We’re aware that despite the paragraph below that introduces this review, an off-color joke was in fact made in reference to the band’s name. We regret it—and it’s been removed.
I hereby vow to make no off-color jokes about Perfect Pussy, the Syracuse, NY, noise rock quintet that has been winning plaudits from the likes of Pitchfork and Stereogum since it emerged in 2013 with the self-released demo, I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling. Nor am I going to beat around the bush (shit, so much for my vow) about what I think of Perfect Pussy’s frenzied and cacophonous forays into feedback, atonality, and dissonance. To wit, I consider Perfect Pussy the most annoying noise rock band to come our way since Sonic Youth.
Why? Because like Sonic Youth, Perfect Pussy’s music reeks of pretention. I’m talking the kind of pretention that comes of turning noise rock into Art with a capital “A,” which is an unconscionable thing to do to a genre I happen to love, and that doesn’t want to be arty but only wants to give you an earache while poking fun at anyone dumb enough to consider rock music ART. In short, Perfect Pussy has followed Sonic Youth down the primrose path of the avant-garde, and I can say that with certainty as I hear Sonic Youth in every atonal note Perfect Pussy plays.
One of the problems with the avant-garde end of the noise rock spectrum is that its purveyors tend to take themselves very, very seriously. Their earnest “product” could hardly be any more different than that created by the populist wing of noise rock, which consists largely of bands whose only agenda is to épater le bourgeois, or if not le bourgeois, the prevailing musical powers that be, as was the case with Washington, DC’s No Trend, whose only reason for existence in its early days was to piss off Georgetown’s identically attired hardcore punks by baiting them as insectile conformists. And such bands are invariably funny precisely because the bands or scenes they are reacting against are inevitably serious, and the last thing one wants to do is fight ire with ire. No, far better to turn to sarcasm and black humor, which weapons have been in the arsenal of the absurdist enemies of earnestness ever since Alfred Jarry wrote Ubu Roi.
There’s something incredibly haunting about Austin’s Penny and Sparrow. Maybe it’s the bold, oft heartbreaking honesty behind the lyrics they write. Maybe it’s the union of two voices that sound destined to harmonize with one another. Maybe it’s the fact that these guys are so scary good with little but a guitar and a couple sets of vocal chords—and the thought that they don’t need anything else to make sincere, effortlessly stunning music.
Whatever it is that sends shivers down your spine, it works. Weaving beautifully crafted melodies and gorgeous harmonies with acoustic instrumentation, Penny and Sparrow’s Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke produce a raw, strikingly honest sound that feels just as authentic through headphones as it does live. It’s art stripped down to its very core. Bare-boned and human. And for that, it’s unbelievably refreshing.
Though both originally from different parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, as Penny and Sparrow the duo originates from Austin, a city whose intense support and wealth of live music provides a natural environment for musicians exploring and honing their artistic talents. And, perhaps, challenges in standing out in a city where, well, everyone is exploring their artistic talents.
White folks trying to sound like black folks: that’s your condensed history of rock ’n’ roll right there. Some 60-plus years of felony vocal identity theft. It may or may not have begun with Sun Studio’s Sam Phillips, who famously said, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”
In any event, shortly thereafter a young Elvis Presley walked through Phillips’ door, and white singers from P.J. Proby to Michael McDonald to the Young Americans incarnation of David Bowie have been giving it their soul brother best ever since. Why, even John Denver tried to horn in on the trend, and I own a mint copy of his 12-inch club hit “Get Up Offa Grandma’s Funky Feather Bed (Geriatric Sex Machine)” to prove it. None other than James Brown called it “out of sight.” Or perhaps he said, “Get it out of sight.” I’m pretty sure there’s a difference.
All of this raises the question: Who is the biggest, baddest, blackest white singer of them all? Elvis? Janis Joplin? Mick Jagger? Gilbert O’Sullivan? I don’t know about you, but my vote goes to Rob Parissi of Mingo Junction, Ohio, population 3,454. Parissi, in case the name doesn’t ring a bell, was the vocalist, guitarist, and chief songwriter behind Wild Cherry, the band that brought us the great “Play That Funky Music.” Parissi sounded so much like a brother he made Joe Cocker sound like Leo Sayer.
As for Wild Cherry—which swiped its name from a brand of cough drops—it played a hardcore hybrid of funk rock, soul, and disco that blew away other white competitors in the black sound appropriation sweepstakes such as the Average White Band and KC and the Sunshine Band. When it came to pure funk copyright infringement, Wild Cherry was King.
Electronic producer/songwriter Christopher Norman utilizes an unconventional mix of warm sounds and ambient vocals over landscapes spanning the analogue and electronic. His newest album Process comes on the heels of several successfully commissioned remixes for Katy Perry, Chrome Sparks, and Newtimers. After proving himself a potent new re-mixer, he is now debuting his original material which is the first time he has stepped to the mic.
His single “Sacrifice” plays like out like a strong sedative for a bumpy road trip. Its escalating synth punches and “less-is-more” delivery could be likened to a punch drunk Daft Punk B-Side. The song reaches deep space around the two-minute mark, when the vocals become increasingly manipulated and a cushion of artificial and organic strings emerge to assist its final climax.
Christopher is obviously an extremely talented producer with in his prior work reaching critical mass. By stepping into the vocal booth from behind the board, he also displays a rare knack for melodic songwriting and an inflected delivery unto himself. A sound that is lush with space, context and beauty.
“Sacrifice” is taken from Christopher Norman’s full length release, Process in stores on September 30.
Christopher Norman Official | Facebook | Twitter
Joe Jack Talcum’s most well-known for his long tenure in those funny-punk Philadelphians The Dead Milkmen, but over the years he’s cultivated a productive if somewhat under the radar backlog of low-tech solo work initially released on cassette. The efforts of the Happy Happy Birthday To Me label in compiling this productivity continues with Home Recordings 1993-1999; volume two details Talcum’s improvement in his second decade as a musician.
For anybody coming of age in late-‘80s USA that harbored curiosity into left of center sounds, making the acquaintance of The Dead Milkmen was basically inevitable. Popular with skate rats, lovers of college-rock, scores of MTV junkies, the surly backpack/trench coat brigade and even the occasional metalhead, they were truly a boundary-crossing outfit.
In general, the Milkmen achieved this circumstance through a punk-derived disdain for seriousness that engaged but didn’t overplay the snotty. Specifically, they delivered sarcastic, sophomoric and low-brow humor, and if there’s a crowd reliably resistant to their charms it’s those with a low tolerance for the zany.
I don’t really belong to that group but also can’t deny that most humor-based music simply fails to move me. However, I’ll openly fess up to a personal Milkmen phase, in part due to the aforementioned ubiquity. And to put a finer point on it, they’re a band with a built in audience; teenagers. As a member of this demographic I was a fan, considering their thing to be refreshingly unstuffy and flippant. Time passed and then one day, the appeal had essentially abated.
We’re taking a long weekend and will return tomorrow, 9/2.
While we’re away, why not fire up our free Record Store Locator app and visit one of your local indie record shops? Perhaps there’s an interview, review, or feature you might have missed? Catch up and we’ll see you back here on Tuesday.
Greetings from Laurel Canyon!
To all my Idelic friends, have a cool and restful Labor Day weekend. Seems Jon and the TVD gang are gonna call it a short week, so WTF—I’ll make it a short column.
This week’s playlist is the “brotha” playlist to last week’s Idelic “songs about chicks.” The way I’ve always seen life is this—I like being around a few cool dudes…and TONS of cool chicks!
Appropriately, this hour plus are songs about Jon, Bill, Jimmy, Joe, Sam, and a few others. Check it and see ya next week!
The Idelic Hit of the Week:
Gap Dream – Fantastic Sam
Gothenburg-based underground superstars Little Dragon might be the most difficult band to describe in words. I just read three different reviews of their brilliant new record on three elite hipster blogs, and after referencing the urban dictionary several times, none of them made any sense. It drives me crazy when a critic reviews a record and tries so damn hard that they end up confusing the hell out of the reader who just wants to know whether or not they should check out the band.
So, before I turn into the very critic that I am critiquing above, let me tell you how great Little Dragon is live. They deliver the entire package here folks—it’s not just a show but more of an experience. The music falls somewhere between Massive Attack, Portishead, and Motown’s Greatest Hits, while the performance is sort of like Pink Floyd hosting a rave in outer space with a charismatic MC leading the charge in the form of sultry, Swedish-Japanese vocalist Yukimi Nagano.
Nagano recently told Rolling Stone that during the recording process, she wandered around the band’s longtime hometown of Gothenberg in winter while listening to Janet Jackson. If that’s what it takes to make an epic record of this magnitude, then I would suggest that Ms. Jackson should make a comeback any day now. Maybe Thom Yorke and Chris Martin should take note as they could really use a unique angle on their new records.
PHOTOS: MAS HINO | We first heard of Steve Gunn when he opened for Kurt Vile at Bowery Ballroom, and we missed him. He could be seen playing on the side of the stage with Kurt Vile, but we really couldn’t hear him. We made the assumption that if you are playing guitar with Kurt Vile, then chances are you are probably pretty good at guitar.
Later that month we were record shopping at Academy Records, when it was on N 6th, and up on the wall with the staff picks was Time Off and it said, “Recommended if you like Gene Clark’s No Other.” And we do, very much so, and although it doesn’t have the volume of overdubs and sounds more like when Jimmy Page breaks out the acoustic, they were right on the money that us Gene fans would dig this record.
Sadly, his show last Friday at Baby’s All Right was the second time we have not been able to see Steve Gunn together. Last summer Alex was on tour when he played 285 Kent. It was right after an awesome Tiny Desk Concert performance and the release of Time Off, so we were certain it would be packed, sold-out even, but to my surprise there were 15 people in the room.
Gunn was absolutely amazing and everyone there was stunned in disbelief that so few people seemed aware of it. He was truly on another level that night, peaking in fact, and I’m so glad I was there. His show Friday was great as well, and he delivered all the goods—cyclical and melodic guitar riffs, mellow and sultry vocals, thoughtful somewhat vague lyrics that sink into my bones, songs that slowly build into epic jams that you find yourself lost in, and this time, a packed room. There was even a touch of myth in the murmurs, dudes attempting to explain Gunn’s past to their ladies.