Folk the Pain Away

Friends of Kimya and Adam Call Antifolk What They Want

Way more sonically diverse, and way more fun, than the Rough Trade/Sanctuary compilation is Call It What You Want: This Is Antifolk, put out by local label Olive Juice. First of all, it's got a new Daniel Johnston song (actually a collaboration between Johnston and Jack Medicine under the name Hyperjinx Tricycle)—one of those heartbreakers that make me wanna take the fat lunatic home and care for him like a stray puppy. The album also serves up heaps of Peachy and non-Peachy goodness: Sensitive-boy singer-songwriters Major Matt Mason USA and Jeffrey Lewis lend less whiny and more touching tracks to this collection than its rival/counterpart, as do married acoustic-guitar-and-overturned-bucket-percussion duo Prewar Yardsale. Joie Dead Blonde Girlfriend rocks harder here. Laura Hoch sings a delicious revenge fantasy and says "fuck" very pleasantly. Seth Faergolzia of Dufus and some guy named Cockroach deliver soul-plunging laments whose grizzled death-wishes would sound great if they croaked like Tom Waits. American Anymen start the festivities off with bouncy synth-pop, and Jack Medicine, solo here like a circus freak making love to a carnival organ, brings them to a close.

My favorite track on Call It What You Want is Schwervon's "Song for Weddings and Funerals," a somber pledge of devotion that Yo La Tengo should wish they had written—a quiet, lovely oasis amid all this randy strumming and too-cool-for-school wordplay. And though Nan Turner and her longtime boyfriend, Matt Roth (the aforementioned Major Matt Mason USA, Olive Juice label head), didn't sound quite so sad on their 2000 debut, Quick Frozen Small Yellow Cracker, I'm not complaining. The silly, simple beauty of that album's sugary-and-tart domestic tableaux floored me. Making dinner, arguing over a donut, breaking into a former lover's apartment, getting your schwerv on (take a wild guess what that means)—little pop dioramas crafted so tightly and rendered so innocently and brightly all those twee K records seem tarnished and sloppy by comparison. And that's not even taking into account the leadoff track, "American Girl," an epic I'd put up there in the coming-of-age pantheon with Big Star's "Thirteen," Avril Lavigne's "Sk8r Boi," and Dirty Dancing. Nan sings like the star of the sixth-grade play in front of her bedroom mirror, proud of her powerful little body and ready to engage in "high-risk criminal activity." But all the boy can say in return is "Such a pretty girl! You're so pretty!" (Matt delivers these lines in a pitch-perfect pimply-faced whine.) Nan responds with a frustrated series of screams and groans, as if to say, "I'm so much more complicated than that."

Right now, Schwervon are my prime example of what makes antifolk worth investigating beyond the Moldy Peaches. They come off like a couple of good-hearted small-town kids who moved to the big city (he's from Kansas, she's from Washington State) to make their sweet, sexy songs in the face of the day jobs and the rent and the stupid cabaret laws and the nasty club owners and the oligarchic music industry in general. (For a particularly nasty indictment of the corporate world, see "Work Song," the leadoff track on Nan's biting, yet yummy, solo EP Leg Out.) Doesn't hurt that they're enclosed in a protective bubble of love and support—one where it sure would be nice to burst through, but nobody minds if they don't. Whenever I listen to "American Girl," I thank Lach and Beck and Adam and Kimya and all their friends for keeping this weird little scene alive.

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