The Joys of Incoherence


The Mae Shi need a day off. Since 2004, these L.A. art-punks have released a 33-song debut on Kill Rock Stars, commissioned 32 videos for it, and finished a tour documentary, CD-Rs, an EP, and now, this split. Like labelmates Deerhoof, they democratically explore ideas like eight-bit keyboard lines, shout breaks, and programmed beats, privileging experimentation over consistency. Maybe it’s coast wars or simply just scorn for laziness, but the lyrics to “Massively Overwrought” are more critical than observational: “I came back from New York City with a new and abstruse vocabulary to throw at everyone/For example ‘Love it, love it, take a bump, grrrl.’ ” Their post-punk has lapped emo—it’s not the “grrrls” that bother them, but their lack of urgency.

Frequent tourmates Rapider Than Horsepower keep a similar schedule and tend a similar sound, but with a less desirable signal-to-noise ratio. So while their half of Don’t Ignore the Potential coheres more—guitars weave as unpredictably as a bottle rocket and the lead singer’s lispy caterwaul, a cross between Isaac Brock and Roger Rabbit, never gets old—their homogeneity makes that coherence less interesting. It’s not hard to tell that the Mae Shi are the better band, with a nervous repetition and on-a-dime stylistic shifts signaling the same oscillations between gratification and dissatisfaction as an OCD patient rearranging objects on a table: arbitrary, but necessary. Did Deerhoof’s The Runners Four bust you up because it was great in itself, or because you saw its greatness slowly building albums away? Then you’ll know whether to listen to Mae Shi now, or just let that same potential build for a while. It could be just months, if their output stays the same.