On the Decks: February 2014 (Wild Moccasins, Math the Band)

Hi, GeeKon Record readers! Before we get going, a bit of administrative errata: after like four months, I’ve finally settled on a name for this column! We’re going to call it On The Decks, and if you seek out the LCD Soundsystem lyric I’m referencing with that name, I’m going to be very proud of you. Second, to establish a recurring format for this column (which I will no doubt immediately regret and deviate from because I’m difficult), every month I’m going to talk about a few recently released songs or albums, what makes them interesting, and whether or not they’re worth your time.

Wild Moccasins – 88 92
Released February 4, 2014 – New West Records

There’s a moment on the last album this band released, Skin Collision Past, that’s always been my favorite. Even though it’s only seven seconds, it’s a glorious seven seconds, the kind that I usually rewind in the song to listen to repeatedly when I get to it. It’s during the title track, which is for the most part a tightly-controlled, intricate little indie pop tune, very twee…except for right after the first chorus, where the drum and guitar explode into this huge crescendo. For as immaculately arranged as the rest of the album is, for those seven seconds, the band lets loose and goes completely off the rails.

88 92 sounds like what would happen if the Wild Moccasins from those seven seconds made an album. It’s great.

While you still get doses of sunny pop (“Gag Reflections,” “Soft Focus,”) the band decides to throw a whole bunch of genres into its melting pot and hop among them with aplomb. “Open Sesames” starts with mellow choruses of harmonized ooohs and aaahs, but halfway through, the drums kick into gear and the bassline gets incredibly funky. The game-show guitar lick of “Eye Makeup” and the drum machines of “Painless Mouth” dabble in 80’s new wave. The layers of processed and distorted instrumentation on the closer, “When I Said I Saw It Coming,” make the whole song mix together into an intoxicating swirl.

The lead single is also the album’s highlight. The spacey introduction of the album’s second half erupts into “Emergency Broadcast,” which makes a hell of a first impression if you’re going into it expecting the trappings of earlier Wild Moccasins. The combination of a wall of cacophonous guitars, insistent cries to “listen, come on” and the dance-y bass and drums makes the song sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Talking Heads getting into a fist fight. In both that song and the album, there’s more tension than the band’s previous work–but in getting a little darker, they’ve also crafted a sound with clear influences that’s never-the-less distinctive.

**(In case you’re wondering, it’s from approximately 1:28 to 1:35 of track 1 of Skin Collision Past. I went back and checked for you.)

Math the Band – Stupid and Weird
Released February 4, 2014 – Anchor Brain Records

Math the Band need you to be excited. They bill themselves as an “electro-punk spazz duo,” and that’s as good of a description as any I’ve heard. They use synthesizers, drum machines set to double-time, and heavily distorted guitars to create loud,  obnoxious punk music. No matter what they’re singing about–stress, people being jerks, haircuts, cooking breakfast–they’re incredibly enthusiastic, the vocals often less sung than yelled at top of their lungs. They make “the most partiest music they can imagine,” and on their most recent albums, that aesthetic has gained a sense of urgency–they need you to party and be excited with them, because if you can’t do that, what else is there?

On Stupid and Weird, Math the Band decides to venture off in some new musical directions. There’s more analog instruments on this than any of their previous albums, for one. When the opener “January, 2008” follows its final chorus of “I don’t wanna go home anymore / I don’t wanna turn back round tomorrow” with a huge, rousing chorus of jazzy saxophones, it’s so unexpected that it quickly becomes hilarious and endearing. Elsewhere, the band uses a full horn section and its wall of synthesizers on “I Ate The Mold,” and it turns out they have an unused knack for writing weird 80’s pop songs. Even the more typical Math the Band songs–the title track, “BFFU”–benefit from the expanded musical palette, as if they’ve been given room to breathe.

And then the album ends with Parts 1 and 2 of “Going Back To School,” where the band slows down to ask themselves “what else is there?” The song is understated it’s almost shocking. Over a couple bubbling synth lines, lead Kevin Steinhauser sings in hushed tones about the desire for your life to mean something, about being “afraid of dying with nothing to do.” Then, with a huge, chilling wave of synthesizers, Part 2 starts, and the lyrics start talking about how long he’s been in his head, chasing dreams, and so on. Once you get to the part about “holding the rhythm while you watch the melody,” you realize just how personal of a song it is. It’s Steinhauser, singing to himself as much as the listener, with the sort of existential worry that comes from doubting something you’ve worked at for years. For a musical project so insistent on constant joy at all costs, it’s a huge moment of vulnerability. I certainly never expected a Math the Band song to make me cry. (Especially not one that ends with a bassline played on a tuba.)