Black Kids Giddily Rage Against the Hype Machine


The dance floor, for a great many of us, I’m afraid, is an entirely metaphorical construct, as remote and sci-fi and mythical a setting for a song as, say, Middle Earth or Mars or Ybor City. Nonetheless, it’s a better place from which to regard Black Kids than the Internet. “It’s Friday night, and I ain’t got nobody!” yelps Reggie Youngblood, frontman and ringleader of the artfully American Appareled and magnificently bedheaded Florida quintet, regaling a similarly clad and coifed crowd shoehorned into moderately swank downtown club Santos’ Party House. It’s Friday night, and not everybody has somebody, and thus Reggie’s lament is quite well received. “It’s Friday night, and I ain’t got nobody!” everyone shouts, jumping up and down on what is not technically a dance floor at the moment, but there’s lots of fist-pumping and pogoing and half-hearted moshing and general enthusiasm, which is good enough. The next line of the song is “What’s the use in making a bed?”, which is not necessarily what lonely people ordinarily think in the situation Reggie is describing, but fuck it.

This is not the sort of band one ought to overthink. The opening lines of “Hit the Heartbrakes” (oof), the leadoff track on Black Kids’ full-length debut, Partie Traumatic, knocked brattily betwixt Reggie and his two-girl keyboards/backing vocals/cheerleading core, Dawn Watley and Ali Youngblood (Reggie’s sister, and the only other black kid), are as follows:

Knock knock

(Who’s there?)

Call the ghost in your underwear

(Call the ghost in your underwear who?)

Call the ghost in your underwear “Boo”

Beats the hell out of me. This knock-knock-joke thing is nearly a motif; it reoccurs later on “Listen to Your Body Tonight” (body, in various permutations, is this band’s favorite word), during a less abstract call-and-response breakdown:

(Our brain, hello?)

Hello, this is your body

(What do you want, my body?)

I want to feel somebody, on me

Repeat incessantly. The lyrics to Black Kids’ quasi-hit, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You,” as reprinted in Partie Traumatic‘s CD booklet, include 17 exclamation points. Another song contracts “with you” into “witchoo.” The title track rhymes “grits” with “tits.” Dawn and Ali giddily supply a torrent of bob-bop‘s, beep-beep‘s, do-do-do-do‘s, oh-wee-oh‘s, and dance! dance! dance! dance!‘s. This should be the band’s only m.o. at the moment: wildly catchy and/or catastrophically stupid dance-punk. Reggie’s yelp approximates several famous British singers; by his own admission, his true target is Jarvis Cocker, and while nothing these doofuses are capable of can slink within 100 miles of Pulp’s “Common People,” this shortcoming is not uncommon. Nothing wrong with dumb fun.

Of course, this is not Black Kids’ m.o. They have instead become an unwitting flash point for blog hype, riding the ups and downs of New York magazine’s Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations as literally as any band ever has, from buzz to saturation point to backlash to backlash to the backlash. At the moment, we’re somewhere between those last two. The cycle began last year when Pitchfork bestowed a glowing 8.4 review on the Wizard of Ahhhs EP—four exceedingly rough tracks available free on MySpace, essentially—which led to newly minted fans actually shouting “8.4!” at the band during a hometown show soon thereafter. This in turn led to a ridiculously overhyped and, by all accounts, dramatically underwhelming appearance at fall 2007’s CMJ Music Marathon, after which Partie Traumatic was rush-recorded by Suede’s Bernard Butler, who produced songs both old and new to within an inch of their lives, pouring on the glitz, the gauze, the goopy synths, and the Grand Canyon echo to actually get those bop-bop‘s and beep-beep‘s in tune. (The record basically sounds like a typical rapper’s MySpace page looks.)

Climactically, and perhaps inevitably, Pitchfork hated it: a 3.3 rating accompanied merely by the text Sorry :-/ superimposed over a photo of two apologetic-looking dogs. This is certainly the first instance of a prominent publication trashing a band that the publication itself had previously heralded upon the release of that band’s debut album. The hype cycle these days is both quicker and infinitely more vicious: Eventually, unknown Brooklyn bands will be praised to the skies and graced with a headlining gig at the Bowery Ballroom, only to find that the backlash has rendered them worthless before they even have time to throw all their gear in a van and drive it across the Williamsburg Bridge.

No one shouts “3.3!” at Black Kids Friday night. (Yes, I considered it.) The band is, indeed, still very much a work in progress: Any time stoic, placidly thumping secret-weapon bassist Owen Holmes isn’t driving the rhythm, the songs nearly fall apart. Reggie’s guitar solos leave something to be desired (namely, other instruments that are louder). Ali occasionally taps out simple rhythms on a drum pad, triggering a metronomic sample that sounds an awful lot like someone tapping on a drum pad, just slightly louder, which is maybe supposed to be meta but probably not. And all the goop aside, Partie Traumatic has a few softer, sweeter, subtler moments—the yelps and chants subside for a few clicks on “I’m Making Eyes at You,” leaving a driving Footloose beat and a merciful bounty of breathing room—that fall limp onstage. It’s Friday night, and those who ain’t got nobody would rather avoid all the fuss and just have bombastically giddy twentysomethings shout cute slogans at us for an hour or so. Such are the quaint, uncomplicated desires of common people.