On today’s docket: Gay Beast’s Second Wave, Passion Pit’s Manners, and Deerhunter’s Rainwater Cassette Exchange.
Parisian concertgoers began rioting when Stravinsky first premiered “The Rite of Spring” in 1913. The world had never heard such discordant, atonal music and it made them anxious, agitated, and ultimately, angry. The lesson? Truly “new” music isn’t always the most pleasant. And at first listen, Gay Beast’s Second Wave sounds downright abrasive. The queer trio’s relentless combo of screechy guitar, insane drums, arcade bleeps, and speaker feedback drowns out the Devo-esque wailing of singer Dan Luedtke. It’s an aural shot of espresso brewed to agitate, but that’s precisely their point. Second Wave refers to second-wave feminism, a post-war movement that challenged sexist stereotypes. Gay Beast’s redefinition of queer music involves a transgender sensibility that defies labels and takes its cues from free jazz and Indian carnatic music. Most will label the end result “noise rock,” as it’s defiantly improvisational, avant-garde, and cacophonous, but over time cohesion and purpose emerge. The sunny opening and dark closing tracks exemplify Gay Beast at their most listenable, with unique rhythms, discordant harmonies, and subtle shifts in timing. Their two instrumental tracks, “White Diamonds” and “Tides,” also provide instances where the mad instrumentation fights together rather than against itself. But their single, “Eeexxxpppaaannndddiiinnnggg” (MP3) reveals their true genius and ambition combining all of the above with Luedtke’s alternately funny and troubling lyrics: “You told me dreamy of brand new bodies and brand new weaponry? / Your boots got you shaking in your boots. / Who’s the he-she? Who’s the urge? / My shoes, my enormous high shoes / Match my lipstick, match my gun.” Though the ideas behind Second Wave are bigger than its songs, one cannot say Gay Beast’s reach exceeds their grasp. It’s a challenging album that ultimately rewards its listeners with the primordial sound of music at its newest hormones — cramps and all.
French Kiss Records
Frontman Michael Angelakos created Passion Pit’s premiere EP, Chunk of Change, solo as a belated valentine for his then girlfriend. The happy couple has since broken up, but their loss is our gain. Only one of the EP’s tracks, “Sleepyhead,” survived the break-up, but in the process Passion Pit picked up four extra members for a fuller, more exuberant synth-pop album thatss both addictively dancey and multi-layered. “Sleepyhead” (video) along with “Little Secrets” and “The Reeling” (video), showcase the band’s full-tilt fun with infectious synths, pounding 808s, and even a sing-along children’s choir. And although some mid-tempo tracks (like “To Kingdom Come” and “Let Your Love Grow Tall”) sound slow and sappy in comparison, they reinforce the humanity at the heart of this electronic collaboration. Angelakos’ lyrics champion passion over a life spent hiding in pits. His creative collaboration has resulted in joyous music that even his ex-girlfriend would like.
Rainwater Cassette Exchange (EP)
Haunted Hawaiian vacations, two weeks miserably in love, losing time, and blood on a Bowery sidewalk. Deerhunter weaves wistfully ethereal soundscapes kept triumphantly upbeat by Josh Fauver’s masterful basslines and Moses Archuleta’s heartbeat drums. The sad holiday rock will evoke memories of The Breeders’ Last Splash, but gay frontman Bradford Cox says they’ve shed their ambient punk label in development of what he calls “plastic folk.” Only the stripped-down “Game of Diamonds” fits that new label; it’s a low-point with repetitive bongo, piano and defeated lyrics. But even still, their five-track 15-minute EP stands as an accomplished mini-album with brilliance for veterans and newcomers alike. The titular opening (MP3) is a wistful Shangri-La doo-wop shifting into the high-energy “Disappearing Ink.” A theremin eerily warbles over Fox’s shoe-gazing vocals in “Famous Last Words.” Finally, the determined rock in ‘Circulation” falls into an audio collage that’s haunting, intense, and ultimately transcendent.
Daniel Villarreal lives in Austin. He’s currently writing a novel about self-loathing homophobia, theatre ghosts, and drunken gay fratboys that he hopes will one day be adapted into a breakfast cereal.