‘a work of controlled aggression and angst which sounds and feels suitably otherworldly, intriguing, threatening and, most importantly, thrilling‘ – WatchingCattle stops complaining for just long enough to enjoy Psychic Teens‘ Come.
I’m a man that loves to complain. I like drinking and smoking and complaining. I like long walks in the rain and complaining about the weather. I love football and support a team that never wins anything and I complain. It’s not even the case that I’m a glum man. No, I’m content in my complaints. I like to moan. I have no time for people who don’t complain. These folks worry me. They live their whole lives like some sort of Gary Cooper or John Wayne type – never uttering a word of complaint and then they keel over at 40. Dead. And the funeral is filled with misty eyed relations talking about how he or she never had a bad word to say about anybody or anything. He/she was a saint, wouldn’t harm a fly. Oh saints be praised, lord have mercy on us.
I distrust these people with every fibre of my being. They have to be serial killers or closet nazis, or they do unspeakable things with the neighbour’s children or pets. Or they simply die of an aneurysm caused by self denial. All that bottled up disappointment, angst and rage just forms bubbles in the blood that eventually poisons them, right? Either that or they’re just not bright enough to notice that the world is in fact completely deserving of derision and complaint. Let it out people. Stop bottling up your bile ducts. Rage on with me.
Lately I’ve been complaining a lot about the fact that every time I turn on a radio or listen to the “hip” new thing on the internet it sounds like something I heard 15 years ago and it was an oldie even then. Apparently Robert Smith is in about 40 fucking bands these days because his high pitched yelp seems to be fucking everywhere. He looks like he doesn’t get off the couch unless you have a Mars bar attached to a rope at the end of a stick to bait him with, but apparently he’s out there every night singing his heart out and wearing tight jeans and disguising himself as a younger skinnier man. Like a cast member of Beverly Hills 90210 – the original one where everyone was actually 35, not the new one where everyone is 22. It’s the kind of thing that I love to complain about. Then there’s surf pop. Don’t get me started on fucking surf pop. Buy a fucking surf board anywhere in these islands and you’ll soon be writing an album about how life is just impenetrable wave of misery after another. That the cold of the water is equal to the coldness in the hearts of men and that the end – like hypothermia – always looms large in the immediate future. You sure as fuck will not be writing about how lovely the sun and sand are because they fucking aren’t. The sun is either scalding hot on our pale freckled skin or fucking absent and the sand is full of sharp objects, beer cans and used condoms. Fuck surf pop.
My theory on why there are so many retro acts pumping out derivative grim rehashes of their influences and why this retro obsession remains so prevalent is called my “google rock theory” I’ll explain it in full one day but basically the bones of it are that:
Because of how Google and other search engines work, content on the internet has to be easily found and as a result the key phrase and key word to describe your site, or your product, is almost as important as the product or the site itself. So for example googling football highlights brings up a page of results on which several sites which stream illegally uploaded content are higher in the pecking order than Sky Sports or BBC. This is all part of modern marketing – it’s vital because what’s the point in having a website if no one can find it?
So, in short, bands and more importantly the ‘industry’ (i.e. promoters, journalists, labels etc.) have to do the same, since the internet is the easiest and most effective way to disseminate your work. Unfortunately there are always a bunch of lazy pricks who can fuck everything up and make the world infinitely more fucking boring. In this case I’m taking square aim at the ‘curators’ (a term that fucking disgusts me by the way).
With literally billions of records out there all democratically available for your attention people have turned to these noble folks, these ‘curators’, for guidance. That’s nothing new. Music journalism has always been there but never before has it been so fucking lazy. Most of what you read about bands now are just a list of names of other bands. For example, 10 years ago:
Interpol = The Cure + The Smiths + Joy Division
So it’s unsurprising when the ‘industry’, so to speak, employs the same formula to find, mould and sell bands in the first place i.e.:
The Cure + Joy Division + Siousie and The Banshees = Savages
Pavement + Dinosaur Jr + any fucking other band circa 1990-1997 = Yuck
And it almost has to be this way so that the internet can easily cross-reference everything and link it together. Music Journalists used to be gonzo lunatics who drank too much and typed late at night while on a speed binge. They used to die at 40 after a string of failed marriages – they died from failed livers, half deaf and utterly broke. Now they’re vegan fucking librarians who can link two pages of the internet together. Well done shit heads. You’re fucking things up yet again.
See. I love complaining. But what does any of this have to do with Psychic Teens?
Well, let’s start with Interpol. When they appeared 10 years ago it was a case of “ooh ok they’re nice and retro is always ‘in’ so we’ll all fawn over them. Yay it’s so fresh.” To be fair to Interpol, Turn On The Bright Lights does have enough good tunes and enough of its own personality to be judged on its own merits. The rest of their records I couldn’t be bothered with but on that occasion at least they managed to make something that was both retro and of its time. Its influences where obvious without choking the life out of the whole thing. That’s actually high praise coming from me. All too often since then I’ve found that albums which occupy the same space in mainstream culture are simply drowned in their influences. The worst offenders being bands like Yuck and Savages who simply sound like a mix tape rather than an actual band. Of course I’m not saying that there wasn’t boring sub-par derivative shitty rip off rock around before the internet. There was. But never before has being a shitty fucking rip off been celebrated so widely by the very people who are supposed to be calling it shitty knock off garbage.
Herein lies the the enigma of Psychic Teens. A band who are seemingly not signed to any major label or it seems aren’t too likely to be suddenly playing in the mid-sized venue near you or indeed not likely to be heavily rotating on your mainstream alternative radio stations or well curated sites. However they are the exact type and quality of band that probably could and should be.
From the first moments of Come (yes the album is called Come – apparently ‘spunk’ and ‘jizz’ were taken and ‘love mayonnaise’…well is just a bit too uncouth) its influences are blatantly obvious. The more unhinged theatrical end of the early to mid-80s post punk and goth inform pretty much everything about the album – from its cover to its tone and content. It sounds like The Birthday Party and Joy Division and Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers and about 40 other bands from that era. Fuck it, they even describe themselves as “regular adults from Philadelphia that sound like that time you spotted your creepy metalhead brother at 80s night.” but unlike the contrived flaccid immaturity of Savages or Yuck. Psychic Teens sound like a band who have recycled their influences into something new and completely their own rather than simply being content to commit dull acts of hero-worship. It’s not the most original of albums by any manner or means, but what it is is a document of a band in complete control. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, Psychic Teens have built a punchy scuzzy dirt bike out of the blueprints for the wheel and the engine.
Not everything, but, nearly everything here works. The production is tight and deliberate. Rather than ape the sounds of the bands they’re so obviously indebted to, it sounds like it was made in this era. The guitars and affected and fuzzed up, the drums and bass thankfully are allowed to underpin the whole thing and sound suitably big without over doing the 80s style reverb or without falling into the sub-Albini rawness which all to often simply sounds flat (because, lets face facts, there is only one Albini and the constant copying of his “sound” in the ‘underground’ is almost as irritating as the clone bands that clog up the mainstream now). The album is noisy as hell yet carefully structured. This is a work of controlled aggression and angst which sounds and feels suitably otherworldly, intriguing, threatening and, most importantly, thrilling. When the singer sings about the edge of the world, the music manages to create the sensation of being there, cold and lost at a precipice. This a huge sounding record with walls of scuzzy noise, floods of reverb, a noose-tight pounding rhythm section and even some tendencies towards the harder edges of shoegaze. In spite of all of this it never flounders under the weight of its forebears. This is very much Psychic Teens album and they play to their strengths. The hooks are catchy, the melodies are simple and the bass and drums anchor the whole thing admirably. No one over plays and the songs and the album are brief enough to never feel self-indulgent. The vocals are a good example of how to get the most out of a voice which doesn’t seem to have a huge range and occasionally sounds like it was borrowed from a Hammer horror. In short they keep everything here simple and allow the songs to cut through the considerable heft of sound and noise they create.
Though this is a carefully orchestrated, direct and focussed work, it manages to deviate enough from its main point of attack to keep from becoming repetitive and boring and to do so subtly enough to keep some songs from sounding utterly out of place and thusly derailing the trajectory of the album. They even manage to rip off Dublin based noise rockers The Bridges Of Madison County, though I’m sure they don’t know that because no one bought that record anyway. *sniggers*
Towards the end of the record Psychic Teens even manage a piece of noisy pop that would have had goths nodding their heads in unison while staring into their snakebite had it been released 30 years ago. The main words that springs to mind over and over while writing about this album are control and balance. Everything they do here is controlled and deliberate and most of it really works.
While the habit of mainstream culture’s obsession with nostalgia and everything retro will never go away it’s work like this that suggests that, that may not be such a bad thing. Come may sound utterly new to many who are too young to have any connection with the bands that inform it and so it’ll swell the ranks of their record collections some as Junkyard, Psychic Powerless and Another Man Sack, Pornography roll in off the back of this purchase, or more likely illegal download (you pesky kids!!!) It won’t sound new to many who have hairy backs, bald spots, ulcers and shattered dreams, ideals and bank balances. It does at least do enough things right to make it worthwhile. In closing it’s another case of folks at the top of the pile being lazy and in typical lazy style a band has made a record which ticks all the boxes, is actually worth a listen and yet it’s been over looked. Along with Interpol’s debut, Psychic Teens’ Come will go down as one of the occasions where blatantly stealing something has paid off because those involved managed to take the stolen goods and combine them into something which is deserving of attention. Well worth a listen.