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15 July 2009

I like Girls & some words on music that moves like molasses

One day someone will write the history of molasses in popular music. It might start with Brian Eno’s Discreet Music.

There will probably be a chapter about Erik Satie, the French avant-garde composer from late 19th and early 20th century.

When Satie died, it’s said no one had entered his room for a quarter century, and what was discovered there gave Howard Hughes and those Grey Gardens ladies a run for their money. Take it away Wiki-wiki,:

    * a great numbers of umbrellas, some that had apparently never been used by Satie,
    * a total of four pianos: two of which were back to back, two of which sat upside-down on top of the other two
    * his collection of drawings of medieval buildings (only then did his friends see a link between Satie and certain previously anonymous, journal advertisements regarding “castles in lead” and the like),
    * other memorabilia from all periods of his life, amongst which were the seven velvet suits from his Velvet gentleman period.

Continuing on, the story of popular molasses may alight upon the short, strange, not-so-successful indie rock career of Codeine in the early 1990s, and their puzzling presence on the SubPop Records roster at the height of grunge fever. Or, perhaps, this history will just seek to puzzle out the latter day activities of Codeine’s lead singer Stephen Immerwahr, whose appropriately evocative last name sounds like swimming in a pool of syrup and breathing deep. He hasn’t made any recordings or live appearances as a musician since the band’s break-up but, in contrast to Satie’s biographical profile, his current activities seem more prosaic. Google indicates he’s made a career for himself in the world’s of academia and public health.

Anyway, the term “slowcore” was invented to describe Immerwahr’s band, much to the consternation of any group who followed in their wake and were tagged as participants in said genre. As far as genres go, it holds about the same market kick as a term like “experimental,” which is to say, it kicks careers into the grave.

Could the San Francisco band Girls change all that? I wouldn’t bet on their success, but I wish for it. Here’s the song that convinced me:

This is a band that wins both on musical & stylistic grounds. Let’s break it down, shall we:

1. THE NAME: Every once and awhile a group comes along and effortlessly discovers a best band name ever that has, inexplicably, not been taken. Girls is one of them.

2. MUSIC GEEK RHETORICAL CLICHES: Most music geeks that, in some way, romanticize the 1960s as a golden age for pop are forever in search of that white unicorn of musical pleasure “the teenage symphony to God.” That’s how Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys described his masterwork, Smile, but it could equally be applied to the epically arranged bubblegum pop of his temporal peer Phil Spector. (The internet just told me that The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was named in honor of Phil Spector’s initials. Whoa.)

Now, let me be clear, “River Deep, Mountain High” aside, I don’t have much interest in the work of either guy. Illustrative music break:

What’s awesome about Girls, though, is that they seem to worship in the same general direction as Spector and Wilson — toward Long Beach? — but put a different kind of offering on their alter. Their teenage symphonies are sung to a downer God obsessed with pills & thrills & belly aches rather than some boring American vision of idealized Stepford girlfriends, beach blanket bingo & surfing. Considering the latter day insanities & inanities that littered Wilson’s & Spector’s lives & careers, this more purely hedonistic ideal is probably a good thing.

3. HAPPENSTANCE DISCOVERY: Never understate the evocative power of how one discovers a given piece of music. I first came across Girls upon the recommendation of a San Francisco acquaintance named [name withheld upon request], who’s been emailing me music off and on for years. His notes usually start with oddly compelling openings like “Their lead singer is this amazing black trannie who reminds me of Iggy Pop.” Offer is, of course, a lawyer by training who, at my last recollection, works as a private investigator. I imagine his work clothes consisting of a Magnum P.I.-like outfit that you could only get away with somewhere like Hawaii or northern California.
Maybe that’s the trannie on the left?

4. LIKELY INDIFFERENCE TO FAME AT THE EXPENSE OF FUN: Viz, Girls’ MySpace which includes a link to the webpage
Downer gods indeed.

5. PERSONAL STYLE: This may very well be The Odd Couple of indie rock.
I think the pictorial evidence is pretty strong but I, for one, cannot wait for the extensive Pitchfork interview.

UPDATED JULY 16, 2009: You can download free MP3s of the Hellhole Ratrace 10″ and its B-side “Solitude” at this blog post from the band’s label, True Panther Sounds. You can also see the artwork for their upcoming full length, which will be titled Album. The latter has a nice, sort of low rent Peter Saville look & feel to it.

UPDATED JULY 20, 2009: Sometimes I’m actually on beat with the wider media’s consensus news pegs. I just stumbled across this worthwhile new profile of Girls from The Guardian in London. The headline says it all: “Girls who are boys who like girls: Raised by a cult, rescued by a millionaire and addicted to pills

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 15, 2010:Name of San Francisco acquaintance redacted upon request of said acquaintance. He’s a nice guy! Prospective employers-slash-spouses-slash-legal authorities with which he is in trouble please do not hold this blog post against him. He had nothing to do with it!

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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