Monday, April 23, 2007

The Red Dons, The Clorox Girls, The Aversions-- Bar L'Escogriffe, April 22 2007

There have been times that I've seen bands I've been truly excited about only to discover that onstage they lack the energy to inspire a reaction in the crowd. Some just lack energy in general, but others seem to have it without knowing how to impart it. However, there are also those bands who succeed in shaking me from the first chords and the initial drum rumble, those groups I find myself dancing to before the songs have even fully started. Those are, always, the best musical surprises.

(Photo by Nate from Toronto show)

Two years ago I saw Portland OR's The Observers and experienced that rare, instantaneous rush, so when I heard that they had split up and that frontman Doug Burns and bassist Hajji were passing through town as the Red Dons, I was eager to see them again. I have the Observers LP and it's a fine record, but over time I'd forgotten what to expect from its principal members live. It took them about ten seconds to remind me: even before the lyrics came in, I was swept up by the swift current of the rhythm. The response in my feet and hips was unconscious and instant. By the time Burns dropped his guitar, grabbed the microphone, and hopped off L'Esco's miniscule stage into the crowd a few seconds later I was already awash with elation. Ten or so songs (including three Observers numbers) after that, it was over far too soon.

I've always been a sucker for a particular sound-- frantic and melodic surf-influenced rock and roll in the tradition of late '70s West coast punk rock-- and it's in the Red Dons favour that they play pretty much that. But what's important about the Red Dons is that despite playing a style that's arguably of one time and one place, they make the music immediate. You don't stand in the crowd and watch them play-- you feel what they're playing, and Burns goads spectators into response with intense eye contact, constant motion, and a long microphone cord that allows him to wander far from the stage and engage people in the back (or, in some cases, wrap around and tie them up in groups). 30 years past punk rock's year zero, none of this behaviour is novel, and I've seen bands turn the same thing into uninspired schtick, yet coming from Doug Burns, against the able backing of his band-- particularly the fierce rhythm section-- it's electrifying. The Red Dons, like the Observers before them, actually encourage a feeling of breakdown between the audience and "the show," leaving everyone in the crowd feeling like a participant. That feeling is the aspiration of many second-rate punk bands, but the rarity of its achievement in spite of so many lame attempts makes the Red Dons genuinely special.

(photo from the Aversions' myspace page)

I'd had a similar feeling about Quebec City's The Aversions the first time I saw them three years back-- from the beginning of their set of high-test Ripoff Records-style rock and roll, there seemed the promise that things would get broken and people would get hurt. I was enthused. The band played their songs about as fast as they could manage and in the process lead singer managed to damage instruments, mike stands, and himself, occasionally bowling into the crowd and knocking people over as well, and between their confrontational posture and catchy, frenetic numbers, it was hard to remain unmoved. What was already a good, tight band was made that much more engaging by the feeling that I was risking a bloody nose by remaining pressed to the front. However that's a hard feeling for a band to maintain, and the second time I saw the Aversions I was already less excited than I'd been at their previous show. Even as they threatened the club's equipment (the soundguy coming up mid-set to confiscate mic stands and disconnect unused mics), the atmosphere was less of inspired hostility and more of a band on stage working through a controversial stage show.

The problem then became that the Aversions write solid songs and play them well, but every show I've seen them play since has found me comparing them to what I expected after that first time, even as they've become more and more accomplished, practiced, and inevitably rehearsed as well. Their set at l'Esco was tight and exciting and though at first I wasn't expecting to be exciting, I found myself dancing in spite of myself by the end, enjoying their new numbers and still relishing the old tracks they've been playing for the last three years. A part of me, however, felt disappointed nonetheless. Their show is a performance, like most other bands, and their songs are great, but I keep expecting more and I know I'll never get it. Yet I'd never ask that of most other bands-- so am I holding them to an unfair standard, or is it one against which they set themselves up to be measured?

(Photo by Nate from the Toronto Show)

Two thirds of the Clorox Girls are also in the Red Dons-- they are, essentially, the same band with a different drummer minus Doug Burns. Unlike the Red Dons, there's no particular sense of yearning or desperation about their songs. Instead, they play quick pop-drenched punk rock along the lines of the Ramones or the Urinals. Lyrical subject matter includes, inevitably, sitting alone in one's room thinking about a girl/girls. When I saw them two years ago they covered the Urinals (twice?) and the Germs, and that got them points in my book, but overall they don't inspire me more than well-played classic-style punk rock usually does. It's a bad sign when the most exciting thing about a group is that they cover songs by bands you like more than them. The Clorox Girls are full of energy--at l'Esco they remained so despite having just played a full set as the Red Dons-- and a lot of fun and I respect that, but their songs don't connect with me in a way that feels like it matters. I watched about five or six songs (in under 10 minutes, naturally), bobbed my head, felt alright, and went home early. Still, I'll go back to see them the next time they come through town.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff, 1980) and Only Life (A&M, 1988)

I was born in 1977, which means that my sense of what was happening culturally in the 1980s was filtered through TV, radio, a step-sister two years older, and a postmodernist/artist uncle who, brandishing a copy of Meat Is Murder, proclaimed to me in 1987 that "alternative music is mass culture's only hope." My memory of the 80s is thus full of false cues, yet there are little details that I remembered vividly only years later: skinny men in tight jeans with dress shirts a size too large tucked in, sleeves unbuttoned. Large glasses. Women with ample crepe skirts. Unfortunate bolo-tie choices. "College rock." All of that comes back when I listen to the first and third Feelies albums.

Whatever happened to "college rock"? The words, these days, bring to mind Dave Matthews and crowds of fraternity and sorority fans more interested in beer-bongs than reading. My untrustworthy memory maintains, though, that there was for a while a period in which "college rock" was a self-contained genre of jittery, shimmery music appealing to weirdos, nerds, and intellectuals. As undesirable as that fanbase may have been for some, the centre of that venn diagram seemed to me, when I was eleven or so years old, like a social standing to aspire to. The way the music sounded made its fans seem cooler by association: erudite, capable, and sharp, it was music that made you feel as though you were in on something.

The Feelies were the archetype of that certain sound in college rock to which many bands clearly aspired and but which few achieved--probably why they sounded so familiar when I discovered them in my mid-20s, 20 years after they stopped releasing records. All over their albums are crisp telecaster guitars that stretch from breezily clean to overdriven and oozing sound then back to clean again, drums that echo-- but just enough, like bootsteps in an abandoned garage--and half-muffled bass that gulps away behind it all. The vocals are the best part--inevitably delivered a wry baritone, they sound knowing and wise and odd. My favourite track on the Feelies' debut, Crazy Rhythms, sums it up nearly worldlessly, twisting sparse nonsense lyrics around the coolest echoing guitar I've ever heard and stuttering, syncopated drums that turn abruptly surf-skimming: the song, "Raised Eyebrows," suitably cocks an eyebrow at the listener and in doing so illustrates what's so appealing about the entire genre. The music twitters and jangles, the voice scoffs, and listening to it feels like having a good conversation with some far-out character you're cool enough to know. It's interesting, and it makes you feel interesting just for listening to it.

In 1993 I was volunteering at a university radio station when David Lowrey, formely of Camper Van Beethoven (my favourite early "alternative music"), came in to be interviewed prior to a show by his new band Cracker. Being a 16-year-old CVB worshipper, I watched the interview with my nose practically pressed to the studio glass. The interviewer asked him about what he thought of the bands playing "alternative" music, a term that was by then already beaten meaningless by publicists and music press. He replied, somewhat bitterly, that he didn't understand what made bands like the Lemonheads and Soul Asylum an alternative to anything. "What's weird about Even Dando?" he asked. "Nothing!" For a while that seemed only like sour grapes, an irrelevant complaint by a guy bitter his best band had broken up before they could get famous, but as I got older I came to realise that he was right: weird music is good. It expresses the emotions otherwise left out of the range of popular song, and it makes you feel alright about being whatever nut you actually are.

Which is maybe why these Feelies records still sound so great. The title track of 1980's Crazy Rhythms fidgets convulsively around a hepped-up beat, the guitars fresh and trembling with reverb, into a ball of unrestrained awkwardness kicking free to accidental grace. "Fa Ce La," the album's other best known track, has a similar tense velocity, but the band keeps the frantic pace for nearly the whole record, also managing straight-faced covers of both the Beatles and the Stones. Only Life, recorded at the other end of the 1980s, shows its pedigree-- the drums have a little too much echo, the guitar a bit more reverb than necessary, but the songwriting is just as strong. Though the tempo is slower in spots, the songs hang together perfectly. The unmistakeably 80s-production even brings a shivering edge to a couple of tracks, notably "The Undertow," a goosebump-inducing handful of percussion, jangle, and faint drone organized around the gentlest d-beat. Sparse arrangement and carefully placed lyrics give this record a breezy springtime feeling, which with its weak spots feels like fresh grass too muddy to step on yet or blinding-bright sunlight blasting through still-leaveless trees: it has its faults, but it's hard to argue it's not beautiful. Only Life is by all accounts a more direct pop record than Crazy Rhythms. It's not nearly as jerky and odd, definitely lacks something for that, and it bears both the positive and negative marks of maturity. There's a Velvet Underground cover that's as brash as their previous covers of the Beatles and the Stones but far more smoothly delivered. The band, by this point, has learned a few social graces, and sanded down the sharpest points of awkwardness in their sound, which is to their detriment. Yet they does pop well, and still do "college rock" better than any of their imitators.

Incidentally, the reason I didn't mention the Good Earth, the second Feelies album, is that I don't have it, and since I discovered the band a few years ago I've been putting off buying it so that I can stretch my enjoyment of the aforementioned other records as long as possible. When a great band leaves in their wake only a small number of records, it just isn't sensible to rush into listening to all of them at once and burning them all out at the same time. Far better to spread them out around years, events, and memories. So I'll get around to talking about The Good Earth when I eventually get the record.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls LP (Too Pure, 2007)

It wasn't a surprise to me that the new Electrelane album didn't sound precisely like any of the Brighton UK band's previous releases-- with each album they've made, Electrelane has managed to do something different, veering in and out of kraut-influenced instrumental drones, choral arrangements, driving postpunk, surf-rock, and folk instrospection. The breadth of the band's inspiration, under the capable direction of guitarist/farfisist/pianist and singer Verity Susman, is massive, but at no point does it seem tinged with bullshit or self-satisfaction. Even when they're putting old poems to music, occasionally in languages other than English, or playing odes to Sapphic modernism, Electrelane sound as humble as they are inventive.

They're a band that has sounded like a lot of things, but until now Electrelane have consistently retained a certain emotional distance from the listener, veiling feelings in oblique lyrics and inaccessible sounds. Thus, it's a surprise to discover that No Shouts, No Calls is an unqualifiedly vulnerable album. It's charming, it's tender, it's plaintive, and melancholic, and like a multi-layer cake all the pieces of it are held together by seams of sweet melody. Time may prove me wrong, but I think I can safely say that this album-- especially with a ship on its cover and a song ostensibly about sailing-- is the closest thing Electrelane will ever make to a Beach Boys record.

For all its pop, though, the album is sad one. The lyrics deal largely with mournful recollections of a failed relationship, clearly one which the speaker wishes had continued longer. No Shouts, No Calls is held together as much with longing as with melody-- from beginning to end, it reads like a series of letters pleading for a loved one's return. Yet the prevailing tone is of peaceful resignation, rather than the emotional frenzy of most break-up records. The speaker's attitude toward her lost love is respect and acceptance: the storm she speaks of in "At Sea" is internal, and the songs sound less like a communication between two people than one voice sorting through its feelings with itself. If these songs are letters, then they're not necessarily intended to be sent-- or maybe they are? The speaker seems no more sure than the listener of that.

In that indecision appears the vulnerability that's so striking for an Electrelane record. Where previous records seem only to express emotions that have been throroughly interrogated, songs like "To The East" and "Cut and Run" are surprisingly uncertain and raw. The austerity of 2005's Axes is totally absent here-- this record is warm in all the places its predecessor was grim and cold, and though at times it shimmers dreamily, it does so not with Axes' detachment, but instead with all too much attachment.

As usual, the instruments are played masterfully. Susman and guitarist Mia Clarke are confident enough to paint guitar lines only where needed, playing at full bore occasionally but just as willing to hold back and allow the rest of the song to assert itself. Bassist Roz Murray is subtle but solid: her lines stick out only sometimes, but a closer listen reveals how crucial they are to the whole of the melody in nearly every song. Key to the band's overall sound, drummer Emma Gaze has reined in some of the intensity of her style, limiting the heavy-hitting noise in favour of more minimalist beats that bring attention to the spaces between themselves as much as to the sound of drums and cymbals. While Gaze's fierce and insistent drumming has often been my favourite part of previous records, she proves here that she can make restraint work as well, especially to clear a path upon which other instruments may travel easily. The result is a record largely about hesitation played with absolute confidence: the band remains on top of their game.

Like Axes, No Shouts, No Calls makes sense mostly as a complete album and is intended to be listened to as such. Certain instrumental tracks ("Five" and "Between the Wolf and the Dog") don't make as much sense in the absence of their interaction with previous and following tracks. That doesn't make the record weak, but it does suggest an indivisibility that may be off-putting to some listeners. It hasn't been to me-- this has been my favourite release of the year so far.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sicko: You Can Feel The Love In This Room (eMpTy Records, 1994)

May 1995: I was about to finish grade 12-- there was less than a month to go, I had good enough grades that I wouldn't have to write final exams, and that left only one year before I'd never have to be in high school again. I was seventeen. I had access to a car, I had no curfew, I had a new girlfriend, and my parents had gone away for two weeks: soon I would be an adult, for real. It was warm enough that I could leave my windows open over night and wake up to the sound of birds and the smell of dew in the morning before school. When I drove to school, I did so with my arm out the open window and You Can Feel The Love In This Room on the tapedeck, because that's what this album sounds like, and that's what it's meant for.

By spring of 1995, the Offspring had been big for nearly a year, Green Day were huge, and NOFX was close behind, but pop punk hadn't quite yet lost all credibility. It's true that earlier that year I'd been roughed up in the hall at school by a couple of skate-jocks wearing NOFX t-shirts who called me a faggot because I had a mohawk and tattered clothes, but by and large pop punk still felt like it belonged to the socially inept, the geeks, and the earnest youth. All of which was me.

Enter Sicko, a band that masterfully illustrated the basic principle from which all pop punk extends: if melody and harmony are good things, then increasing the speed of the music that contains them should result in a higher density of melody and harmony packed into each minute, and amplifying the music to the point of distortion should improve the volume of melody and harmony the listener may absorb.

Proceeding from this principle, behold You Can Feel The Love In This Room, which my then-mohawked friend Neill called (albeit reverently) "the most candy-assed record I've ever heard." The melodies on this record-- sung in nerdy voices hoarse and breaking-- indeed will, as Neill went on to warn me, rot your teeth. The dumb songs really are dumb and worth skipping (songs about Star Trek, Carl Sagan, and wisdom teeth did not do it for me then and do not do it for me now), but the good songs consistently hit the ball out of the park. Album opener "Where I Live" is an adrenalized nod to hesitation and anxiety that to this day thrills me with its velocity and grit. It joins songs elsewhere on the record about failure, nostalgia, death to maintain an undercurrent of melancholy and dread by whose contrast the sunny high-test pop is given vivid depth and irony. Throughout the pace remains high, the guitars propulsive and distorted, and tone plaintive. On my vinyl LP the production is such that it sounds just a little distance away, as though there's the distance of a summer's breeze between me and the music. That's the way I like it.

The record ends with an earnest cover of the Indigo Girls' "Closer To Fine," which, though played several times faster and a hundred times louder than the original, is perfectly respectful. It's a good song to begin with, Sicko forces us to admit, but it sounds a lot better if you can shout along with it while keeping rhythm on a steering wheel with your bass-drum foot on the gas, speeding forward into the future.

Ponys / Black Lips / Sunday Sinners, Sala Rossa Montreal, March 26 2007

Riddle me this: how is it that the Sunday Sinners could make one of the best albums to come out of the city of Montreal last year (Sweet Jam EP, Sonic's Chicken Shrimp)-- a soulful, tuneful, and urgent seven songs swinging between sweet jangle and delicious noise-- yet they still haven't figured out how to play live? They've always been an awkward band on a stage-- frontwoman Jenna, for her vast talent and vocal range, is stiff and nervous, as is Annie, Jenna's melodic counterpoint on Farfisa, and the rest of the band simply fumbles around them. When I saw the Sinners play their first show in winter of 2004, I figured they were just starting out and would soon relax-- they clearly had talent and potential by the bucket and would realize it before long. But they've been playing for three years and their live set has hardly improved. Missy, their original guitarist, is gone, and they've replaced her with a guy who doesn't seem to be able to tell when he's not playing in key. All members of the band are riddled with hesitation, as though each waiting for cues from the others that never come. The scene is puzzling-- their songs are stirring and masterful, and on record they sound phenomenal. Why can't they do it live?

I arrived early to the Ponys/Black Lips show to make sure I caught the Sunday Sinners, but three songs in I wished I'd taken the long route over. Three songs after that I was wishing the set would end as soon as possible, for everyone's dignity. When the merciful end came, I could hear the same question all through the audience: What the hell? We'd all heard the record, we all came expecting something on par with Irma Thomas fronting the Velvet Underground. Instead we held our ears surreptitiously, trying to keep the band from seeing, ashamed for them that we knew what they could do but weren't doing. It was a shame.

What a relief when Atlanta's Black Lips tumbled onstage. As they set up my pal Greg said, "If this band doesn't immediately rock my ass off, I'm out of here." They didn't look like much-- a wee longhair in Crue t-shirt and toque on guitar, a skinny guy with short hair in a tie-die shirt on bass, an Eric Bogosian lookalike in a white t-shirt on second guitar, and a kid on drums who wearing a sideways camo hat featuring a dollar-sign in rhinestones. Someone had told me they played in suits and ties in deference to their Nuggets-era sound; instead they looked like a group of kids you'd see in a bus stop near a high school smoking a joint the size of a parsnip. Greg nudged me and pointed at the guy in white. "Does the guitarist on the left have gold fronts?" he asked in disbelief. After careful surveillance we determined that the most normal looking guy in the group did, in fact, have a top row of gold teeth. Huh.

Without preamble they hit the first beat and the room instantly jolted to attention. I'd heard their record and I knew what to expect-- old-school garage rock reminiscent of the Seeds or the Count Five or the early Stones, looser and lower-fi, with an edge of darkness and menace to the lyrics. Most garage rock is repetive and predictable, but Let It Bloom is a solid record that weathers repeated listening well. However, onstage the band was a different beast entirely-- each member played differently with a different energy, all singing at various times. The longhaired guitarist and shorthaired hippie bassist moved around, the drummer swung his head and neck wildly about as he played, and the gold-fronted second guitarist stayed mostly fused in place with his eyes inebriatedly half-lidded, mouth half-open, and a long trail of drool hanging from his chin down his chest. This he disturbed occasionally by spastically waggling his head like a wet dog, always with the same look of total stupefaction in the visible parts of his eyes. His look was such that he surprised me every time he actually played a guitar line, but he did that frequently and well.

What sets the Black Lips apart from a lot of other lo-fi garage bands is that they know how to write songs with hooks, which do things you don't expect and pique your curiosity and hold your interest. Through a brief set nonetheless packed full of short songs, it was clear how much songwriting talent was buried beneath the fuzzy distortion. Where other garage bands play uninspired 12-bar blues, aping the Sonics mimicking Chuck Berry, the Black Lips actually write songs that sound new while sounding old. They're catchy, and while they look like they must consume bull-doses of liquor and dope, they have a tonne of energy that they pass ably over to the audience. However long they had played, their set would still have been over too soon-- I was hooked and would happily have listened all night.

Finally the Ponys came on. Having seen them on the Laced With Romance tour in the summer of 2004 I knew what to expect-- not a lot of movement onstage, but solid songs played loud and well. They too are a weird looking band (as the band that wrote "10 Fingers, 11 Toes" should be)-- fronted by a hulking fellow with terrible posture who lurches over his guitar like a praying mantis, their bassist looks like a shy bird and their androgenous drummer clearly takes his fashion tips from Richard Hell circa-1975. They sound weird too, at least weirder than the Black Lips, but not so weird that you can't follow them. After all, they're a rock band first, an arty band second, and as a rock band they're sturdy and catchy. They played only a couple of old songs off the first album, avoided my favourite song from their second ("Get Black"), and encored with "I Wanna Fuck You" off of their first single. The Tom Verlaine worship of the first record has developed somewhat into a fuller sound with smoother lines and fewer angles, but they still held my attention for the duration of their set despite playing so loud that they left my ears ringing in spite of my earplugs.

I'd gladly see either of the last two bands again. As for the Sunday Sinners, I can only wonder when they're going to live up to their very obvious potential?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mika Miko - C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. LP (Kill Rock Stars, 2006)

For the past six or seven years there has been wave after wave of bands labelled "dance punk" by reviewers or publicists, but for the vast majority of those groups the title was inappropriate. Bands like The Rapture, !!!, Q And Not U, and Bloc Party play music you could dance to, usually with live drums and guitar, but none play punk rock or anything approaching it. Virtually none of the "dance-punk" bands do or have, until the appearance of LA's Mika Miko.

I could waste a lot of space quibbling about what defines a band as punk rock, but it's hard to argue that certain elements (both sonic and behavioural) remain hallmarks of the genre. Mika Miko covers them all-- soundwise, they play spastic, energetic rock and roll drawing strongly from the glorious late-70s LA punk sound (capably carrying the mantle of such giants as The Germs, early Black Flag, The Urinals, Red Cross, and the Middle Class), with enough of the influence of danceable European postpunkers the Slits and Liliput that their record sounds like an instant punker dance party. Yet even their nods to disco-inflected No Wave are a little off-- Mika Miko owes more to the good-time punk-funk of the Big Boys than the forced cool of James Chance and Liquid Liquid. Either of the two sets of dorky shouted vocals could be paying tribute to the late Randy "Biscuit" Turner, but whether they are or not makes no difference: there's nearly as much "Fun Fun Fun" on this record as in the Big Boys catalogue. The result is thrilling-- this record surges forward with the unironic vigour of old hardcore while swinging enough to put a shake to even the tightest ass.

What really makes Mika Miko a punk band, however, is that they believe in doing it themselves, volunteering at LA's DIY art-and-music venue The Smell and championing small community venues and house-shows when they're on tour. And they're young, which is maybe what's been lacking from the various troupes of bored-eyed art-school haircut bands heretofore called "dance-punk." It's unfair, but young people tend to do punk rock better if only because they're often a lot less worried about how silly they'll look if they reveal that they care enthusiastically about anything, be it for political causes or just having fun. The five women in Mika Miko are barely out of high school and, according to their website, mostly still live with their parents.

Whatever drives the band drives them hard. Their sound is bracing and and vivacious, rollicking between out-and-out hardcore and dancy rock numbers that sound like they could inspire the kind of party at which people try to hang from the ceiling and fail, leaving in their swath wrecked halls and property damage. Alright!

Monday, April 02, 2007

"Crows" by Sexy, Por Vida LP (2006)

Download track here, while it lasts.

The most appealing thing about sloppy music is that it imparts emotion directly, bypassing the impulse to do so sensibly (or in some cases listenably). Sloppy music is good precisely because it feels good when it sounds like it shouldn't work. The listener may not be able to make out the individual instruments, or the words, vocal melody, or even the rhythm, but is nonetheless thrilled by something other than the success of those individual elements. It feels good-- it quickens your step and makes your blood race, even as it constantly reminds you that it isn't making you any smarter.

Oakland's Sexy, however, do sound like smart guys (and smartasses, though often the two are inextricable), but they also sound like they've got personal problems and probably drinking problems as well. What you can hear of the lyrics are clever, plaintive, snotty, and occasionally suicidal. But you can't really hear the lyrics most of the time-- the entirety of Por Vida is several glorious slight steps above white noise. The band plays what might be diminutively described as East Bay pop punk-- certainly descendent of the punk-party-positivity of Operation Ivy, the melodic malaise of Jawbreaker, and the energetic earnestness of Crimpshrine ("Pink Elephants," another track on Por Vida, even includes a whistle solo that outdoes Crimpshrine's "Butterflies").

While the music is frenetic and loud and hurtles forward at a high tempo, what marks it is the fact that each individual part of it sounds as though it could have been made with cardboard boxes and broken glass. Were they not so well-played, the cymbals and drums could easily be the sound of smashed bottles and boots stomping on boxes. If you can imagine cardboard being torn musically, that's what the guitars sound like; the bass is like that too, except lower. The only non-recyclable part of the deluge is singer/guitarist Ashley's frenzied yelp occasionally rising above the din to cheerily explain things like, "The only way I can explain that you're gone is that I'm dead to the world."

It sounds like garbage, but it's not-- in spite of the terrific noise, every member of Sexy is very good at what they do. The music is horridly recorded, sure, and the instruments are no doubt cheap, but the band plays tightly and fervently. Guitarist Ashley is a more accomplished player than most punk rock guitarists, playing careful high-speed parts with strained grace. He's well aware of how the guitar sounds and seems to treat it less as an instrument and more as an item that makes a loud noise, but even that he does distinctly-- I'm particularly fond of the little guitar barks he emits following the brief drumroll-rests in the chorus to signify that the music will continue. There's natural and palpable talent under there if you pick the scab of the recording far enough away to hear it. As such, it's unfair to call this "sloppy"-- the only thing truly sloppy about this song (or the rest of the album) is the recording. Yet the poor recording is part of what's great about this track. Having all instruments and vocals striking so directly and consistently into the red gives the song the adrenalized dizziness of pure energy. It feels more than it sounds, and the feeling it communicates is exhiliration.

Lyrically it's a broken-heart song, but from the sample at the beginning of a smarmy voice bleating The Smiths, it's clearly one that deliberately eschews the self-absorbed preciousness of popular songs of love and loss in favour of the profanity and hysteria of real heartache. Ironically, the song's subject matter is exponentially self-indulgent than anything Morrissey could weep up. The snatches of lyrics that fight through the bedlam of the music are cartoonishly despondent (lines like "I'm stuck in this world where nobody loves me, nobody wants me, and nobody holds me" have kin in other tracks on the album -- "All I want is someone to love me. Til death. Til death" in "Xmas Song" or the point in "Valentine's Day" at which Ashley suggests, "I'll put my head in the oven"), but instead of wallowing in it the band is sweating the misery out. Beneath the noise, the song's melody is clean and pure and even joyful, kicked forward by the frantic tempo.

Revelling in unintelligibility, the song races along gathering mass and speed like a filthy snowball bounding down a ski hill full of mud and sticks and discarded mitt-warmers and hot-chocolate cups, headed for the cheerful unsuspecting lovers enjoying their apres-ski at the lodge. Sexy is angry about love and bent on destruction, whether for themselves, their instruments, the venues they're playing, or their listeners ears. It sounds like fun.