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Mannequin Pussy seek perfection on new Perfect EP

Much like Jamie Lee Curtis ‘s fitness instructor and John Travolta’s investigative journalist in the movie Perfect from 1985, pm the EP recently released by Mannequin Pussy also called Perfect (Epitaph Records) the Philly-based band likewise walk a fine line between outrageous provocation and romantic distress and Lycra-sheathed sensuality and moral confrontation and it'll likely hit you just as hard as Ms. Curtis's pelvic thrust routine hits in the movie whatever your thoughts on Travolta’s form-fitting shorts and his overall spotty ‘80s filmography (excepting Blow Out, the Philadelphia-set Brian De Palma classic) culminating with those talking baby movies and don’t even get me started on Battlefield Earth because that's its own ball of wax.

Fortunately, in stark contrast to the big-budget bloat of Mr. Travolta’s L. Ron Hubbard Scientology-flogging space-opera dud, Mannequin Pussy’s Perfect is a far tighter affair. Which is also great news for anyone too lazy to digest their three existing full-length records since the EP successfully distills their most outstanding qualities down to an economical 13 minutes (almost 14 minutes!) with a running order that follows the age old pentatartite structure of extended play records:

Track 1) Melodic power-pop/alt-rock banger alternating between lighter waving and head banging parts; track 2) ferocious punk rock rave-up with verbal dressing down of the enables of oppressive social forces; track 3) melodic power-pop/alt-rock banger alternating between lighter waving and head banging parts; track 4) ferocious punk rock rave-up with verbal dressing down of the enablers of oppressive social forces; and track 5) the unexpectedly wistful, ethereal ballad closing number expressing undying devotion so believably and sweetly that even Karen O may be a little jealous

To give one example of impactful brevity you can check out the title track above where the band maintain a face-melting musical escape velocity for a full two minutes as do the Real Punk Rock Housewives of Philadelphia who star in the accompanying music video. Brevity doesn't equal boredom obviously.

And speaking of which if your band is called Mannequin Pussy you better not be boring or ever lose your sense of humor or provocation and the band hasn’t done any of these things by a long shot. It's just that they've taken the prude-provoking attitude of early songs like "Clit Eastwood" and "Pissdrinker" and "Meat Slave 2" and filtered it through a hard won sense of maturity and cumulative life experience so that that now a line like “spit on my tits / tell me I’m perfect” registers with a newfound impact placed in the larger context of the insecurity and masochism encouraged by societal beauty standards and social media and high school class reunions. (Jason Lee)





Writhing Squares have a Chart For The Solution

Imagine if Electric Mayhem sax man Floyd Pepper and bandmate/electric bassist Zoot took a break from Jim Henson's house band and got a hold of some vintage drum machines and synths and an array of effects pedals and then fed their heads full of James Chance and the Contortions, Steve and Andy Mackay (no relation), the Sun Ra Arkestra, Kraftwerk, Lemmy-era Hawkwind, and The Comet Is Coming when it comes to their contemporaries, and then moved to South Philly to add more layers of grit and vigor to their sound and you’d probably end up with something like Writhing Squares and something like their third and latest LP Chart For The Solution.

In reality, Writhing Squares is comprised of Kevin Nickles and Daniel Provenzano who in addition to their respective sax and bass duties both play synths and contribute vocals, with Daniel pulling extra duty on percussion and programming, and Kevin filling in some flute and oboe parts. Chart For The Solution came out a couple months ago and it's been in my rotation ever since so I can vouch for the album's durability and its high quotient of electric mayhem.



The first track is called “Rogue Moon” and it picks up in a way from where the last track of their previous album left off, namely “A Whole New Jupiter” which took up the last 19 minutes of 2019’s Out of the Ether--a heavy psych rewrite of A Love Supreme transformed into triple time and with rhapsodic skronk saxophone played over overdriven bass it all comes off something like a No Wave Coltrane. 

Likewise, “Rogue Moon” rides a loping riff into the psychedelic sunset except here the foundation is a burbling analog synth arpeggiation with NEU!ish interlocking rhythms that shift the downbeat around in your head and then right in the middle the song turns itself inside out and stays that way for the rest of its eleven-minute duration--a dreamy coda that's like the soft underbelly to the first half's gleaming steel exterior.

Aside from any overlaps, Chart For The Solution stakes out new terrain for the Squares with a newly cinematic production on some of the tracks and ever more adventurous playing and arrangements. But it never veers too far from their lo-fi ethos roots either--whether in the swirling sonic vortex of “Geisterwaltz” or the post-punky surf rock party of “Ganymede” or the back masked ambient interlude of “A Chorus of Electrons” or the Stooge-worthy rave-up of “NFU.” It all culminates in the 18-minute headtrip “The Pillars” which begins by sounding like a UFO landing and then turns into a bleep-bloopy coldwave number with Alan Vega verbal outbursts before taking a turn in the final part with the duo seemingly inhabited by the ghost of Lou Reed trying to get out of another record contract.

In the end it all speaks to the band's enigmatic name, a name suggesting the cohabitation of opposite forces, such as rigid geometric “squares” that can somehow kinesthetically “writhe” because on one side you’re got regimentation and repetition and on the other side looseness and grooviness.  It's a dynamic heard in the Writhing Squares' conjoining of trance-like repetition and wild sonic freeness, punk and prog in equal measure, maxed-out minimalistic music for the select masses. (Jason Lee)





Remember Sports comes into their own on "Like A Stone"

This band of West Philly-ites used to be called Sports back in their Gambier, Ohio days perhaps in homage to the classic Huey Lewis and the News album—the one that had Patrick Bateman so excitedly touting its merits to his investment banker pal and rival right before hacking him to bits—but changed their name to Remember Sports (RS) most likely because they were too often mistaken for a Huey Lewis tribute band. Which actually isn’t too far off in a certain sense because RS also knows how to write a good catchy earworm hook when so inclined, a fact I can attest to because the album-opening “Pinky Ring” has been stuck in my head for about a week now and may necessitate playing “I Want A New Drug” on repeat here soon just to dislodge it for a little while.

On their fourth full-length release, Like A Stone, the band have really come into their own commercially and artistically. The record features a clear, crisp sound that gives the songs a sheen of consummate professionalism while also serving as a personal statement about the band itself. And yes I’m quoting Bret Easton Ellis via Mary Harron but hey our favorite ax murderer’s words are relevant here because Like A Stone is exquisitely executed and produced (production credit belonging to Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader, the latter name being almost too appropriate) featuring the band’s always strong songwriting fleshed out with arrangements that move through multiple peaks and valleys and discordant bits and mellow bits and various sonic stalagmites and stalactites like with the occasional appearance of steel guitar or banjo or circuit-bent electronics thrown into the mix. 

Still even with all these compelling musical details there’s a case to be made that the most striking instrument is the voice of lead singer and songwriter Carmen Perry. If you happen to be a classic country music buff, you may have heard the oft-cited quote from countrypolitan record producer and songwriter Billy Sherrill describing the “little teardrop” he heard in Tammy Wynette’s voice when she walked into his office as a complete unknown and then of course went on to become a genre-spanning legend. And that little teardrop was a big part of what made her voice so distinctive—all the little breaks and flutters and shifts in register and dynamics perfectly suiting the heartbreak at the heart of her best known and best loved songs. 

Well it turns out Perry also has a little teardrop in her voice, or maybe more like a medium sized teardrop at least, which likewise suits the heartbreak and romantic longing and emotional resiliance at the core of Like A Stone—from the peppy but bittersweet 39-second reverie over a “Coffee Machine” to the slow-burning-nearly-seven-minutes-long appeal to an errant lover to express their hidden feelings “Out Loud.” Another recurring and closely related theme is the nature of memory itself and the passage of time with lines about “archiv[ing] the past with some shit that won’t last you a lifetime” (“Materialistic”) and “taking in the scenery from the corners of your mind” (“Sentimentality”) and “just sit[ting] here till the clock runs out” (“Clock”) and “my eggs flow[ing] right out of me like clockwork every month” (“Eggs”) which all makes the Remember in Remember Sports suddenly all the more relevant.

But don’t be put off if this all sounds a little bit on the heavy side because the music and vocalizing on this album have an energy and warmth that balances out the darker sentiments and you can see how the band brings it live above. Plus did I mention in the video to “Pinky Ring” above you get to see Carmen Perry pelted with eggs while wearing big plastic goggles and there’s also a part toward the end where the viewer is instructed to put on 3-D glasses (that is, if you have a pair laying around) and in fact it does look like the end part is legit in 3-D so clearly this band know how to have some fun? And since I did just mention it, it’s probably time to take my leave now because I have to go return some videotapes. (Jason Lee)

band photo credit: Sonia Kiran

 





Spirit of the Beehive take a dark ride on "Entertainment, Death"

Blatantly disregarding the double-live principle of rock school on their fourth full-length, Spirit of the Beehive instead take the listener on a dark ride. The record is called Entertainment, Death and with its cover image of faceless funhouse patrons being beckoned into the mouth of madness of an amusement ride’s entryway, a mouth belonging to a cartoonish but menacing red-eyed devil, we’re given a hint of what’s to come inside--a carnival ride full of herky-jerky twists and turns. 

Entertainment, Death moves restlessly between ambient floating-in-space “tunnel of love” passages like heard in the song above and whiplash passages as illustrated below, similar to when the midway ride's bumper car rolls over a relay switch illuminating a skeleton or some other scary creature leaping out of a casket and lunging straight at you, accompanied by a loud cackling laugh and a spray of hissing steam. 



Despite the seeming stream-of-consciousness of much of Entertainment, Death the album is organized around a conceit that makes thematic sense out of its through-composed structure. Album opener “Entertainment” begins in medias res and ushers the listener through a sonic birth canal of rumbling drones, squealing test tones, scuttling percussion and intense ethereal whooshing. But relative calm then descends with a loping rhythm and chirping birds and a pastoral folk song melody with harmonized vocals informing us that “I woke up when I heard the blow / heading east towards KSMO” a calm that’s broken only slightly by the entrance of glitching synths and a warped string section. 

Guitarist/vocalist Zack Schwartz and bassist/vocalist Rivka Ravede have explained elsewhere that while on tour for 2018’s Hypnic Jerks they suffered a tire blowout in route to a gig in Kansas City, Missouri (a tour that had them opening for the band Ride no less) which led to them imagining a scenario where they perished in the aftermath of a car accident and where their new album would be conceived as a series of fleeting thoughts and musical fragments and distant memories triggered in the split-second leading up to their imminent death occurring on the last track fittingly called “Death.”

More than just an inner space travelogue the record also serves as a reckoning of sorts for lives spent creating and consuming “content” (a.k.a. entertainment) with the Beehive crew expressing some ambivalence and admitting “I regret some choices I’ve made / entertainment only remains / while I keep descending / who will decipher the pain from the lie?” and between the bookmark tracks of “Entertainment” and “Death” the album delves into a sonic and lyrical purgatory for the rest of its running time, descending into Hell for the penultimate multi-part “I Suck The Devil’s Cock,” a song that doesn’t so much advocate demonic fellatio as it advocates demonic fellatio used as a metaphor for the Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul for rock ‘n’ roll or of serving the servants by serving new content to the modern-day deity of the Internet server.

Just in case you're not finding it easy, one good way to get on the wavelength of Entertainment, Death is to read up on what the Buddhists call “bardo”--intermediate, indeterminate state of non-being (based in becoming vs. being) like the twilight state between wakefulness and sleep (a.k.a. hypnagogia) or the cosmic void between life and death or between death and rebirth. Spirit of the Beehive cross the dharmata bardo or “luminous void” described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle as represented by the record's shifting tempos, warped pitches, flanged timbres and vacillations between chaos and stillness where “enough is never enough” and where the “remember[ed] promise of a future” is replaced by an eternal present. 

Both the quotes directly above are taken from “There’s Nothing You Can’t Do” which transforms a cheap ad slogan into an aspirational mantra and a luminous void (“Property of Void Industries”) and for almost two minutes it comes on like a song you’d hear at a sexy alien discotheque--with a slinky groove wedded to a strangely alluring detuned trumpet and wispy vocals that declare the merits of a “heavy hand, middle class / chemical in a bag / all I want; love me all the time” before lifting off into s hook at 1’13 that's sublime enough for one to overlook the quiet desperation of lyrics like “Could it all be in my head?” and “I made my bed, I’ll lie in it”--a song that just about any other band would leave untouched and promote as their radio-ready new single. But instead SotB drown their potential hit song in the bathtub toward its end, submerging it under waves of feedback and distortion and paranoid-sounding screaming that promises “I’ll be your friend” over and over again but which I usually hear as asking “Are you afraid?”

 

And so with Entertainment, Death the Philly-based three piece (reduced from five on their last LP; Zach and Rivka are joined here by multi-instrumentalist Corey Wichlin) Spirit of the Beehive have assembled fragments of their musical past--ranging from early shoegaze and noise-based music to sample-based collage and dreamy indie rock and electronic experimentation--into a cut-and-pasted musical journey that combines the aforementioned elements with other influences (e.g., vaporwave) resulting in a manifesto for the end times that beckons you to enter the void and to buy their band t-shirts and art works. (Jason Lee)





Air Devi writes songs about moving and mosquitos

Air Devi is both a band and a person which is like a PJ Harvey kind of deal. And also like PJ Harvey, she's got some serious musical and songwriting chops. Air Devi, the person, is alternatiely know as Devi Majeske and she's a violinist, sitarist, guitarist, bass guitarist, keyboardist, and a fairly recent U. Penn grad who writes cool songs that come across pretty laid back at first but then get under your skin and into your heart and head. Like on the recent single “Mosquitos in the Backyard,” a song that floats by like a big marshmallow cloud and with images of “wash lines swaying” and “lush perfume hanging” to match. Except when you dig a little deeper it's not all strawberries and cream because the song appears to either be about contracting malaria and/or it's a pretty brutal take down of a pest and narcissist with lines like “you’ll feed on anything that breathes / you never loved anything." Another clever touch is how the choruses sound a little bit like a buzzing mosquito with the chopped-up guitar chords and circling bass line on the high strings so there's much to comtemplate here.

Air Devi draws from diverse musical roots ranging from first-wave punk to Bollywood soundtracks to bedroom singer-songwriter pop to folkie psychedelia but there’s one recurring motif to my ears in how she/they often combine a blissed out vibe in the music and vocals with lyrics that are a series of sharply observed slices-of-life and streams-of-consciousness--pulling from disperate stands of thought and stands of identity and even from different languages with code-switching into French and Gujarati on a handful of songs. 

The latter Indo-language is heard on “Move Without Place," a song that rotates gracefully between styles—the Gujarati comes at the end of a sequence that moves first from ambient indie pop to a syncopated baggy beat with a Bollywood-like vocal melody and then Air Devi wondering aloud “Am I colonizable? Capitalizable?” when everything suddenly stops for a split-second and a bell chimes and then it goes into what sounds like traditional Hindustani music complete with dholak drumming, which is simlilar to a tabla but double-headed, and electric guitar and entrancing ornamented singing but then it all unwinds down to a single repeated guitar note and then back to the syncopated beat with the amibient indie pop backing and back around again. The restless musical arrangement perfectly captures the theme of the song to "move without place [and] make my own space" even if one's skin and the whole world itself is "splintered" and "sensitive."

It's all equally visceral and heady stuff--a dialectic that can be applied to much of Air Devi's music in my humble opinion. But you can make up your own mind by listening to the two aforementioned singles and then 2020’s Swanning About EP above ("No Clearances" is a particuarly lovely statement of purpose). And if you need more you can check out earlier singles like "Standoffish" and "Alchemist" and the stripped-down DIY of 2018's Chicken Nuggies & Rosé EP with some of its contents later rearranged in full-band form on Swanning such as "My Landlord Is An Asshole!" and who can really argue with a sentiment like that. And then, if that's not enough, you can dig into Air Devi's Soundcloud page and find even earlier works like the anti-Putin diss track "Kremlin Bop" that doubles as a Ramones-like sing-a-long with the title perhaps even being an homage to said band. 


But hey let’s not fixate on the past because cheap nostalgia is so 2020. And plus it'll be even more interesting to see and hear what Air Devi does next. (Jason Lee)

 

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