And The Cookie Monster
| Can you keep a secret? You've got to keep it in your mind. Good Kingston
social advice from one of my favorite philosophers, Big Youth, and worth
invoking in this particular instance. You see, not too long ago I stumbled
upon what I'm now convinced is my new favorite record label. The label in
question is Retard Disco, based in Los Angeles, and theirs is a mission to
bring pop music with a decidedly post-Post-Punk attitude to the world at
large. It's an attitude fashioned from boatloads of disparate threads, their
modest roster of artists joyously diving with both hands into the past twenty-plus
years of pop and punk, the organic and the synthetic, like so many bargain
bins and weekend jumble sales. And what they come up with are sounds as of
the moment when it comes to smart energetic pop as anyone daring to do so,
be it now or then.
My first glimpse into the world of Retard Disco was an uproarious profile of a new band called Totally Radd!! (yes, the punctuation is correct), found on the always intelligent and far-ranging music online zine Perfect Sound Forever. Made up of three creatively hyper Southern Cali gents barely into their twenties, collectively TR!! maintain a serious jones for 80's synth-pop and its ingenious ancestors. Maybe not everyone's cuppa, but as we all learned in school, every action has an equal and opposite reaction - and personally, I was counting the days before the neo-naturalist organic folkie action of Mr. Banhart and Mme. Newsom inspired its polar, silicon-chipped rejoinder in modernists such as Totally Radd!!
Their album, Shark Attack Day Camp, is a high treat indeed, with analog and digital gadgetry alike put to the task of kicking out the futuristic jams. And not without a goofy yet finely implemented sense of humor; frontman and 'keytar' virtuoso Neil Schuh's singing style, rather more Cookie Monster than Midge Ure, is hilariously at odds with the sculpted, high-tech, whirling buzz and blipsmanship of the music. Then there's the matter of what, in a perfect world, would be their breakout hit, 'Dressed Up'. It's about a guy pleading with his ladylove to come to terms with his trannie desires. Better still, it accomplishes this with a chorus that would have made Klaus Nomi proud, and an utterly preposterous guitar solo that would do the same for whoever it was that played with Billy Idol. (I do acknowledge that this may be funnier to Americans than to the English - not unlike Shark Attack Day Camp's bonus track, a cover of a Top 40 hit by 90's grungers Soul Asylum, done in the style of The Cars.)
What can I say? Some people prefer fading to gray on the Martian ballroom dance floor of their dreams (with Ron and Russell Mael behind the bar, doubtlessly dispensing their namesake energy drink), to crusty cavorting among the Redwoods with Druidic faerie sprites high on homegrown West Coast ergot. And I just know I can't be alone in feeling more excited and inspired by the former development than the latter.
TR!! are, however, but one aspect of the total Retard Disco picture. They also shelter within ranks party-starting, potty-mouthed hip-hop trash from up the coast, like the Bay Area's own Gravy Train!!!, and the one-man sex-rock reprobate known as Da Hawnay Troof. More to my taste, though, is Party Line, a Washington DC band that might turn some heads once their LP debuts this summer. Party Line are Angela, Alison and Crystal. They let you know this in every shouted chorus of their song 'Nuthaus', a detail that the furious, fantastic, two-minute blast they envelop it in will permanently burn into your psyche. Yeah, it's punk rock rides again, and I duly recog that it's not like they've invented the punk-rock wheel, or even re-reinvented said wheel at this late date. But damn it, Party Line believes they did with such jolting, persuasive energy - maybe as much as the Saints or Crime or your favorite punk band did on their first record - that you, the jaded and unwitting listener, believe. And as everyone knows, private passion is to be trusted above all else.
I realize I haven't even covered TR!!'s fellow techno waders in the musical stream some have already dubbed Nintendo Punk, a band called 14 Year Old Girls. Or the down tempo nocturnal funk churn of Scream Club, vocally assisted by the consistently astonishing Beth Ditto of Gossip infamy. I must, however, get in a last word for 'Yesses And Nose', an amazing, pure pop culture by any means necessary manifesto in miniature by one Gene Defcon. In its silly-serious way, it might very well be Retard Disco's mission statement - one that, like all the other gooduns mentioned above, can and should be sampled and savored on the Retard Disco '05 Sampler CD, put out by the world's greatest new record label. I won't tell anyone if you won't.
© 2005Michael Layne Heath.