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Petite League teach old dog "New Tricks" in music video premiere

I’m not usually one to quote other critics here but since I’m feeling a little lazy, and because there’s some provocative opinions on the latest album by Petite League out there, I’ll just share a couple quick ones here. Like the quote from the Americana Highways writer who says there’s no hyperbole at all in calling Joyrider “a lo-fi Pet Sounds” or prematurely naming it “the best album of the year” because “it’s just hard to image [sic] something topping this.” Congrats with that pull quote gentlemen! And over at The Family Reviews, in describing the overall vibe of the album, another writer observed that “the dominant force on this album [is being] blissful in the moment even with the knowledge that when the high wears off the hangover is going to be psychically shattering.” Which sounds a lot like Brian Wilson while making Pet Sounds so I think we have a running theme here. 

When it comes to the song “New Tricks” off the album and it’s newly released music video, Petite League demonstrate their considerable talent for making loneliness and regret and daydreams and succeeding-against-all-the-odds sound transcendent in a low-key/lo-fi kinda way, luxuriating in sharp, sweet suffering like teasing a loose tooth with your tongue. And while I can’t help but think of Rob Gordon at the beginning of High Fidelity when he wonders aloud whether the music or the misery came first, finally you gotta say “who cares!” when you can simply bask in the winsome strains of Petite League and the heart-rending tale of an old dog trying to learn “new tricks" in the parallel realms of romance and roulette.

Now that I think about it, this song’s scrappy shaggy-dog story is straight out of a hardcore country song--talk about a genre that knows how to confront everyday forms of sadness or at least it once did--about a gambler who definitely does not know when to hold ‘em or when to fold 'em as evidenced by all-night booze and baccarat filled bender at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City spent “betting it all on the wrong dog” and returning dejectedly on the 4AM bus back to the city smelling like ashtray butts and “the bottle I was sleeping in” and then showing up on your doorstep unannounced declaring “I’ve made a terrible mistake please consider loving me like you once did” and boy does this kind of stuff pull at your heartstrings, especially given the dogged optimism of the narrator holding out hope for “one more lucky strike / one more lucky hand / one more lucky night” a lot like the tragic protagonist of nearly every movie ever made about doomed dreamers and gamblers.

And when you’re this hard up you can sometimes find a perverse succor in being a sucker, that is, in giving yourself so entirely over to something or someone so that no matter how hopeless the reality of it you at least manage to escape yourself--like our narrator drawn to pretty faces that “always drinks for free...like sugar and wine in my veins,” providing comfort to “a broken, broken man,” not unlike “the comforting heat from the warmth of a gun” or some other metaphor about being inextricably-drawn-to-what’s-worst-for-you in a way that's “hard to explain and harder to change” but hey just raise your hand if you haven’t been there before. (Yeah, I thought so!) Then if you dress up the quasi-story-song with gently shimmering Andy Summers guitar chording and bounding basslines and in-the-pocket timekeeping (courtesy of drummer Henry Schoonmaker) and blankly blissful vocals (courtesy of songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Gillis Cook) all wrapped up in the warm glow of the record's lo-fi production, and you’re likely to experience a slowly spreading sense of deep contentment whatever your current circumstances in life.

And speaking of being bathed in a warm glow, the music video only amplifies this sense of womb-like comfort and warmth with the band’s members ensconced in colorful mall-walker windbreakers kind of like oversized Members Only jackets as they wander around and lounge on a city rooftop decorated with pin-striped partitions and it certainly looks like a pleasant way to spend a day--especially with all the magic tricks and money flaunting and dice playing happening up there. This warm nostalgic aesthetic is only heightened by the video being filmed on Super 8 and 16mm film by band ally and video director KD Sampaio (Good Relation Records) with the resulting visual full of artifacts and vertical hold issues evoking the hazy, sentimental vibe of unearthed home movies discovered in the attic. 

And so the moral of the story may be "why not bet all your chips and shoot for the big jackpot, perhaps followed by a joyride in the Mojave Desert, because what else have you got to lose?" or at least that's my takeaway. At worst, you’ll experience a psychically-shattering hangover and then write a great song about it like this one. (Jason Lee)





Single premiere: Nihiloceros preps for imminent self-destruction with "Dirty Homes"

It’s one thing to know that the end will come one day (easy enough to ignore) but it’s another to know when that day will come (not so easy to ignore). The new single put out today by Brooklyn-based three-piece Nihiloceros (“Dirty Homes”) is based around the latter condition which Dr. Nessa Coyle, co-editor of The Nature of Suffering and The Oxford Textbook of Palliative Care Nursing, both of which make for excellent beach reads, has termed the “existential slap” i.e. the very moment where a soon-to-arrive demise is realized and internalized alongside the attendant trauma likely to follow a time-stamped death sentence.

Despite being something best-avoided in real life, the “existential slap” is a popular plot device in the movies like in all those ticking-clock-countdown-to-a-life-or-death-deadline type films, even if many of them cop out and allow the hero to live at the last minute. Existential slap movies also tap into our curiosity of how we’d react if we learned we’ve got only one year or maybe just 24 hours left to live, just like Ethan Hawke in that movie from a few years ago called (*ahem*) 24 Hours To Live. But my personal fave in this genre is Miracle Mile, an obscure 1988 film that’s grown a cult following over the years due to what Black Mirror sicko-satirist Charlie Brooker once labelled “the biggest lurch of tone” of any movie ever.  

Basically (warning: skip this paragraph if you hate tangents and/or spoilers) the movie starts off as a quirky “meet cute” rom-com that’s just about as Totally ‘80s as they come. And then it ends with our nerdy-adorable couple slowly sinking into the La Brea Tar Pits in a crashed helicopter as nuclear bombs rain down on Los Angeles (a surprisingly tender scene believe it or not). But most of the movie revolves around the existential bitchslap that arrives about 30 minutes in when Anthony Edwards first finds out (before anyone else) that nuclear armageddon is on its way in about an hour or so, and all the batshit crazy shit that transpires as a result.

But hey we’re here to talk about music, right? (thanks for the reminder!) While not on the same level as movies there are at least a few well-known albums (concept albums, natch) that deal with this very same theme—notable examples being Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction, the Del/Dan/Kid underground hip hop classic Deltron 3030, and of course David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars which opens with the conceit of being down to “five years left to cry in” before the end.

But a “concept EP” that takes the existential slap as its central conceit, well this is breaking new ground. And Nihiloceros have done just that with Self Destroy (released digitally on 9/17 and then physically on 10/1 from Totally Real Records) perhaps the world’s first “existential slap EP” (make that “ESEP”) and there’s no bisexual rock aliens falling to Earth to spread moorage daydreams before the inevitable rock ’n’ roll suicide in the Nihiloceros's rendition. Instead, we have a six-song self-described meditation on “the imminent evolutionary unraveling of the human condition and the absurdity of the end of the world” which obviously should make for good beach listening.

And guess what “Dirty Homes” is the lead-off track on the EP so we got a sneak preview now of how it all begins. Eschewing any “meet cute” gambits, the song instead charges into your earholes with a needle drop straight into a rush of Superchunky distorted intertwining bass and guitar and propulsive beating of skins (Chris Gilroy on the skins as well as production/engineering/mixing duties, whereas Siberian transplant German Sent handles current live drumming duties, got it?) and an eerie high-register melody. Meanwhile, right off the bat the narrator faces “youth erod[ing]” and “ages torn down” and the impending demise of humanity (difficult to imagine, no?) and just like Anthony Edwards in the phone booth scene above, humanity’s first reaction is flat out denial. When we talked the other day guitarist/lyricist Mike Borchardt called the song a “fairy tale vs. reality” type fableand that seems about right because the cognitive dissonance is palpable in both the lyrics and music.

Contrasting the titular “dirty homes” with pristine “white cathedrals” it seems humanity may have miscalculated in not taking better care of the places where we actually live (the dirty homes in question) instead tending to ritual spaces where we imagine our ideal selves as looked after by a beneficent god (this could be any type of “god” or "gods" take your pick). As further described in the lyrics through snatches of arresting imagery, we’ve travelled to the point of no return on “the yellow bricks [that] lead to Rome” and well now I’m picturing Dorothy hooking up with Caligula and bringing the whole gang along to a gladiator match (you know the Cowardly Lion is freaking the fuck out) followed by an imperial orgy (every tried to have sex with a scarecrow?) which all ends in chaos of course. 

Likewise on the musical side of the things the song swings between extremes—the bouyant melodies of the verses masking apocalyptical imagery of locked jaws and rusted suns and “cities built on your cries” that is until the song gets stuck in its own groove with our narrator repeating “YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU!” in the chorus in an echo of the egotism and individualism and freedom-to-be-stupid-but-fully-satiated-at-all-times-at-all-costs that got us into this end times mess in the first place. Then later there’s a breakdown section (talk about literal!) and finally an outro that opens with a nice crunchy ’n’ catchy guitar solo that soon unravels into swelling sonic murk and doomsday countdown-clock rhythms before glitching out and ending on a bass and guitar single-note that hisses and crackles like a burnt out element. 

And if this all sounds a little on the dismal side it’s not so much really because much like Miracle Mile the songs on Self Destroy are the musical equivalent of action set pieces, adrenalized and strangly exhilarated by impending doom (thought don’t get me wrong “the shit goes down”) and plus the band creates such a powerful slab-of-sound that you’ll likely be mesmerized anyway—at times I still can’t tell which parts are bass or guitar, nevermind theremin or effects-laden Rhodes piano—which could be down in part to bassist/co-vocalist Alex Hoffman designing a custom line of pedals for the record (!) that’ll be available to the buying public at some point (plus an entire line of tie-in hot sauces, I shit you not) so check out “Dirty Homes” for now and then clean up your pig-sty why don'tcha and then get ready to blast off when Self Destroy drops because, well, it’s gonna be “a thrill ride into oblivion” (potential pull quote!) and you may as well sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds as it goes down. (Jason Lee)





Colatura release "King Kalm" and invite you for a ride

There was once a band called the Ramones who wrote a song about wanting to be sedated but the song itself sounded anything but sedated because, well, those guys spent a lot of time in a van together and, well, just imagine spending half your life trapped in a van with Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey (and whoever happened to be the drummer at the time) and you know that shit was far from sedate.

Based on the new single and video released today by New York City band Colatura (the song in question being “King Kalm” which also happens to be about wanting to be sedated) I actually don’t think I’d mind riding around in a van with Digo, Jennica, Meredith, and Alex especially if they brought along their gorilla suit, skateboard, and prescription meds and played more songs like this one on the van’s tape deck or 8-track player featuring chiming swirly guitars and synths swells and gently insistent bass/drums all topped off with gossamer overlapping airy vocals to the point where if this was 1987 or even 1993 it’d probably get you signed to Sarah Records on the spot and it would definitely make you feel sedated.

However, upon further inspection, I should mention that should the band Colatura drive up next to you in a sketchy looking van and offer you a ride to your destination along with some unwrapped candy then you may want to think twice because once you dig under the surface of “King Khan” (lyrics here) you’ll find it’s actually a song about battling anxiety and loss and regret and finding that the only way to do so is through some combination of denial, self-harm (if scab picking counts that is) and (wait for it...) drugs. So while your trip in the van probably won't be stressful on the level of Dee Dee pulling a big Bowie knife on Johnny after the latter called his girlfriend a skank, instead you may be faced with four minds full of worry (and, who knows, possibly some passive-aggressiveness followed by a long icy silence) so maybe you’re better off just walking. But you can at least put their beautiful new song on your headphones. (Jason Lee)





J Bambii "Hermit 9"

J Bambii has released a new single and video called "Hermit 9". The single, which was mixed and mastered by SolarFive, finds J Bambii dominating a J Dilla beat and making her way around New York City.





Pom Pom Squad's Death of a Cheerleader and the Endless Summer

Now that the calendar reads "August" we've officially entered the dog days of summer which begs the questions of why summer is always so fleeting and what does it all reeeeally mean maaan so to help in considering the larger significance of summer in our daily lives it would probably help to name an Official Musical Statement of the Summerfor the year 2021 and herein we officially bestow this honour upon Pom Pom Squad’s inaugural full-length release Death of a Cheerleader (City Slang Records) which is not only a great record that happened to be released the first week of summer but it's also a record that powerfully evokes summer itself.

On Death of a Cheerleader Pom Pom Squad take elements of classic girl group R&B and balladry and combine them with power pop and post-punk and hints of psychedelia and emo (imagine a mashup of the Shirelles and the Pleasure Seekers and the Savage Rose and Cheap Trick and Joan Jett and Elastica and the Muffs and Rainer Maria and and Hot Sundae and Sleater-Kinney but that’s a vast oversimplification) which are well-chosen ingredients for a summer album that’s equally sweet as candy and gritty as sand. Against this musical backdrop squad leader Mia Berrin (alongside bassist Mari Alé Figeman, drummer Shelby Keller, and co-guitarist Alex Mercuri) paints a vivid picture of endorphin-rushing desire and brash F.U. bravado beset by waves of self-doubt and lovelorn ache. If this record were a book instead of a record it’d make a great beach something like the musical equivalent of a pulpy novel about forbidden love and crushing heartbreak and a voyage of self-discovery that hits harder than you'd expected cuz yeah we see those little puddles of mud next to your beach towel.

Plus there's something about summer's odd mashup of physical immediacy, romantic longing, and built-in nostalgia that this album taps into in a major way making it a worthy entry into the summer song canon, a musical repertoir notable for oscillating wildly between extremes of heedless abandon and pleasure seeking versus heedful self-reflection and lamentations hoping for something better—especially when it comes to the subject of summer flings, breif encounters that paradoxically linger in the memory forever—the escapism of having “Fun, Fun, Fun” (“Fun”) forever haunted by mournful Pet Sounds and that’s how this album hits imho. 

Death of A Cheerleader opens with “Soundcheck” which is something like the music you’d hear in a movie when the picture goes all wobbly and the protagonist get sucked into a daydream or fantasy or past recollection—here represented by a vortex of swirling vibraphone tones and a static-y radio signals beaming a spectral distorted voice from a distant star—thus setting the reflective and hyperreal tone for the rest of the album. After passing through this sonic portal we’re thrust straight into the sugary headrush of “Head Cheerleader” with its interrelated admissions that “I’m going to marry the scariest girl on the cheerleading team” and that “my worst decisions are the ones I like best” coyly delivered with a hint of Valley Girl uptalk—the exhilaration and vulnerability of the lyrics mirrored in a musical arrangement that audibly squirms with anticipation (“I’m squirming out of my skin”) and buzzes with nervous butterflies (“stay away from girls like me”).

The specters of Roy Orbison and Phil Spector haunt the next number, “Crying”, which shares a title and a theme with Orbison’s “Crying” but whose opening line (“it hits me and it feels like a kiss”) paraphrases Phil's most notorious song (“He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” was written by Gerry Goffen and Carole King and recorded by the Crystals with Spector producing and arranging) but with Mia belting the song out Ronnie Spector style which complicates an already complicated dynamic despite the relative straight-forward simplicity of the lyrics—a pleasure/pain dialectic further amplified by Sarah Tudzin’s crucial role in co-producing/co-arranging/mastering/mixing the album which on this song results in a Spector-worthy Wall of Sound with glissing violins and angelically strummed harps creating an otherworldly tableau of tears streaking down the singer's cheeks as Berrin soars and sobs over the chorus and really this song is not fooling around (Tudzin is the lead hottie in Illuminati Hotties in addition to being a prolific and distinctive producer-engineer). 

Continuing down this intertextually referential path “Second That” reworks the titular phrase of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ soul music staple “I Second That Emotion” but re-imagined as internal dialogue more than romantic entreaty (“I saw someone you were with in the summer / and now I wanna be just like them”) with a fittingly minimalistic arrangement matched to the song's sense of isolation. Next up is “Cake” which is more punk rock confrontational and chaotic with the half-sung, half-spoken vocals eventually splitting into two parts Sybil-style between an upper register and a menacing low growl reflecting the multi-layer cake mix of assuredness and insecurity in the lyrics.

 

The identity play continues on the Joan Jett-inflected cover of “Crimson and Clover” and then on “Lux” where Mia provides an inner voice (“How do you expect me to figure myself out / when I cannot tell the difference between good and bad attention”) for Lux Lisbon, the mysterious lead protagonist of The Virgin Suicides, that's absent from both the book and the movie and in the song Lux redirecting her fury from inward to outward in a galvanizing ninety-nine second rave-up (just a few songs on Cheerleader crack the three-minute mark and just barely at that) followed by another crimson-themed song “Red With Love” that's flush with unflinching desire and defiance (“I need you closer and you’re not even an inch away”) and then next comes a soul-baring/spine-chilling ballad called “Forever” that marries a mournful string choir to an octave-jumping vocal and a “Be My Babybeat.

 

In its final act Death of a Cheerleader moves from the frenetic “Shame Reactions” wherein Ms. Berrin alludes for the first time to the album’s title and and its implication of murderous desire (“Is there a way for me to kill the girl I wish I were?”) followed by the sodden rebuke/pledge of devotion of “Drunk Voicemail” and the sign of resignation “This Couldn’t Happen” and the spent emotional afterglow of “Be Good” reprising the flashback vibraphone theme of the opening “Soundcheck” as if we’ve woking up from the album-long dream/flashback/fantasy before concluding with the short backmasked coda of “Thank You and Goodnight.”

In (almost) closing it’s worth noting that the title of Death of a Cheerleader is taken from a 1994 NBC-TV movie (originally titled “A Friend To Die For” but wisely renamed upon its many reairings on Lifetime and in that same network’s 2019 remake) which follows the trials and travails of a geeky-cute but deeply insecure girl-next-door type (portrayed by Kellie Martin who was known at the time for playing the similarly characterized albeit less murderous “Becca” on ABC’s Life Goes On) entering her sophomore year in high school who totally loses her marbles when she gets rejected by the yearbook committee and fails her cheerleading tryout on the same damn day. 

And so naturally she uses the rather large and sharp knife her older vegetarian sister keeps in the car for cutting up cucumbers as a makeshift murder weapon to dispose of the Heather Chandler-esque mean girl cheerleader who gives her shit (played by Tori Spelling aka “Donna” from Beverly Hills 90210) a crime of passion provoked in part by the high school’s principle who insists at a pep rally that secon best equals total failure and also most likely more than a touch of dissociative identity disorder which further manifests itself when the Homicidal Girl Next Door briefy takes over Mean Girl’s social standing after the murder while still remaining a Nice Girl and it’s like she’s a hybrid of Heather Duke and Heather McNamara but then finally the gnawing sense of guilt and a local priest’s sermon gets the better of her and she confesses and goes to trail with many upper-middle-class Santa Mira townies in attendance (the setting being a clever touch given that Santa Mira itself is an illusory town—the fictional setting for films ranging from the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the Sharknado franchise g*d help us) who come to the difficult realization that they themselves helped create this situation through their materialism and aspirationalism resulting in a mere second degree murder conviction and really I gotta say it’s the happiest ending that a cheerleader slayer could hope for especially one in a Lifetime movie.



Anyway, the movie is really more of a trenchant examination of late capitalism and social class in America and their mental health impacts than it needed to be for a pulpy TV movie, but maybe this unexpected resonance had something to do with making Death of a Cheerleader the most watched TV movie of 1994 because surely it wasn't that viewers wanting to see Donna from 90210 stabbed to death by a goody-goody character from another show because you just know Americans aren't sick that way as a nation. And perhaps it’s maybe no wonder either that Mia Berrin and her Pom Pom Squaders would also identify with the TV movie because in certain respects it's deeply queer and plus it addresses double consciousness which is an ontological state familiar to individuals and social formations where the individual or social formation in question is effectively denied membership in the ruling class's hegemonic social world, a world they must nonetheless interact with on a daily basis—thus necessitating the development of a kind of adaptive split personality in order to cope with the unreal reality of being forced to live between two worlds, between two distinct and segregated realities.

Along these lines, Mia Berrin has explained elsewhere how her choice to take on the persona of the badass rule-breaking cheerleader was based in part on the overwhelming whiteness of indie rock subculture and how it can make a Queer Jewish-Puerto Rican Woman of Color feel more than a little out of place—a state of affairs that is (arguably) slowly improving thanks to bands like Pom Pom Squad—not to mention the Mean Girls and Mean Boys Ms. Berrin was forced to deal with in high school especially before she transferred to a private school (New York City’s public school system is one of the most segregated in the nation) and here it’s worth pointing out that Mia’s father happens to be MC Serch (Michael Berrin) who himself happens to be one of the most respected “white” (Jewish more specifically) emcees in hip hip history lauded for his work with 3rd Bass but who also helped bring the talents of major figures like Nas and Zev Love X (better known later as MF Doom (RIP)) to a bigger audience at a crucial point in both their careers and then standing back afterwards. 

And what does all this have to do with summer songs? Hmm. Well maybe this is reach but I’ll take a stab at it anyway (heh heh) because from the discussion above summer is basically the most “Other” of all the seasons—with summer viewed as a temporary reprieve from the more mundane day-to-day existence of fall, winter, and spring with summer desired and fantasised about but also straight-up exoticized. And then after it's over, summer is largely cast aside as irrelevant to “normal existence” (and maybe even disavowed, depending on one's extent of mischief) which probably goes some way to explaining the odd duality (double consciousness) of summer’s mix of carefree fun and complicated longing. So that's a working theory, but for now the more immediate takeaway is that all you weirdos who've read this far had better enjoy the rest of this summer to the fullest (because who knows if we'll have one next year, hello 2020) and either way try not to fogget about it once it's over. (Jason Lee)

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