Didn't See the Knife

lo-fi-fnk.jpgLo Fi Fnk: the other Swedish synthpop group

Gateway drugs: even on the sunniest day, the coffee shop attached to the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix is dank and musty inside, but there's room to sit and zone out, and it's hosting all-day acoustic in-stores for four days straight, which makes it the perfect lead-in for a long night. Yesterday afternoon, the local dreampop quartet Dirty on Purpose gave the spot a lazy opium-den living-room vibe. The acoustic format meant they couldn't fall back on spiraling guitar dizziness, and it turns out their haze works better when it's implied. Their songs had a gentle push and an intuitive sprawl, and three of the band's four members (guitars, bass, piano, bongos) traded off delicate lead vocals, all nailing the same melancoly-languor thing. The whole thing was remarkably warm and pleasant, and the loudest noise happened when one of the guys accidentally dropped his acoustic guitar. All the dudes in the band kept tripping all over themselves to apologize for mistakes that no one could even hear. It was really nice. The even-prettier Beach House is playing that same coffeehouse at 4 p.m. today, and I'm weirdly amped about it.

After that start, though, the evening went downhill fast. The schitzophrenically diverse Kork Agency showcase at Northsix seemed like a good look, a sort of indie-rock Whitman's sampler that would let me hear a pile of different things without jetting madly between clubs. But the spidery, depressive post-rock of openers the Tall Firs felt completely flat and inert, especially in a virtually empty club. (Singer: "Most of the people here are playing tonight." Drummer: "Some people aren't!" Singer: "Really?") Their spaciously intertwining guitars couldn't make up for their deeply bored expressions.

Downstairs in the Northsix basement, things weren't much better. The Zom Zoms, it turns out, are four dudes in matching polka-dot shirts and tight red pants who traffic in shrill, blurty jitterpunk with exaggeratedly high-pitched vocals; every song sounded like the worst track from any random Troubleman Records compilation from five years ago. Back upstairs: I thought Fog was some trip-hop guy, but what I saw onstage was three dudes playing fuzzed-out, serrated indie-rock with overpoweringly repetitive basslines and a truly horrific singer. It's nice to know that bands are still taking Slint influences and using them to make boring and ugly music fifteen years after Spiderland. Next door, Galapagos was hosting some non-CMJ RSVP-only thing, but the door guy let me in anyway because I said I'd write about it. Inside, Apes and Androids were doing bleary monster-psyche, going for glammy and ending up with bitchy, choking the small room with their overactive fog machine. I didn't make it through more than a couple of songs of any of those bands. (Apes and Androids, it should be noted, had a cool creepy, droning John Carpenter thing going on at times, but I couldn't handle all the smoke.)

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So back over to Northsix to see Rjyan Kidwell, a Baltimore acquiantance who performs as Cex. Kidwell's career has been a fascinating study in artistic restlessness; he's gone from IDM to indie-rap to emo-folk to clanky industrial to a new album, Actual Fucking, that somehow manages to beautifully blur all those past ideas together into something resembling cohesiveness. So of course he threw that new album away completely with his set last night; he's been eschewing the standard live show for bizarrely jokey performance-art excursions for years now. He started last night's set with a skit, telling this guy in a penguin costume (Jake somethingorother, another Baltimore acquaintance) that it was time to step up in the world and leave New York for Baltimore but that they should celebrate New York by dancing the Madison one last time. Kidwell followed this up by throwing on a frantic 45-minute dance mix while he and Jake ran through the crowd and danced furiously and yelled at random onlookers. The initial crowd response, of course, was to take a lot of pictures of Jake. But once everyone realized that this was going to be the whole show, the two of them impressively enough managed to incite about half the crowd into a small-scale dance party, Kidwell stripping to his underwear while Jake led a conga line. Kidwell's dance mix, which rushed headlong from rave to Baltimore club to Detroit ghetto-tech, was actually really good, but the WTF factor is going to be what everyone remembers. The whole thing was sort of awkward and obnoxiously theatrical, but I'll take it over another boring indie-rock band any day.

Voice review: Simon Reynolds on Cex at Tonic

Back at Galapagos, Swedish electropoppers Lo Fi Fnk were making their American debut. The trio's sugar-rush synthpop somehow manages to walk a perilous line between gleeful K Records amateurism and whooshing superclub glamor. Two elfin dudes sang and messed around with knobs-and-wires doohickeys while one button-cute girl played inaudible bass and sang backup, and all of them radiated the sort of unselfconscious enthusiasm that you almost never get from guitar-bass-drum bands, though that enthusiasm would've added up to more if the singer guy could actually sing. Still, all the front row bloggers' digital-camera flashes gave off a strobe effect, and everyone in the room seemed excited to be there. At Northsix, Kidwell had to punch through the built-in apathy of yet another indie-rock slog. But at Galapagos, that apathy was nowhere to be found, and the show felt like an event. Lo Fi Fnk only played about four songs before doing the obnoxious thing where they leave a noisy loop playing while they walk offstage. But they were just looking for an encore, and they got one.

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