The (2007) International Pop Underground

jharv | October 26, 2007 11:45 am
In the current climate of ruthless blog scrutiny, good records can easily disappear with little or no press and supposedly major albums are forgotten within weeks of release. With that in mind, we bring you Second Spin, where we’ll take a look at records that have either slipped between the hype cracks or re-evaluate albums after the press cycle has left them for dead. This time we take a look at three indie bedroom/garage/loft mavericks playing with ideas like “lo-fi” and “noise-pop” for 2007.

Kinda fudging the definitions on this one already. The last of these records drops next Tuesday; the first two are recent enough to (you would think) still be fresh in people’s minds. But they’re three minor pleasures whose limitations are probably tied up in the limitations of the genre–and my headline nod in the direction of the IPU is slightly flawed for a number of reasons, especially because there are no women being discussed here–but that should bring a little joy to anyone who once purchased the bulk of their music on seven-inch vinyl.

No Age Weirdo Rippers (Fat Cat) Everything I read about this L.A. duo led me to imagine something punkier, adults bashing out the fuzzy half-pipe anthems of their skate rat days. Which got the overgrown skate rat in me excited. Watch out for their volume, a profile in the Fader warned; it will give you a pore-cleansing peel all on its own. Other talked them up like their seven-inch singles were packed with minute-long hunks of unrefined hardcore, songs that should have been reviewed in Thrasher circa-’85. (The Pitchfork review got closer with mention of K Records–there’s that flawed IPU connection again, the comparison that actually got me thinking along these lines to begin with–but I don’t hear much of Lync’s proto-emo here.) Whatever’s louder or more visceral about their live gigs, the muted Weirdo Rippers practically disappears into its own its no-fi noise like it’s tripped into a well, 11 songs from those singles turned into a murky mini-album. Sure, No Age raves up every now and again. The band shines through the shroud draped over its songs on “Boy Void,” “My Life’s Alright Without You,” and “Everybody’s Down,” with bonehead bubblepunk riffs and the sneering hooks of Redd Kross or early Pavement. But as the record’s brief running time drags on, Weirdo Rippers starts feeling messy-in-the-bad-way, and what better way to mask slack songwriting than with the traditional wall of feedback? The final third makes for okay gritty background music provided you don’t already own a dozen similar slabs.

No Age [MySpace]

Shocking Pinks Shocking Pinks (DFA)

The way No Age records often makes its songs sound like they’re struggling to be heard over a construction site several stories below. Shocking Pinks are no more hi-fi, but their debut has a little more clarity, if not cleanliness. And as you might expect from a New Zealand indie act, they’ve also got a certain intimacy, a band recording just for you at the foot of your bed. Same off-the-cuff recording set up as No Age, applied to very different, material. More precious. Less feedback. And even when the Pinks smother their riffs in distortion on “I Want U Back,” the driving beat pledges allegiance to pop above noise. Occasional rattling, rickety rhythms may partly explain James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy’s interest, but even if those drums didn’t sound like empty pop bottles being struck with forks, the Shocking Pinks always chop their songs before a good groove can develop. And besides, the next song might as likely be a brokenhearted waltz or a rustic ’80s throwback with keyboards filched from Big Express-era XTC or a hat tipped in Factory Records’ direction. There’s some charming pastiche here from across Anglo-indie’s two decade history, but these songs often feel like sketches in need of more color, bolder lines, stronger anatomy. ‘Course if you already dig any of their NZ contemporaries (or forebears), scratchy, sketchy semi-pop is practically an endorsement.

Shocking Pinks [MySpace]

(Probably wanna turn down the volume on this one.)

Shooting Spires Shooting Spires (Cardboard)

No chance of “less feedback” on Shooting Spires, the excellent solo project of B.J. Warshaw of Parts And Labor, hitting the target dead center with 10 hella distorted pop songs where the melodies aren’t exactly buried under the static, because the screech and crackle and zaps and emergency broadcast alarms and eerie sonorities are what you listen for. Shooting Spires is in the grand tradition of disregarding the supposed distinction between hooks and texture, giving you somethin’ semi-catchy with a lot of pretty-but-grimy noise on top. Warshaw’s drawing on the same buzz and howl as Parts And Labor, but with the art/punk ratio tipped decidedly towards the former. He lists Brian Eno as the first influence on his MySpace page, so no one’s stretching their critical imagination by hearing the songwriter Eno of the early ’70s looming over tracks like opener “Right,” Here Comes The Warm Jets and Tiger Mountain made with a tabletop of effects pedals and hotwired keyboards. (“Silent Alarms” is “Third Uncle” under siege by really ornery 8-bit processing.) What really shoves Warshaw ahead in this year’s lo-fi/noise-pop stakes is that there’s just more sparkle and variation in his electronic fizz than in No Age’s drift, and even with his debts to art-rockers of the past, Warshaw’s a more idiosyncratic singer (with his froggy drone of a voice) and songwriter than the spot-the-record types in the Shocking Pinks. If we did marks or stars or things with decimal points, this would get the exaggerated thumbs up.

Shooting Spires [MySpace]