Wilderness (not pictured: douchebag audience)
Wilderness + Oxford Collapse + Psychic Ills
August 26, 2005
Are all New York indie-rock audiences so full of shit? Do they all try to hijack shows by bombarding out-of-town headlining bands with inane heckles? Does the between-song ambient chatter always reach college-cafeteria volumes? I hope not; I like indie-rock shows in New York. I like how people actually show up, even when bigger and better shows are happening at the same time, and I like how promoters stack bills with local bands who are generally better than local bands in other cities. I probably shouldn’t be making any vague sweeping pronouncements since I’ve been to two indie-rock shows since I moved up (and no one was going to heckle Smoosh because they’re little kids), but it seems to me that New York indie-rock shows would be pretty great if you guys would shut up.
Wilderness didn’t know how to handle that stuff. When the band was playing, they seemed just short of invincible, huge crashing harsh glistening squall-riffs over percolating throb-drums, singer James Johnson howling cryptic nasal nothings overtop. Wilderness manages the trick of sounding wide-open and expansive but canned and tinny at the same time, like puddles of motor oil refracting rainbow colors. Johnson has a weirdly virile anti-charisma, tall and balding and looking like a legal-aid lawyer hitting up happy hour at Bennigan’s after a long day. When the band is playing, he does these modern-dance hand trills, commanding and enraptured and ridiculous. But when the band stops to fix broken equipment or figure out the next song, he’s lost, acting like a camp counselor on his first day of work, doing his best to connect with the kids but knowing he’s being eaten alive. Wilderness is new at dealing with crowds like this; they’re from Baltimore and so am I, but I’d barely heard of them before they started getting Pitchfork love a few months ago. They’ll get better at dealing with the bullshit that comes with being a good band playing in front of people. But right now, they’re scared raccoons. Let them do their thing.
Download: “End of Freedom”
Oxford Collapse is from Brooklyn, not Baltimore, so they know how to deal with noisy apathetic audiences, and they play fast nervous hooky power-pop, not serrated spaced-out cascading scuzzed-up art-punk, so they don’t have to deal with that stuff anyway. They’re herby-looking guys with no real stage presence and they apologize after fucking up on the last song, but their songs have enough jittery, awkward, triumphant energy that little things like presence don’t matter so much (and you can always play lack of presence off as “charm” anyway). Their choruses are big and shiney and spectacular, and their riffs are jangle and scrape. They work the fake-British-accent angle hard, possibly even saying “wanker” at some point and generally sounding a whole lot like Art Brut and probably a whole pile of old bands that I should know but don’t. I like this band.
Psychic Ills start out playing snakey, woozy reverbed drug-groove shit, but their space-rock excursions usually eventually turn into actual songs, which basically means they sound like Spiritualized. The singer is a handsome skinny kid with hair in his face who sings in a fey little whisper, buried in the mix, which also means they sound like Spiritualized. But they don’t quite always sound like Spiritualized because Spiritualized doesn’t have an amazing rhythm section, a low, heavy stomp that sometimes sounds almost tribal and always anchors the two guitarists’ gentle feedback spins. So yeah, I like this band too.