By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Though they've been known to tour with such knuckle-draggers as Korn and Insane Clown Posse, Mindless Self Indulgence are two guys and two girls playacting "rock band" for suburban kids in a way that's decidedly un-macho. Not just because of the women, but because of skinny, geeky, self-proclaimed "art fag" singer Little Jimmy Urine, who could time travel to 1982 and fit right in. His "ooh-wah-oh" vocal stylings echo British bands who played Antmusic, or wore overalls and chased girls named Eileen.
Their sound speeds up the cycling industrial rhythms of the late '80s to mid '90s (say My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult) to hardcore tempos, stopping and starting abruptly as if playing with the idiot family dog that leaps repeatedly at mock ball tosses. Meanwhile, canned dance club synths twirl in maniacally between zany whip-snaps and colorful sound effects. Their group sing-alongs and hollers make gleeful fun of people who try too hard to be edgy, even ones in their own audiencewho eat it up. If the band had a girlfriend, one can picture her stomping her foot and complaining, "Can't you ever be serious?!"
Their obnoxious jerky rhythms are mostly activated by the vocal phrasing, tracking them into the same class as System of a Down. They aren't as political, but they're much funnier. And possibly more relevant, since they address the immediate social politics of identity and peers. "Everyone in high school will worship the fucking ground I walk on/If it was up to me."
The über-meticulous production reins in guitars and any real drums, smushing them with all the synthesized nonsense into a processed meat patty and then slicing it up cleanly. It's the wacky vocals and the spirit of anarchy that keep it from feeling too controlled.
The new album, You'll Rebel to Anything, is the band's first on Philadelphia's gothic-metal-industrial label Metropolis. But before this new partnership, Mindless Self Indulgence proved a rock band might just as well run its own business. After a disappointing experience with Elektra, they put out a live album on their own Uppity Cracker imprint. According to Revolverand Alternative Press, it sold 70,000 copies, making more money off fewer sales than the Elektra release. All those sold-out shows didn't hurt.
All this from a band based in . . . Manhattan? But Mindless Self Indulgence are nowhere on the "New York Music Scene" radar. As Jimmy Urine told ArmchairDJ .com, "Everybody thinks New York has this great, eclectic music scene but most bands here play straight-ahead boring rock 'n' roll. People are jaded and distracted here. When we started out, nobody wanted us. . . . But then we played outside the city and it was greatso different."
A survey by the fan site MindlessCrackers.com tallies nearly three-quarters of MSI's audience as under 18 (out of 2,500 voluntary respondents, mostly from the Northeast and Midwest). And these "Crackers" reflect the gender makeup of the band: roughly half and half. Even MSI's website shows them reaching out to an audience that has free time to goof around: They offer three pages of games in an "Arcade" section and interactive Mad Libs-style lyrics pages where you can complete the sentences yourself using options from little pop-up windows. To wit: "Bitches love me 'cause they know I can . . . (Choose what you can do: dance; floss the ice; bench two-fifty; do taxes; rock)."
Their fabulously sacrilegious revamping of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" could be MSI in a nutshell: Find the ultimate in uncool, and then flip it over. Take the uncool inside you, as they say, and wave it as a flag. Make fun of it, use it as a weapon, rip it up, and piece it back together into a ridiculous ball gown. Then wear it to the f*#%ing prom.
Mindless Self Indulgence play Webster Hall July 8, 9, and 10.