Rock poses! Rock Poses!
United State of Electronica
October 7, 2005
Every critic has a pet band, someone who she likes and no one else does, someone who she writes about endlessly and yet can’t seem to convince anyone about. I’ve got Grand Buffet, Riff Raff has Deerhoof, Kelefa Sanneh has Dr. Dog. Usually, these bands go against what anyone would rationally think the critic would like. I don’t have any particular predilection for goofy nonsensical suburban white-guy rap, but Grand Buffet does it for me. Every once in a while, though, we find a critic who has an agenda, an aesthetic mission. A guy like this has a sound in his head, and he wants to find the bands that best conform to that sound and then to expose the world to that sound, thereby making the world sound a little bit more like that sound in his head. Matthew Perpetua is one of those agenda guys. If you’re reading this, you probably already know who he is, but I’ll tell you anyway: Perpetua is the guy behind Fluxblog, a massively popular daily MP3 blog. He posts a song or two a day, and sometimes these songs will grab people’s imagination and lead to good things happening for the bands who recorded those songs. Perpetua posted a track by the Scissor Sisters when they were still a goofy downtown pop-art novelty, and poof, a few months later they were signed and had an album and blew the fuck up in England. I don’t know if the Scissor Sisters blew up as a direct result of Perpetua’s props, but it certainly didn’t hurt. (Disclosure stuff: Perpetua is an editor at a website called Buzznex, and I write blurbs for him sometimes.)
Perpetua’s taste generally runs toward music that might be called militantly twee, stuff that flaunts its ecstatic hookiness and twinkly smiles so egregiously that it becomes necessary at a certain point to wonder whether it was made by humans. Perpetua has a name for this stuff: joycore. Joycore seems to be what might happen if Beat Happening discovered disco and feather boas and then won a million-dollar grant to make something exponentially brighter and shinier than the muddily simple indie-pop they actually made. Perpetua has found the ultimate realization of this joycore dream in the Seattle indie-dance-pop band United State of Electronica. Even more than Scissor Sisters or Junior Senior, USE is the Fluxblog aesthetic brought to life. So when Perpetua champions USE, it doesn’t come off like a crotchety critic vainly trying to convince everyone around him of the worth of some arcane bands. It feels like Perpetua trying to make this joycore thing happen.
The easiest and probably most accurate way to describe USE’s music is Daft Punk filter-disco played on mostly non-electronic instruments by young and absurdly bright-faced indie kids with the self-consciously goofy partytime verve of the early B-52s. Their hometown shows are reportedly revelatory all-ages spectacles, often involving conga lines. And yeah, it’s mostly pretty great: big hooks, sweatily loose energy, relentlessly and irresistibly blissed-out vibe-rays. The house element of their music isn’t obvious at first beyond the liberal use of vocoder, but it becomes more apparent when the band goes from one track into another without pausing, keeping the same beat throughout, like a DJ set. Of USE’s seven members, five could serve as perfectly serviceable frontpeople (possibly six, since the drummer has a microphone and likes to talk). Only the bassist came off looking introverted; the frontline of two ridiculously cute blonde female singers, two frantically sweaty dude singer/guitarists, and one flamboyantly sweatpanted keyboardist/vocoder-guy was a virtual army of ecstatically spazzy, starry-eyed charisma.
But if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t have a lot of use for anime and if you’ve just spent, let’s say, a rainy afternoon writing about Beanie Sigel, it can all be a bit much: the fog machine, the swirling middle-school-dance lights, the hey! hey! hey!s, the drummer who likes to rap. USE can be like that friend who gets drunk at parties and insists that everyone push the couches against the walls and dance to the Flashdance soundtrack. But then, this friend is usually right; you’re probably better off getting drunk and dancing to the Flashdance soundtrack. And it’s a tribute to USE and to Perpetua’s mission that it wasn’t even annoying when the show ended with a bunch of doofs from the audience jumping onstage to dance.