L Is for Children


These goddamn bands these days. They ain’t got shit to say. Sometimes, they don’t even say anything at all. And who needs ’em to? Had little, lyric-less Out Hud arrived in 1993, their recombinant shoogity-oogity would have eliminated the need for a Tortoise, and I never would’ve had to pretend Iannis Xenakis was “interesting” or take that junket to Nobukazu Takamura’s ostrich farm. The boys and girls in the Hud play it relatively straight, sexing up their brooding jangle-cello illuminations by canoodling “art-funk,” “On-U Sound,” and (oh, dream of impossible dreams) “even acid house and hip-hop.” Being unfamiliar with these genres, I’ll just call it indie rock: When “Dad, There’s a Little Phrase Called Too Much Information,” from the band’s splendiferous debut long-player came on the MP3 jukebox at Hi-Fi the other Friday, it was between, like, the Dismemberment Plan and the Archers of Loaf; and the other Saturday when I went to check out a performance at the Nodding Factory I expected they’d look like a cross between the Feelies and casual Friday at Initech.

I instead found five frumpy lumpies doing party tricks with guitars and modern boxes, bouncing around like electroclash Care Bears, trying their darnedest to figure what to do about their bodies. This is never easy, especially if you have a song called “The L Train Is a Swell Train and I Don’t Want to Hear You Indies Complain.” But language is stupid, and sometimes maybe the best way to articulate your lack of anything to say is to shut up, tighten up, and let those Other Music frequent-flier miles take you away to that warm safe place where as a child you’d hide and wait for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass you by.

Until immigrating to Brooklyn (with flowers in their hair) in 2001, said place was a far-off land called Sacramento, where most of Out Hud lived a simple agrarian existence moonlighting as !!!, disco Triscuits who’ve become a sort of Red Hot Chili Peppers for people who got moist when they hit the Gang of Four reference in The Corrections. Early Out Hud singles came with optimistic titles like “Emperor Selassie’s Morning Wood” (compiled on the Troubleman Mix Tape) and “First Single of the New Millennium,” but S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., like its predecessors, subverts such kinky Pollyanna with an alluring sense of entitled ennui. Sometimes white people are sad. Sometimes white people are happy—I’m reminded of the mood in the Chills’ “Pink Frost,” the Clean’s “You’re Getting Older,” the Vulgar Boatmen’s You and Your Sister. Bloops blooping bloopily; Computer World gets renamed Wowwee Zowwee; dawn comes creeping at the robot factory; sundry noise flares and techno squiggles hit the pillow like chrome dreams.

The booming-on-Pluto intro of opener “Story of the Whole Thing” promises avant party-up, but soon steers into a weak-kneed tech-step lined with grayday cello and drowsy geetar intermittently upended by finely turned electro bon mots. “Dad, There’s a Little Phrase . . .” digresses similarly, except longer and gorgeouser and with more strings, bongos, and rubber bass. But the humdinga is the aforementioned scenesters-unite reverie “L Train Is a Swell Train,” a bubble-core “Beginning to See the Light” of twerking lyricism, wide-eyed peripeteia, and expertly delineated meta-sexual trigonometry—piling nervy groove upon nervy groove, faster miles an hour past the Bedford stop, until reluctant entitlement starts to feel like reluctant possibility. And there you are: out of the womb and into the world, drunk at 3 a.m. in a boxcar stalled between Be and Seem. And Haile Selassie is the emperor of ice cream.