So, this was an insanely hyped show. Cut Copy touring on the heels of their latest, quite fantastic LP. Black Kids riding the blog-o-sphere hype wave. Ponytail just rocking it the fuck out and keeping it Bmore. But my foot is fucked, so I am only here for Black Kids and Ponytail.
I arrive to the strains of Ponytail’s shrieking, gloriously twitchy mess. The riffs come and go in waves, from drizzle to torrential downpour back to drizzle. Tightly-coiled unpredictability and kinetic energy, like a balled-up fist waiting to either spontaneously combust or have the attached arm thrust out and punch somebody.
Somewhere in the din of wails and sheets of noise-notes, there is an unmistakable driving force. Stirring and festering until it finally takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. And you really can do nothing but flail and try to release the energy.
This is what it is like to experience a Ponytail show. And the feeling is the similar if not the same as that produced by so many excellent Baltimore artists like the Death Set, Dan Deacon and countless others. And it’s one reason why I love this city so much.
Then comes a stark contrast. Black Kids. A phenomenon of the what is known as the hype machine. Now I need to be careful of this meta-critique, as I am well-aware that we are a part of the apparatus of which there are huge advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include the newfound power of the artist to reach untold scores of people worldwide via blogs and magazines. The bad news? If one or two influential blogs/mags shell out some praise, it spreads like wild-fire and everyone hops on the bandwagon, for fear of missing the next great thing. Welcome to the hype machine, driven by sites like Pitchfork, rags like NME and blogs like Stereogum.
Sometimes this really works and we get a golden child (Arcade Fire anyone?), but sometimes, it really is just all hype and hot air. It is with this in mind, that I approached Black Kids’ set last night. I can say they are enjoyable, but I don’t get what the fuss is about, to paraphrase in crotchety old man-isms.
These are the things they do right: catchy tunes, dance-y beats, party-time energy. But here’s why I say meh: We in Baltimore, are spoiled. Our bar for these sorts of dance/party-time antics is set extremely high (see aforementioned artists, Wham City etc etc).
And along come a group like Black Kids.
They fuse together a lot of things that work to basically guarantee a dance party. The Hot Hot Heat meets Cure meets “generic indie affectation” yelp. Their knowing smirks and winks at appropriately timed intervals, the guaranteed dance-able thump-bass line (which was really struggling to keep tempo), the twitchy, angular, anthemic guitar work, the strategic synth flourish, the everyone shout at once like it’s last-century pop to signal that it’s time to freak out and have fun…it all comes off as polished and just a bit contrived.
This is because it’s a giant recipe; one that’s worked for decades.
They are good peddlers of it, this I don’t question. You can hear strains of a number of massive dance/pop hits in their bass lines; and really, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Why fuck with something that works?
But am I going to get all hot-n-bothered over it? Answer: No.
Why you scream?
Because I can name in 10 seconds a zillion other artists who bring it harder and with more spontaneity and vitality. See Ponytail, !!!, Death Set, Dan Deacon, Video Hippos, Hot Hot Heat, the Faint, the Rapture. In a circuit this crowded, with so many talented acts already abounding, you better bring a top notch A-game. End of discussion. Good effort lads, but we’ve been here, with more sincerity, before. I’m looking forward to seeing where you take things next and whether you actually define yourselves.
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