Opening Up

When Who's on First Is What Matters

There's nothing like the thrill of discovery. Finding a great artist or band when they're young, hungry, and on the verge is one of the best feelings in the world, as it comes with the reassurance that newness isn't dead, and that you weren't born too late. Plus, you get to act cool when they become famous because, you know, you were into them, like, way back in the day.

A bunch of pals much hipper than I am went to see local dance-punks the Rapture last summer, and they came back arguing about this crazy opening band, Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre. Some friends raved, calling them D.I.Y. Ziggy Stardusts for the new century; others complained that they were talentless poseurs who wore lots of makeup and couldn't play their instruments. Sounded like just my thing. Fronted by charismatic drama queen Ida No, and anchored by androgynous guitarist John David V (who works in a grocery store by day), along with a revolving cast of drummers, this band of twentysomethings from Portland, Oregon, play what they call "death disko," or what I like to refer to as nowaveglamgrrrlartrock. No shrieks, wails, and emotes like she's in a goth musical over pounding drums and scuzzy riffs; they cover Bowie, the Screamers, Queen, and, um, Josie Cotton's "Johnny Are You Queer?" So far, Glass Candy's output consists of a bunch of hard-to-find 7s, live EPs and demos, and a few compilation appearances, but they've got an album coming out on Troubleman Unlimited in November. I've yet to see them live, but apparently they do something performance arty that involves glitter, fancy outfits, and nudity.

Nudity also figured largely in my awakening to Cex, a/k/a 20-year-old Baltimorean Rjyan Kidwell. I had gone to the Death Cab for the Cutie/Dismemberment Plan show at the Bowery Ballroom in March expecting a pleasant evening of sensitive boys with loud guitars, but what I saw was an adorably geeky white boy flashing gold teeth (which spell C-E-X) while rapping clumsily over laptop beats about how all of us ladies in the house should dump our indie boyfriends for smoove playas like him. For the finale of his too-short opening set, Cex left his laptop on a loop, stripped to his tighty-whities, and dived into the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, he unsuccessfully attempted to hide his boner. Needless to say, I don't remember a whole lot about the headliners that night. Cex's recorded output thus far has fallen mostly into the "intelligent dance music" or IDM genre, meaning computer-generated bleeps and bloops that people sit around and think about rather than dance to. That will change September 30, when he releases his first hip-hop album, Tall, Dark, and Handcuffed, on Tigerbeat6, the label he runs with fellow IDM prankster kid606.

Sweet somethings: Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre's Ida No and John David V (left).
photo: Virgil Porter
Sweet somethings: Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre's Ida No and John David V (left).

I think Cex is a great rapper, which goes to show how much I know about hip-hop. But you don't need to know anything about the five elements to get the wind knocked out of you by local producer-MC Jean Grae. Listening to WBAR, Barnard College Radio, one night, I caught a track that gave me chills: a first-person account of a sexually abused homecoming queen who goes on a Columbine-like shooting spree, rhymed over play-by-play sound effects and ominous beats. "Taco Day," the strongest of Grae's three breakout spots on Company Flow producer Mr. Len's 2001 album Pity the Fool (Matador), is the closest to a female version of Eminem I've ever heard. I was hooked, but I had to tide myself over with Grae's work with Natural Resource (under the moniker What What), as well as guest appearances on tracks by Da Beatminerz, Masta Ace, the Herbaliser, and High and Mighty, among others, until August, when the 26-year-old finally released her solo debut. While Attack of the Attacking Things (Third Earth Music) doesn't include anything as strong as "Taco Day," it is a powerful statement from an outstanding voice that even a hip-hop ignoramus can feel. (Judge for yourself when she performs on November 7 at Club Shine, 289 West Broadway, 941-0900.) Grae's album is as exhilarating as Ida No's scream and as disarming as Cex's boner, and it makes me happy to be alive right here and right now.

September 15
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center Street, Newark, New Jersey, 888-466-5722
September 19
Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111
Baca, the preeminent curator of the Afro-Peruvian musical tradition, resembles a stately bruja onstage as she uncoils her smoke-voiced incantations over her band's deceptively skeletal arrangements. She also displays a canny cosmopolitanism when covering songs by Björk and Caetano Veloso. (Gehr)

September 16
Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 777-6800
These three feminems—all white Long Island girls—delivered one of the year's best rap albums with the aptly named Hip Hop You Haven't Heard, whose budget-induced lack of sophistication is one of its biggest charms. Although the precedents they mix and match are obvious enough—the flow is Beasties circa 1987, lyrics are MC Paul Barman meets Roxanne Shanté, and the voices are quintessentially New Yawk tough. Catch them before they blow up or burn out. (Hoard)

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