Illustrations by Debbie Allen
CMJ is great. It’s got all the stressful clusterfuckery of SXSW, but with none of the late night hot tub parties or surprise Kanye West performances! Jokes aside, it brings a ton of acts to town all at once, and you can’t really get mad at that. In honor of this grand industry tradition, Waste of Paint set out to discover some exciting, new (or at least newly buzzy) acts.
Thursday we stopped by the Sub Pop showcase at Knitting Factory Brooklyn to see King Tuff and Pissed Jeans. We arrived in time to catch the tail end of post-hardcore Canadians Metz punishing their instruments. We thrashed around as much as the packed house would allow, and added them to our mental list of bands to cover in full ASAP.
Next, King Tuff played a long and spirited set of neo garage rock, much of which was taken from their (or should I say his?) recent self-titled album. The solo project of Kyle Thomas (previously of J. Mascis vehicle Witch, Vermont freak folk outfit Feathers, and freak-pop group Happy Birthday), King Tuff is committed to exploring the various sounds of the period in American music commonly known as “classic rock” and lashing them together with his odd, nasal falsetto to create something playful and new. This hit my ears with varying degrees of success. Songs like “Bad Thing,” “Alone And Stoned” and “Lady” enticed me with heaping helpings of punk rock attack and ear worm-y pop hooks, but other times felt like watching (an admittedly talented) kid noodling in his bedroom to bygone greats like The New York Dolls, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Dylan. Granted, the Dylan impression Thomas lapsed into at times seemed intentionally hilarious.
How do I love Pissed Jeans? Let me count the ways. With their resistance to pop structure, pounding rhythm section, and frontman Matt Korvette’s hardcore vocal attack, they keep Sup Pop true to its cacophonous, confrontational, commercially un-viable sludge-punk roots. But despite the seven-year-old project not exactly being a “buzz” band, there were enough people freaking out in front to form a viable mosh pit, so maybe the long tail of Melvins-loving weirdos has paid for all those vinyl pressings, after all.
The relentless barrage of noise did get mind-numbingly monotonous at times (it’s supposed to), but Korvette kept things interesting with off-color jokes and audience interaction that bordered on performance art. Coming off like some kind of extra-angry, punk rock Don Rickles, he started out by making fun of the names of every other band that was currently playing the same timeslot at CMJ — “Come On Caboose? Lame. Computer Magic, that’s nerds. Mystery Skulls? Ooh, where did they come from, these mystery skulls?” — then performed numerous spastic strip teases, hopped like a frog, threw a bunch of mostly empty pizza boxes out onstage, and doled out more “observational” humor like “this amplifier is really tired tonight so it had to sit down, we got it a chair.” When a vaguely raver-ish girl in tie dyed jeans and a backwards baseball cap jumped onstage and tried to dance with him, he hilariously aped her movements. Needless to say, the crowd ate it up.
Saturday we ventured to the western edge of Manhattan to see Aussie act Slug Guts give the sterile air of 92Y Tribeca a seasonally appropriate soupçon of rotting corpse with music worthy of The Hunger‘s soundtrack.* With squalling guitars, sickly sax, and an ominously punchy rhythm section, they displayed a lecherous lurch worthy of their country’s greatest underground death rock acts, most notably The Birthday Party. Clad in black jeans, ’70s aviators, a gold chain, fingerless leather gloves, and, most amusingly, a mullet, singer James Dalgleish hammed it up as he spazzed around the mic like an electro-shock therapy patient, reveling in the spooky kitsch of it all. As he swung from a lobotomized baritone to a frantic, yelping shriek and back again, the most obvious comparison was the aforementioned Nick Cave, but there was also some gravel reminiscent of Marilyn Manson in his lower register. I mean this as a compliment; like Spin Magazine, I un-ironically believe Manson to be The Last Great Rockstar.
*A seminal 1983 horror film starring David Bowie and Catherine DeNeuve as a sexy vampire couple which helped popularize Bauhaus’ half-joking darkwave hit “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”
Lastly, Sky Ferreira brought us all down from Slug Guts’ orgasmic doom orgy to a place that was, at times, just as gloomy, if less aggressive. Between her modeling gigs, acting gigs, numerous shifts in style, and nepotistic origin story (Michael Jackson was a friend of the family and she recorded her first demo at 15), I’ll admit I was expecting to be at least a little disappointed by her live show.
Imagine, then, the pleasant surprise when the voice that came out of her tiny throat and through the speakers with minimal (if any) effects was the single most amazing sound I’d heard in a week of amazing sounds. She was tough but girly, sad but defiant, and she displayed her substantial range in a natural, non-showboating way. All this from a voice that was crystal clear but for an occasional raspiness, perhaps a function of overuse. The music itself was eclectic, ranging from ’80s inflected synth-pop to a more hard-edged rock sound reminiscent of the days when tough women like Alanis Morrisette and Shirley Manson ruled the pop charts. It’s no surprise, then, that Manson actually did co-write some of the songs on her new EP Ghost, as well as sometime Fiona Apple producer Jon Brion.
She closed the set with “Everything Is Embarrassing,” an achingly wistful Blood Orange-penned track which is quickly becoming her best known single to date. After just five songs, she flashed a rare smile and waved goodbye, a guy shouted “You are a goddess!” and you could feel the whole room falling in love with her.