Best of: Not the 70s

Jeremy Krinsley

Oh, cool, Crystal Antlers are totally freaking out. Photo by Nate Dorr

I'd kind of thought that the 90s would be the next 80s, and there have been suggestions (Silversun Pickups last year, and as recently as the new CSS album) to that effect, but it turns out I was mostly wrong about the direction in which time was flowing.

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No, it is clear from this year's CMJ that we are actually striking back into pre-punk 70s rock. Not that this time travel is at all unprecedented: most current psych has always predicated on the developments of the 70s, and we've been pulling heavily from the 60s before ever since garage got into gear. But repeated run-ins with Crystal Antlers and the Phenomenal Handclap band, and all the Monotonix shows taking place on top of the countless others, really drove it home: this year's CMJ took place in roughly 1973.

I'm already a little tired of this nascent trend. Crystal Anters are an admittedly solid band that play well together, and Monotonix still offer some of the more unpredictable stage antics (or more usually off-stage antics) around, but none of these bands really sound like they're doing anything especially new or unusual with the sounds they're drawing from (as opposed to the still-often-gloriously-weird psych-noise movement which seems certain outlive them, though at much lower general awareness). So taken as a whole, this isn't something I feel especially excited about. Especially when the lesser imitators inevitably start piling up. There's an admitted bias in place here, as I didn't so much mind hearing worn-in post-punk templates dusted off and returned to circulation, but wasn't punk necessitated exactly by this same tired 70s rock?

Anyway, regardless of your own interest in classic rock, here are two bands I caught for the first time that sounded absolutely nothing like the 70s:

[Twi the Humble Feather / Nate Dorr]

1. In between Thank You and Pit er Pat sets at the Annex I wander over to the Living Room. Neither of these bands sounded anything like the 70s either, but I've seen and written about Thank You before, and I still haven't seen Pit er Pat. I still haven't seen Pit er Pat, because I got distracted at the Living Room. Given that last time I'd set foot in there some dude was getting pretty maudlin about the piano his hands were made for, I really wasn't expecting reason to stick around long. This prediction was not initially changed by pushing through the curtain to find three seated guys strumming acoustic guitars and cooing into their mics. But then, though they seemed to be taking their guitar work pretty easily, complex interlocking rhythms started coming through, repeating and intertwining into dense, shifting guitar textiles. The words, or perhaps just cryptic wordless intonations, served as a sort of compositional embellishment and punctuation rather than any standard lyrical content. The effect was that of a more pop-oriented take on the strange, glorious Phillip Glass operas of the 70s. Despite coming off slightly like an Animal Collective bid for a soft and easy favorites radio smash, this was decidedly not anything I had heard before. I sat down and listened, still unsure if this was sleek and clever reimagining of guitar pop or a slightly frivolous popularizing of otherwise decent classical designs. This was Twi the Humble Feather; I'm still unsure now. But at least they didn't sound like anything else I ran into all week. This is hard to do at CMJ.

[Teengirl Fantasy / Nate Dorr]
teen girl fantasy

2. Okay, so maybe the early 90s are getting a some small limelight of their own, however invisible under the stadium-caliber spotlights tracking the 70s revivalism these days. Minnesotan MC Juiceboxxx has been channeling jock jams-style energy into his hip-hop for a while, for instance, and now Oberlin, Ohio duo Teengirl Fantasy have been pouring all the most exhilerating bits of those raucous past dance anthems, complete with chopped vocal snips, into their own unique sort of bedroom club music. A huge beach party, where the boombox got waterlogged and now skips and sizzles and is mysteriously picking up four stations at once, and no one cares at all. Playing a set at Todd P's day stage at Secret Project Robot the duo crouched on the floor surrounded by samplers and pedals, looking more like solo-version Atlas Sound or City Center, but their music was all ecstatic, sweat-streaked bluster, aside from the single quieter track, “Portofino,” which demonstated, just for good measure, that gliding Art of Noise-style garden parties were also within their reach. All this made just a little better by knowing that they'd been asked to play only a couple days before: all of the equipment had been purchased from Sam Goody and learned in a day, to be returned immediately after the performance.

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