Portland noise-punks don’t usually look like this
The one time I saw Glass Candy, I didn’t really see them. They were playing at the Charm City Art Space, which was (is?) basically just a bad-smelling unfinished basement in a tiny Baltimore rowhouse. The space was run by some sort of anarcho-punk collective, and they held meetings and voted on stuff and, if I’m remembering this right, maintained a zine library on the ground floor. The basement semi-comfortably held maybe fifty people, and there were only a few spots were I could stand up without my head hitting the ceiling. The bathroom was always broken, so you had to run around the corner to the nearby gay bar if you wanted to take a piss. One time I saw Guy Piccioto from Fugazi standing outside the house. There was, needless to say, no stage. Most of the bands I saw there were crusty hardcore bands, and for some reason most of those crusty hardcore bands came from Pennsylvania. When Glass Candy played, the place was way too dense with bodies for me to catch more than an occasional glimpse of the people actually playing the music. From what I could see, though, those people were way too glamorous to be in that basement. Their music only hinted at that glamor, appropriating little pieces of arch new-wave hauteur into its guttural noise-rock skree. Retardedly hot frontwoman Ida No’s vocals were mostly unhinged Nina Hagen ululations, and guitarist Johnny Jewel, who could’ve probably cut down trees with his cheekbones, scraped and squealed and generally made ugly neon noise-splatters. I don’t remember seeing a drummer; for all I know, they might’ve been using a drum machine. That was four or five years ago, and I didn’t hear anything about Glass Candy in the intervening years. Since then, Ida No has apparently decided to stop being the hottest woman on the American noise rock scene. (That’s a world’s-tallest-midget situation if ever there was one – not because the girls who actually do like noise-rock aren’t pretty but because the girls-to-guys ratio at noise-rock shows outside New York is as absurdly low as you’d imagine.) And now, No has suddenly reemerged as a fully-formed disco ice-queen, and all I can wonder is what took her so long.
Glass Candy’s old noise-rock label, Troubleman Unlimited, recently launched an Italo-disco offshoot called Italians Do It Better with Glass Candy as one of their flagships, and the music that band has released this year is about as far from their skree roots as I can possibly imagine them getting without actually becoming different people. “I Always Say Yes,” the Glass Candy twelve-inch that made internet rounds a few months ago, is a dark and dreamlike pulse-haze, all metronomic drums and chilly piano-plinks and languid purrs. The band also has four standout tracks on the new Italians Do It Better compilation After Dark, and all of them follow the same atmospheric-groove blueprint, pushing it even further into glassy oblivion. If old Glass Candy was about rupture, new Glass Candy is about rhythm, and it’s a shockingly extreme metamorphosis. It doesn’t entirely sound like a different group of people, I suppose; No’s vocals carry the same forbidding sneer, and the cold glamor that the old records hinted at has now become tangible. But No has entirely abandoned her cut-loose shriek and moved instead into a soft-focus sigh miles removed from her old style. On After Dark, her band covers Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” and somehow makes its sad melodies even more melancholy and inviting than they were before. This stuff could almost pass for actual pop music, and it definitely works as a straight-up recreation of a long-dead genre. I wonder what caused the change. Maybe recording technology is so much cheaper and more accessible now than it was even a few years ago that Glass Candy can now use meager resources to make music that only major labels could’ve afforded to bankroll in Italo-disco’s first wave. Or maybe the band has just grown out of noise-punk; they certainly wouldn’t be the first to get sick of that stuff.
Either way, these new Glass Candy songs are just the latest examples of a really great trend I’ve been hearing. In the past few months, Sally Shapiro and Kathy Diamond have released really great albums that pretty much bite their melodies and beats and textures wholesale from early-80s Eurodisco wholesale. After Dark is the most cohesive compilation I’ve heard in a good long minute; every track on it could’ve believably come from the same artist, and the whole album can absolutely hang with the Shapiro and Diamond records. This Italo stuff may be straight-up pastiche, but it’s a pastiche of a genre that’s mostly been forgotten even by the reissue-compilers of the world, a mysterious blind-spot in music history. And these days, it’s that rare dance-music subgenre that skimps on neither hooks nor atmosphere. I’d much rather see this trend develop than ponder the prospect of another six months of filter-metal dominance. Glass Candy is playing P.S. 1’s summer Warm-Up series in August. If everything works out right, they’ll never have to walk into another shitty basement again.