proved the formula can still work with their 2014 In a Dream.

New Build, a Hot Chip side group formed by all-world guitar player Al Doyle and electronic percussionist Felix Martin, keep doing it too. But while they drew fine reviews for 2012’s Yesterday Was Lived and Lost, its follow-up, Pour It On, yields diminished results. Historically, this stuff has peaked behind singers with well-established personae—James Murphy’s over-it scene boss, Nancy Whang’s coolly detached diva, or the suave nerd stylings of Hot Chip chum Alexis Taylor. There’s a middle stretch of Pour It On, from “Your Arrival” to “Luminous Freedom,” where singing is made completely irrelevant by the conviction of the grooves, the body-rippling heavy butter of expensive synth tones. Doyle’s vocals, thin and indistinct, are a problem throughout.

Their home-country rag, NME, brutally dismissed the album as “whingey and middle-aged.” Coming from a publication who slotted Sun Kil Moon’s Benji among their best records of 2014, that’s a bit rich. But the description feels unfair and, at the same time, uncomfortably on point. Take the leaden “Weightless,” which details the stresses of raising kids in the midst of a separation. That’s a topic that’s tough to boogie to. Dance-pop groups age with varying degrees of grace. Caribou’s much better Our Love, for example, went deep but oblique. “Adult dance music” has never really been a thing, though, unless you’re talking about Motown standards played at a niece’s wedding.

There’s at least one young band making the ol’ dance-punk hybrid seem somewhat lively, and they happen to be opening for New Build at Rough Trade early this month. As heard on their new EP, I’m So Inspired, Brooklyn’s Future Punx have the convergence of sequenced beats, disco guitar licks, and post-punk bass seeming, if not new, then newly appealing. In press releases the band calls their particular mix “post-wave,” a knowingly empty genre tag of prefix and suffix alone. Their synths sound comparatively cheap, but the soothsaying zeal of their delivery goes a long way. There are hints of the hip 70s throughout—Orange Juice, Talking Heads, Suicide, Devo. The band’s credibility as futurists leans on the tendency of influences unheard in a while to come back around. Still, in a scene plagued by shitty hardcore and sketchy alt-R&B, the band’s in-pocket tightness is refreshing.

The revival isn’t setting the city ablaze just yet, though. Future Punx’s headlining set was maybe the worst attended of Death by Audio’s farewell week. A significant chunk of the crowd peeled out of the sainted dive after Washington, D.C. band Priests’ high-energy punk-of-the-present wound down. But those who stayed were moved to sway. New Build and Future Punx play Rough Trade NYC on December 4 with Orange Cassettes; tickets are $17 advance, $20 day of.


12/03/14 4:00am



Most good punk bands assault listeners with both their words and their music, but it’s instructive to note which punch they try to hit first. For a group like Toronto’s METZ, pure, sound is pretty much the point. Alex Edkins ripped-throat screaming isn’t completely engulfed by his band’s extra-loud feedback ringing into space, but it’s clear that they made a conscious choice to prioritize the overall sound over any individual lyric. Their anger is deeply felt rather than deliberately articulated. Then there’s Single Mothers, based just a slushy two-hour drive away in London, Ontario, always leading with their verbal jabs.

Single Mothers’ debut, Negative Qualities, is mixed to let you hear the full range of singer Drew Thompson’s pissed-off utterances. With every track, he makes a fine show of discontent, indiscriminately spraying shit-talk as he spins. How much you appreciate the gesture will likely determine your feeling towards the band. As “Marbles” takes a self-righteous flamethrower to literary pretensions, declaring war on long-winded thesis regurgitations at the local bar, it seems he only wants the quiet so he can fill it himself. But the double standard doesn’t necessarily imply delusion. “I’m a hypocrite, and I’m OK with it, and I’m so self-aware that it’s crippling” he’ll go on to repeat. (As blasts against higher education go, it’s at least more credible than Jaden Smith’s.) “Patricide” lashes out at the almighty herself, with Thomson bleating, “I need God about as much as she needs me,” like a mall-punk newly convinced of his lack
of conviction.

While the album’s full-throttle approach does suggest an obvious hardcore influence, the degree to which Single Mothers are a traditional hardcore band has been slightly overstated. They’re actually better when dabbling with hooky alt-rock. The bubble-grunge crunch of “Half-Lit” sets off Thomson’s drug-sick poetic streak, “That night I fell into the pharmacy, I thought I was in a lucid dream…” “Feel Shame” slows down a little, aiming for a Nirvana-style sarcastic spleen-vent but landing short, somewhere just past early-00s blip The Vines. It’s funnier and much more articulate than those Aussie lunks were. (Sonically, the comparison ins’t as much of a diss as you might think.) Basic prettiness is never their primary concern, but album closer “Money,” carries an offhand, wheezy melody anyway.

Ultimately, the record is more like a sweaty basement show than a headphones experience that carefully unwinds. There’s not much differentiation from song to song, except the fleeting target of Thomson’s pique. But it’s only 26 minutes long and on full blast from the start. Like a treadmill sprint, it leaves you exhausted but equally exhilarated by the time it sputters out. While that might give Negative Qualities a limited shelf life, it bodes well for a single night spent with Single Mothers.

Single Mothers play Baby’s All Right with Show Me the Body and Basic Bitches on December 5; tickets are $10 advance, $12 day of.

11/21/14 11:18pm

Years in the spotlight have not revealed Ariel Pink to be a secretly normal guy. In the last half decade, as the former home-recorder has morphed into an indie rock celebrity, he’s seemed incapable of speaking in a way that doesn’t self-sabotage. Every 2014 interview with Pink has gone roughly the same way. He’ll say something offensive but wacky, about the Westboro Baptist Church or Rwandan genocide, say, that’s hard to buy as a firmly held belief. When challenged, he’ll double down then deflate, lashing out with just a hint of deep human sadness. “I wish I didn’t get all this attention, have to do interviews,” he told The Guardian. “I don’t want to be known. I’d like to get by without making a fool of myself, running my mouth all the time. It’s not helping me.”

It’s still easy to grasp the once-romantic ideal of Ariel Pink, the one that first captivated Animal Collective, who listened to his demos in their tour van. He’s the shut-in savant, a true outsider allowed to be a paradoxical retro-music original because he lacks a filter for ideas a more conventional mind might consider too extreme, tasteless, or stupid to carry on to completion. When finally dragged from his basement into the light, the underside of that fictional character was probably never going to be pretty. What were the chances of engaging a gnome genius only to discover that his true personality is 100 percent well-adjusted and in tune with the shifting demands of public life?

For some, Pink’s recent wrangling with women has been a troll too far. It started with a weirdly uncomfortable anecdote about being “maced by a feminist,” and extended to an unsolicited dish session about Interscope execs asking him to help on a new Madonna album, necessitated by what he saw as the long steady slide of the icon’s career. He’ll refer to Grimes as the female version of him, yet also “stupid and retarded” in the same breath. He’s been so far unable to seem repentant about any of this. “Everybody’s a victim, except for small, white, nice guys who just want to make their moms proud and touch some boobies,” he told the New Yorker of all places.

The page-view benefit for publications headlining his wildest utterances is obvious. The end game for those repelled, yet still hate-clicking, is less clear. Deciding with mathematical certainty which parts of Pink’s persona are real, and which are a put-on? Sleuthing out how he interacts in his personal life, and to what degree it matches up with the babble he gives interviewers? What’s gained by knowing? Permission granted to dismiss his work entirely? A final rendered judgment that forces Ariel Pink out of our culture if he won’t shut up? It’s a game no one seems to be winning.

So clearly, Pink’s new record, pom pom, comes with a full cart of baggage. It’s his third record of studio-recorded material for legendary British label 4AD, and the first to bill him as a solo act without his band, Haunted Graffiti. Like its predecessors it’s a confusing jumble of indelible pop melody, juvenile humor, deep melancholy, and unfathomable decision making. Both of Pink’s “mainstream” records were much stranger than smooth singles suggested. You could sway to “Round and Round” without thinking too hard about “Menopause Man,” feel heartsick during his Elvis Costello-esque “Mature Themes” yet gloss over “Symphony of the Nymph”’s concentrated sleaze. Though similar to both, pom pom is the record where the distinction between Ariel Pink’s best material and his most bizarre is hardest to parse, where the questionable tangents of his old CD-Rs are executed to exaction and fleeting retro-pop comfort is often denied. More than ever, a listener’s forced to grapple with the actual worth of cotton-candy-puke-pink junk pop rather than the novelty of its existence.

Pink’s ability to make heinously catchy music is at this point beyond question. Again and again, pom pomprovides near-constant hooks as hard to scrub from your brain as the “Too Many Cooks“ theme. Deranged opener “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” melds a 70s kid-show cereal-rush to non sequitur cocaine references and general nonsense. (It sounds like a Kim Fowley fever dream, because Pink actually went to the sick bed of the abusive Runaways’ svengali to obtain its outline.) “Not Enough Violence” is a carefully controlled stadium-goth jam that makes a post-Pink post-punk like John Maus seem like an extra pale imitator. Gentler tracks “Put Your Number in My Phone” and “Picture Me Gone” treat device-mediated modern relationships with alternating hopefulness and sadness. This stuff is especially hard to objectively dislike. If Pink could fake sweetness this well in an interview, he’d likely be coasting easily. That he can’t flip that switch suggests he might just mean all of it.

That realization leads single “Black Ballerina” to cause extra-uneasy feelings. Taken seriously, the song both objectifies women and acknowledges a visceral fear of them. But it’s essentially sketch comedy set to a steady groove. Is that ironic distance just a half-assed cover-up of deeply held misogynist feelings? Does a song about a cartoon sailor taking his grandson to a strip club demand a straight-faced political reading? And if so, don’t you have to take the psychotic commercial jingle “Jell-O” just as seriously? What creeping rot is painted over in shades of quivering neon green?! Thus, the sincerity versus insincerity struggle that’s always been central to engaging with Pink’s work reaches its final impasse. As Pink put it in another quickly disintegrating interview, “It’s not illegal to be an asshole.”

But accusing Pink of rank cynicism seems like a stretch. How could anyone so painstakingly reproduce entire genres while holding deep disapproval towards them, releasing years of work with a huckster’s “these rubes’ll swallow anything!” glee? Saturday morning cartoon themes and morally dubious sex funk are equally real to him. He executes them seriously, while resisting the need to actually make them over-serious. A juvenile worldview can still be honestly reached.

A quizzical collaboration between Pink and Harlem rapper Azealia Banks reveals those two as unlikely friends and oddly obvious kindred spirits. The chirpy beach-blanket gonzo of “Nude Beach A-Go-Go” is far more jarring in the running order of the her debut Broke With Expensive Taste than it is on pom pom. It’s a blast from the past that breaks up her sound’s future shock, and just another fading board game cover on Pink’s dusty shelf. Being forced to think about the two of them in context is pretty interesting, though. Both are natural talents possessed by a pathological refusal to let their work speak for itself. Banks’ harmful pre-album narrative was that she was too busy talking shit to ever get shit done. Finally releasing her album solves that, more or less. The tragedy of Ariel Pink is that he may never write a hook strong enough to finally let him off the hook of being Ariel Pink

11/05/14 4:00am

“I’m a cynical bastard. I look at the world around me from a cynic’s perspective in many ways. One thing I’m not cynical about is making this music. I don’t involve myself in fake shit. I don’t involve myself in music that’s not a direct result of the love that I have for music. Not always joy but just deep, deep love.” Having his greatest success on the cusp of turning 40 has El-P sounding like a goddamn hippie.

Run the Jewels 2, the collaborative sequel from Brooklyn-born Jaime Meline, aka El-P, and Atlanta rap lifer Michael Render, aka Killer Mike, was released in late October to near universal acclaim. The album is a relentless 39 minutes of poetic aggression and exhilarating clamor. It’s also the endearing chronicle of friendship between two grown men, its makers comfortable enough to get extremely personal yet still focused on delivering their most streamlined and accessible music. Rather than scrambling for cameos with radio clout, they pulled in an eclectic list of friendly collaborations: a resurrection for Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, bass from Yo La Tengo’s James McNew, beats from Blink-182’s Travis Barker, and some show-stopping filth from Three 6 Mafia’s Lola Mitchell, aka Gangsta Boo. No computer algorithm in the world would produce that particular blueprint. It’s got both men giddy, bordering on silly—Meow the Jewels, a Kickstarter-funded, charity-supporting remix album made entirely from cat noises will follow next year.

We talked to Meline and Render as they headed out on a highly anticipated U.S. tour. (Their scheduled New York City date, November 29 at Manhattan’s Stage 48, sold out, demanding an added second show the next night.) We discussed the emboldening quality of their music, embarrassing your kids, and how spousal advice led to one of the album’s best moments. But mainly about how deliriously happy they are connecting to a big audience at this point in their careers.  

“It’s been pretty cool,” admits Meline. “I’m not going to lie.”

When you were making the record, did you anticipate it going over this well, or is the reception exceeding what you thought could happen?

Render: We both felt like it was possible, based off of the way kids reacted to the first one. It’s only possible if you ramp the music up. I think that when Jaime and I started this record, the first thing we said was, “We have to make it better. We have to grow it.” You can’t just say the same thing and be complacent. I think the reaction is based firmly in the fact that Jaime and I stepped up and hit a homer. We didn’t just go for the double or the triple. We went for a home run, and we got it.

Meline: It’s just a week now since releasing it. The last week almost feels like our lives… may have changed. For us to have a moment like this, knowing that we got there with our souls and our minds intact, is a very amazing thing.

I think both Mike and I would have been totally cool if it came out people liked it, and we did another tour. Like, ok, maybe that’s what Run the Jewels was. But to add on to that, all of sudden we’re having to book two nights in a row in cities, things that you dream will hopefully happen because you want to be in front of as many people as you can. You want to know that there is hope in this fucking industry… to be successful and make money off of something without compromising yourself. I’ll take sleeping at night over money. But if I can have both…

A lot of the positive reaction boils down to a vicarious thrill. You pump it into your headphones and you’re ready to fight the world.

Meline: We want our music to feel inspiring. I’ve written a lot of songs that were really personal, for that reason. I’ve written those songs for myself. But when someone says that your music is having that effect on them? I dunno man, it’s pretty mind-blowing to me.

Render: We’re just the luckiest bastards on Earth. I used to sit around and wonder, who’s gonna finally say, “Fuck it. I’m an adult, I still love rap,” and keep rapping and not have an end date. Who were gonna be those rappers? We fucked around, and we’re those guys. I’m not ashamed of my age, I don’t feel unhip that I’m older. I feel like, “Motherfucker, I’m gonna get in here and rap the fucking shit like a Christmas present! What are you going to do about me?”

I go to my 17-year-old daughter’s high school, little boys throw up Run the Jewels logos, and yell out “Killer Mike!” and embarrass her. We’re dope at this shit, there’s no end date on this motherfucker.

Embarrassing your kids has to be an underrated adult pleasure.

Render: As a parent of four children, I love it! I love fucking their shit up. [laughs] No greater pleasure, man.

How did you decide who you wanted on the album as a collaborator? Was it just song-to-song, finding interesting fits?

Meline: I mean literally, like bumping into motherfuckers on the street. “Hey what are you doing man, you want to come by the studio?” That’s how Zach got on the record. Just friends, being around. The only person that we made a point to reach out was Gangsta Boo. And that’s Mike’s homegirl. So, this album is 100 percent organic.

Render: Like the apple juice you drink in the morning, man. Fresh-squeezed, no preserves. [laughs] That’s the expensive shit.

So “Love Again” was conceived from the beginning as a he-said/she-said sex jam?

Meline: No. Here’s the thing with “Love Again”, it was the last record we made. We had one day to turn the record in to get it pressed up. The original version of it, which is actually pressed up on the physical, doesn’t have Gangsta Boo’s verse on it.

Render: My wife from day one was like, “It needs to be like a Trina and Trick Daddy song and go back- and-forth.” We didn’t think we had the time and we didn’t. After Jaime’s girl heard it, she was like “Y’all need a girl on it.” My wife had already said that. So we were like, “Hell yeah, let’s call Boo!”

Meline: We knew that the song wasn’t complete. We liked it, but we hadn’t had enough time to sit with it. We got Boo on that shit, and were like, “Yo, this is the song!”

Render: Shouts out to Lola, man. She’s dope.

Are you guys going to need even more weed than usual to make an album out of cat noises, or just the regular level?

Render: (laughs) Hell yeah. I was just up in the High Times offices yesterday. We got to have more!

Are you just going to be browsing YouTube for its finest cat noises?

Meline: That’s my basic plan, yes.

10/24/14 3:16pm

Thursday night’s lineup was perhaps the softest of the CMJ schedule so far, and for fifteen minutes before logic set in, it seemed like going to shows might give you the Ebola virus. So, don’t ask me to explain why I started night 3 at a Gerard Way concert. Those were different times. 


Let no one suggest that Gerard Way is not loved. The My Chemical Romance frontman, recently gone solo, inspired major pandemonium among a-not-quite-full Webster Hall crowd. The room would erupt in squeals every time the house music paused before he’d taken the stage. Any sign that he might soon appear was treated as if he had. When the lights went down and he finally did trot out, it was all too much to bear. The Webster floor was instantly elastic but the metal barricade at the front fared far worse. After two and a half songs, the crush of affection buckled it entirely, forcing an extended break while the venue crew unbolted it from the floor and dragged it through the exits like plane crash debris. 

I dunno, man, that seems like a pretty strong piece of metal to have been taken down entirely by overexcited teens! In the time gap, fans were lifted from the crowd by stage crew, completely overwhelmed with emotion. A sobbing girl was carried out next to me, unable to walk out under her own power. Shit got intense!

For reasons that are primarily demographic, I’m honestly not that familiar with My Chemical Romance’s records. Nothing I saw at this show made me fall in love nor recoil with disgust. I get that Way’s moved past his genre-defining emo pop at this point, but he certainly seems like a guy with decent taste. The sleazy guitar sounds his band summoned for his entrance had an oily Bowie in Berlin air. The pop-punk numbers were short and punchy, the earnest ballads appropriately hammy and grandiose. His band delivered big, chunky Britpop chords all night.

An actual Sleater-Kinney cover came later in the set:  


Still, Way was a little overeager. He aimed towards sophisticated pop, but bounded around the stage like a golden retriever who just heard the garage door go up. His voice was competent but not particularly transporting. There was too little glam in his glam. 

But what’s he going to do? Act aloof in front of a devoted crowd who are so excited to see him they can barely stand? Ignore the handmade artwork the front row continually thrust into his hands? He treats his fans with warmth and respect, to his great credit. And it is hard to completely dismiss a guy who inspires that kind of full-body devotion. 

Ballet School were best at full blast. The Berlin-based trio featured a black-cloaked and be-hatted alt-rock guitarist, a drummer who approximating the sound of big, gated studio pop drums live (while wearing his own band’s t-shirt), and ultra excitable Irish singer Rosie Blair. When a song focused too much on any one of those elements the band sounded okay, but it worked far better when all three let loose at the same time. Beaming every part of their music forth at full-watt holds the risk of a textural mess, but their best weapon might counterintuitively be an allergy to negative space.  

Early in Tei Shi‘s set she produced an athletic cover of Beyoncé’s “No Angel.” It seemed like a no-win proposition for an artist making modern R&B herself. Either you live up to the vocal power, only to arrive at the original destination, or you fall far short. But the Colombian singer, now a Brooklynite, sang it with strength and feeling, her band adding just enough synth bubbles to differentiate the song without redefining it. As proof of raw talent, it was effective if slightly inert. It was a bar that she cleared.

More interesting than the Twigs-y slow jams among her original songs were the fleeting moments that drew from a wider pool of sounds. The drummer and guitarist accompanying her offered big beats or discordant noise in a few key moments that gave the nimble kick of her voice something imperfect to contrast against. For all the talk of R & B’s crossover into modern indie-rock, there are still sounds and genres that have remained entirely segregated. Moving past tasteful danceability and slick bleep-bloopery with snippets of raw abrasion could be an interesting direction if she cares to push it. 

Kate Bush comparisons for eccentric female pop singers have become the new My Bloody Valentine comps for loud guitar bands, a lazy shorthand that can makes a new artist seem extra disappointing when they fall short. So I hesitate to evoke KB in praising Canadian songwriter Lydia Ainsworth, though she lives up to it far more than most. Mentioning Ainsworth as a peer to a more modern singer like Julia Holter definitely seems all wrong. The groovy high-drama of her live set barely resembles the gentle playfulness of Holter’s stuff. I’d read going in that Ainsworth had a tendency for interpretive performance choices, hiring live dancers or bringing a live-but-hard-to-startle snake onstage. She doesn’t need props to be compelling, clearly. 

While she sang against her own pre-recorded backing vocals here a live drummer doubled synth beats (tricks Tei Shi also used). Having established those poles or high- and low-end, the sound was further fleshed out by a cellist and a violinist. The mingling of string section warmth and synth pad cold, the blend of live and taped performance, made it an uncanny cyborg organism. Being unable to pick out specific elements was disorienting in a pleasant way. The thudding dance beats present in a songs like “Malachite” where emphasized in larger proportion to their recorded versions, making semi-experimental compositions mistakable for pure pop. As a seamless mix of elegant bits, Ainsworth’s was the most impressive set of night. 

10/23/14 4:13pm

Wednesday was an exceptionally rotten New York weather day, even if your job doesn’t require traveling from rock club to rock club by sneaker. But still, the bands must play on! (I mean they all flew here already…)

Tall tales of Brooklyn sci-fi freaks, British gentlemen, Japanese punk lifers, and magical L.A. teens can be found below. 


Brooklyn’s Future Punx didn’t really sound like future punks, but since their particular brand of retro hasn’t been heard from in a while, it was fresh all the same. Think late 70s trash-bag New Wave, obsessed with sci-fi paperbacks and at least disco bassline-curious. Or given the generation gap, maybe think of a Tumblr account centered on these interests. The grooves they got up to, laying live drums over a sequencer, were thick and wildly danceable. New single “I’m So Inspired” has a subtle Talking Heads influence, even. This vibe was attempted a lot more in the early to mid-00s, to varying degrees of success. The current version of Future Punx would have slid into the upper middle, at least. (I’d say they’re in range of the Japanese band Polysics, if that meant anything to anyone.) 

Also, they looked absolutely perfect in the shitty closed circuit TV hanging above the Cake Shop bar. 

London band Ultimate Painting were another act executing a familiar sound with better than average results. They played a very British mix of melancholy indie-pop and classic underground rock n’ roll. At times it was gentle, but not snoozy, sort of like a properly caffeinated Clientele. In noisier bits vocalist/guitarist James Hoare was allowed to indulge his Velvet Underground worship even more than he does his great other band Veronica Falls, which is a lot. They were exceedingly tuneful, and mostly very tasteful (despite indulging in some overlong jamming that never quite reached bliss). Bands like this never really go out of style, and almost never break through beyond a small, dedicated cult following. You could forget about them for a decade, but then be delighted by their inclusion in a NYC Popfest 2024 lineup. The definition of a pretty solid band. 


In terms of energy, enthusiasm, and pure fun, they just couldn’t compete with Osaka, Japan, veterans Shonen Knife. Formed in the early 80s, and championed by legendarily tasteful gents like John Peel and Kurt Cobain, their silly Ramones-inspired pop-punk is, if anything, more relevant now that the mid-90s variety of the genre has been newly nostalgized by grown-up Hot Topic babies. The band paid off their Ramones debt early with a crowd-shout along version of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” (If you look close at this video, you can see me Tweeting-reporting through that like a real lame.) Newer songs, written about simple pleasures like ramen noodles or green tea ice cream were done in the style of 70s American hard rock. The head banging pleasures they brought are evidenced above. These songs were ridiculous, sure, but never smug or self-impressed. “Bear Up Bison” still totally slays.

Shonen Knife might be an intrinsically silly group, but there was a level of joy here that young bands in town looking to make their mark would do well to aspire towards.


Having flown too close to the sun, arrogantly assuming its battery might last forever, my phone decided to die right before L.A.’s Girlpool played at Baby’s All Right. Of course the one set I could get no evidence of would be the one set of the night I left thinking I’d seen future stars. Two normal teens playing on a smoke-filled stage, lit with twinkling lights, they looked sort of amazing as well. Picture it in your mind’s eye, perhaps? Or watch the above video from a few months back, the best approximation I could find of their live sound.

Last night, as on the video, it was striking how few elements make up a spare sound that somehow becomes legitimately big. Guitar, bass, simultaneous singing. The combination of those elements just rang out in the room. It wasn’t pretty, exactly, their harmonies do have a quality that’s a bit sour. But it’s warm and even sort of mysterious. By logical intuition, their stuff shouldn’t have this sort of alchemic cumulative effect. And yet…. 

As a bonus, here’s a silly video of the girls dancing at Baby’s after the show. In it, they seem somehow extra Californian. 


10/23/14 12:48pm

“I always had fantasies of being on stage and playing guitar and singing and kind of rocking out, just like any young kid does. Now that I can play guitar and I get to do that, childhood me is air-punching right now.”  

On “First Love/Late Spring,” the first gorgeous single we heard from Brooklyn songwriter Mitski Miyawaki this year, she describes herself not as an adult, but a “tall child.” So, let the air-punching continue. The rest of her new record, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, out soon on surging indie label Double Double Whammy, is equally strong—sad and funny and tough but tender. Though she’d already released two records of heavily orchestrated, sad jazz vibes, this is her first set of songs since learning the guitar. The fuzzy feedback crunch gives her technically sound voice a new ballast to bounce off. She now makes disheveled basement rock that holds more than a little grace. 

Having just returned home from a west coast tour with neighborhood pals LVL Up, she plays her only CMJ week show tomorrow night at Silent Barn, for Miscreant and Father/Daughter Records Conscious Coupling Party (with other cool bands like Girlpool, Amanda X, and Small Wonder). She’ll be back there on November the 13th to celebrate her album’s release two days before. She deserves to be kind of a big deal by then. 

We caught up with Mitski when she was still on the road, in an attempt to get to know her a bit better first. Our chat touched on her well-travelled childhood and music school background, the combination of sadness and wit in her lyrics, the sad-sackery of Milhouse from The Simpsons, and the horrible possibility that someone might make you wear an old-timey Christmas bonnet. 


Where are you from?

Originally? I live in Brooklyn.

Did you grow up in New York state?

The thing is, my father works for the State Department. He’s a foreign service officer with the State Department, meaning we moved to a different country every year or so when I was growing up. So the question “Where are you from?” is actually quite complicated for me.

But there must be a place that springs to mind first?

It depends on the day, really. Sometimes I feel very Japanese, so I say I’m from Japan. I lived in Malaysia for 3 years. Sometimes, I just randomly say that if it’s a person I know I’m not going to meet again and I’m feeling playful. Usually, it’s just easier to say that I’m from New York, because at this point New York is the place I’ve lived longest, which is 5 years.

Is this recent tour the first time you’ve seen the rest of the country?

Yeah! It’s really special to me because I haven’t really lived in the U.S. but this is my country I suppose. Going through the landscapes, it almost feels like a pilgrimage. “Oh, this is where I’m from!” The drive over here from Denver, it was like, tear-inducing. It was amazing.

And now that I’m out of New York, I’m staying at people’s houses where they pay like $200 a month for some huge space. Maybe I need to get the eff out of New York.

Ending up at SUNY Purchase to study composition, you must have had some recognition and drive to make music from fairly early on?

I had always been not making music, but learning music. It was only at 19 that I started making my own songs. Until then I had been studying music and I had been loving music, but it never occurred to me that I could make my own music. So I didn’t actually make my own music until my first year of college, actually at Hunter. I was a film and media major and then I just realized that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had to buckle down and actually do what I wanted to do, so I started writing my own songs. I had musical training before that, which is why I could get into the composition program at SUNY Purchase, which you can’t just get into without any experience whatsoever.

Listening to those first two records and looking at the credits, even if I didn’t know that you were making those when you were in music school, I think I might have thought so.

Yeah, the fact that I got orchestral instruments…how would any indie/unknown artist do that and then post it on Bandcamp?

Do you think your access to all that stuff guided your writing? Do you think the environment was definitive for the songs?

I feel like what I heard in my head already had orchestral sounds, but if I didn’t have an orchestra I would have done it another way. When I was in school, I looked around and said, “Wow, it would be stupid of me to not use these classical musicians who are willing to play for free, and all these facilities, and all these different resources.” I think it was a combination of both, but ultimately if I didn’t have those resources, I would have put out those songs anyway, in another form. I was just lucky enough to have that.


In your own mind is there a lot of continuity between the stuff on Bury Me at Makeout Creek and the stuff you were writing before? Or is this record a thing that you consider totally new?

There is continuity in that it came from the same person, it came from the same me. I definitely think I had a different mindset. I was conscious about being able to play them live, and I think I definitely steered the songwriting and the arrangement towards things that would translate to basements or to smaller venues, or just to loud noisy places.

How was learning guitar compared to other instruments you’ve played?

With guitar, it’s really easy to get an elementary level of ability, which is what I have. I’m not good at it, at all. I’m able to do enough of it to like sing and play by myself. But there are actual good guitar players. When you start to learn Spanish you feel like you can speak the language and then after you advance a little bit, you realize that you know nothing. So, it’s kind of like that. I’m at the steep learning curve level of guitar where I feel like I can play guitar, but in reality I really can’t.


Playing with elements like distortion and feedback now, do you think of it is “arranging” those elements in a way?

I haven’t really thought about it but if I reflect, I definitely have been approaching it that way. That kind of distortion or noise, those gears, are part of the arrangement. A lot of those songs wouldn’t be the same or be what they are without that fuzz or noise.

Do you think that it’s letting you write different kinds of songs, or express different sorts of ideas/thoughts?

I actually do. When I’m writing a song now, it’s an element that’s in my head just like the orchestral stuff. Sometimes I would hear strings or horns in the same way. Now I feel like I hear distortion.

10/22/14 11:55am

Though my first day of this year’s CMJ Music Marathon was spent at events not included in the festival’s schedule, I’m not sure you can say I “skipped CMJ.” In the midst of a tradition 34 years running, everything that happens in the New York music world this week—be it officially sanctioned showcases, anti-establishment bashes specifically meant to counterprogram against corporate sponsored events, or high-profile acts in town to capitalize on an uptick in interested media outlets—is rolled into an amorphous blob called “CMJ.” Would it even be so crazy to call staying inside my apartment on a rainy Wednesday, watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and making a mint chocolate milkshake “doing CMJ”? Something to consider.   

Last night I caught sets from Bo Ningen, PCPC, and Thurston Moore. A full accounting follows. 


Bo Ningen, a Japanese band living in London, are playing a half-dozen shows in New York this week and twice just at Baby’s All Right. Expecting them to live up to their advance billing as hair-spinning kawaii demon riff-monsters right off the bat, for just a handful of people at 6 PM on Day One, was maybe a bit unreasonable. Not that their heavy-metal power riffing was egregiously half-hearted, they’re just wise to pick their spots. Visually, they are striking. Singer Taigen Kawabe’s spooky-thin frame was made more dramatic by a form-fitting floor-length black gown. He sang in high, agitated yelps but between songs his soft-spoken, British-accented English was jarringly gentle. When not playing guitar, he went through elaborate hand and arm motions that could either have been the product of some ancient dramatic tradition, or something he just thinks looks neat.  

By the end of the set they’d worked themselves into form. Kawabe spent the last few songs stalking the sparsely populated floor, adopting improbable crane poses mid-riff before soloing frantically above his head. He vamped wildly for flash photography and sly camera phone shots, while his band hacked away behind him at increasingly worrying time-signatures. It was a nice hint of their potential panache, but I suspected that energy is expended in direct proportion to the number of people they’ve got the opportunity to wow. Expect the rest of their week to be considerably more epic. 

The first few minutes of PCPC‘s debut performance could have been the first few minutes of PCPC’s debut practice. The “supergroup,” or at least “combo-group,” made from Brooklyn bands Parquet Courts and PC Worship, started their set wandering through fields of overgrown drone, never nearing a coherent sound. Then, thankfully, they snapped into higher gear, best foot forward, riffs nearly aligned. It seemed like a conscious put-on from a dedicated prankster. Courts’ singer Andrew Savage would soon claim the band’s acronym stood for “People Committing Psychotic Crimes,” seeming pretty full of shit.

Savage traded vocal responsibilities with PC Worship singer Justin Frye, and Savage has the edge in natural charisma. The songs he led were more elastic and unpredictable and Frye’s more of a sludge-punk bash ’em up, though both styes were executed with conviction. They sounded like a combination of both bands, surprising though it shouldn’t have been. Worship drummer Shannon Sigley was especially pivotal, holding it together with tight thwacks in moments where the boys busied themselves with feedback wrangling. They ended, bleating the title refrain from Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” a move that seemed very 1990s for attempting to re-deflate a classic rock cliche that’d been flat for decades. A Xerox of a Xerox of a zine about a feeling.  

Enthusiasm for the band was strong among a still-thin early crowd who definitely showed up for the headliner. The goodwill was not unconditional. When Savage asked the crowd, “Have you had enough, or are you Thurston for Moore?” there was nary a pity chuckle to be heard. 

“We’re on a tour of Northeast black metal clubs. It’s our penance tour,” said Thurston Moore, earning genuine laughs. Though he was mostly, probably, at least 90% kidding (or maybe just referencing the time he called black metal dudes “pussies of the lowest order”), the offhand comment had the ring of deeper truth. When you’re loved for more than just your music, it can go both ways. Beyond Sonic Youth’s unfuckwithable body of work, Moore was an icon of graceful aging and enlightened manhood. A feminist art guy in a true lifelong soul partnership with a creative equal. That image was probably saintly out of proportion with reality all along. But after spending several decades as Cool Noise Dad to multiple generations, it’s understandable if not entirely fair that fans might feel personally betrayed by changes in personal circumstance. We all picked Kim. 

Still, divorced from that chatter (sorry), his new band sounded fucking great. It sounded more than a little like his old band. Prominently featuring Moore’s gently creaking voice and eerily warped guitar tunings along with eternally steady SY drummer Steve Shelley, it would. The replacement parts are significant. The gut-aimed contribution of Deb Googe, longtime My Bloody Valentine bassist, was extremely formidable. Second guitarist John Sedwards stayed mostly in the background, adding to the wall of pure oomph without demanding the equal spotlight that Lee Ranaldo would have. They kept to the punchier numbers of Moore’s new album, The Best Day, playing a more direct and focused set than I’ve seen him do for a long, long time. After poorly feigning a walk-off, they even encored Moore’s 1995 solo classic “Psychic Hearts” as a straightforward pop-punk blast. 

Focusing just on the music, setting feelings aside, Thurston Moore with something to prove is no minor pleasure.