Alt Rock

Shadow Monster livestream from Our Wicked Lady

Duo acts carry a certain mystique to this day. At all times just a single city bus mishap away from solodom, they’re like the two-piece-chicken meal deals of rock ‘n’ roll (sure it’s a meal but it's sure to be on the value menu). Rock ‘n’ roll duo acts tend to adhere to a certain minimalist aesthetic by design but often follow a brutalist aesthetic as well by showcasing BIG drums and BIG guitars--the “value” part of the meal--or even BIG keyboards like in Quasi or Matt & Kim to take two very different examples. And also if you’re brave enough to play in such a stripped down format you’d better have some BIG hooks and BIG stompin’ and rockin’ rhythms to keep your listeners engaged--we’re talking about the special herbs and spices here.

The group that’s most often credited with pioneering the two-piece "rock ‘n’ roll value meal" format--by the way there’s a guy whose name rhymes with “Frack Site” who cites them as a major influence--is a little group called the Flat Duo Jets. On the band’s 1985 demo cassette (In Stereo) and 1990 self-titled debut album, Dexter Romweber (guitar/vox) and Chris “Crow” Smith (drums) kick up a cloud of Southern-fried psychobilly psychosis that’s hard to resist or serve with a cease and desist.

And now to the subject at hand, Shadow Monster is a two-piece rock combo from Bushwick, Brooklyn that’s taken up this baton of late and they wield it admirably. Unlike a number of high profile acts in Musical Duos-ville who spice up their sound with programmed drums and sequenced keyboard parts (we love ya Ravonettes, Kills, et al.) Shadow Monster do without these musical equivalents of coleslaw and curly fries. No side dishes, here’s your chicken and biscuit thank you and come again!

With a sound that recalls classic mid-90’s shiz--not the Jonah Hill flick tho’ that was cool, I’m talking stuff like Juliana Hatfield’s Only Everything or Sebadoh’s Bakesale--Shadow Monster relies less on overwhelming force and more on well-constructed tunes and songwriting. For instance their 2019 album Punching Bag opens with a hook-laden eponymous song that’s a swaying mid-tempo jammer about “rolling with the punches” and the masochism implied by the phrase that builds to a climax with Gillian Visco’s vox and guitar spinning into the ether with the support of John Swanson’s gallivanting drum fills.

Next comes a more upbeat number called “Temporary Love” that starts with some quick-strummed acoustic guitar but which turns out to be one of those it-sounds-happy-but-it’s-about-darkness-and-doubt-and-romantic-dysfunction songs which is always a good combo. Over the full course of the seven songs on the rekkid you continue to get a decent range of moods and styles but with some consistent lyrical themes such as (according to their official bio) “themes of loss, depression, and isolation.” Hey, I feel seen! No surprise then that track six titled “Lovegun” isn’t a Kiss cover. But it should be obvious anyway--for one thing the title’s written as one word and also it’s not about Paul Stanley’s c*ck. But instead it’s more of a wistful lighter-waving song which it's always good to have one of those and so it's more like their "Beth" except the drummer doesn't sing this one.

Shadow Monster perform live tonight at beloved BK hot spot Our Wicked Lady meaning they have portable heaters on their rooftop bar. If you're in the vicinity you may want to consider making a reservation to watch the band from the club’s aforementioned heated rooftop where you can order drinks while the band rocks away downstairs and watch it on video feed. Masks and social distancing required you know the drill. Or alternately, and more easily, you can catch them livestreaming on the club’s Youtube, Facebook and Instagram channels or give Friendster a try cuz you never know. (Jason Lee)


Pom Pom Squad's "Last Christmas"

Pom Pom Squad’s cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas” is the best version of the Eighties seasonal perennial at least since the one Crazy Frog did (Ariana Grande pffft) but did Crazy Frog add a dramatic soliloquy to the George Michael composition or curse out the song’s errant lover-to-never-be at its conclusion? I think not. The CGI amphibian went top-ten in both Sweden and Belgium with the song in 2006 which makes me think PPS should be a lock for a top-five chart placing at minimum.

Band frontperson & Orlando-to-Brooklyn refugee Mia Berrin (pictured) heightens both the wistful melancholia and the implied tension of the original version and plus the Pom Pom’s update advocates staying at home for the holidays so win-win. And while you’re at home you can pop in the new “Simply Having A Wonderful Compilation” compilation (released last friday) into your virtual CD changer alongside Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album and that Hanukkah record from last year with Haim and Flaming Lips and Jack Black and Yo La Tengo and have yourself a grand ol’ time.

“Wonderful Compilation” featues Pom Pom Squad alongside a full slate of indie small-stars all wishing you a dream-poppy, grungy holiday (sample title: “Santa Is A Neocon”) but with the occassional foray into 16th-century caroling which all makes sense since it’s a co-production of indie mainstay Father/Daughter Records alongside Wax Nine, the latter of which being both a sister label to D.C.’s Carpark Records and a friggin poetry journal which is the brainchild of Sadie Depuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, the latter of which having been discussed in the post right before this one so you see how everything in the universe is connected.

But before closing just two last words about Pom Pom Squad. And those two words are "Heavy Heavy" for they are both of those things.


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Sad13 "Haunted Painting" and poetry on the beach

Listening to Sad13’s second full-length album called Haunted Painting takes me back to my six-or-seven-year-old self and a trip to visit my aunt and juvenile delinquent high school cousin in the Spray Tan State and in particular our trip to the Disneyworld Industrial Complex widely known as the home of animatronic dead presidents and Johnny Depp singing “Yo Ho” to all the ladies. 

Of course it’s also home to the Haunted Mansion and all those paintings in the entrance hallway where when you look at them at first it’s like some baroness or something stretched out on her fainting couch but then before your very eyes she transforms into a spooky apparition like Medusa with snakes sprouting out her head or who knows what but some or other creepy character for sure and then you blink and it’s back to the baroness. Then before you know it you’re riding along in your bumper car and you look up into the mirror on the opposing wall and there’s a goddamn hitch-hiking ghost sitting on your head. That sh*t blew my six-or-seven-year-old mind.


Haunting Painting reminds me of all this. Band frontlady Sadie Dupuis--good name for a baroness, she also belongs to a band called Speedy Ortiz--pulls out all the stops and the starts on this album. What I mean by that is that many of the songs start off as one thing and then go around a corner and suddenly transform into another sonic apparition entirely. Like the single “Ghost (Of A Good Time)” that starts as a synth-based new-wavey “slappin’ bop” (sorry for the technical terminology there) but then a couple minutes later the groove suddenly drops away and a brief berserker guitar part swells up and ushers us into what sounds like a waltz for a haunted ballroom and soon there’s some beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies building layer upon layer before if finally goes back to the first section like nothing ever happened. You see what I mean about the portraits.

 Pull-quote: Sad13’s Haunted Painting is a pandemic Pet Sounds for shut-ins. The future’s looking febrile, indeed!

All in all even with all the charming pop elements this is a real headtrip album--headphones strongly recommended--there’s so many little ornate curly-cue details on the record that it rewards repeat listens. Ms. Dupuis & Co. reportedly recorded this album across roughly a half-a-dozen-or-so studios and they picked up whatever odd junk store odds ‘n’ ends they could wherever they went and that’s why you hear things like glockenspiels and pennywhistles (disclaimer: you may hear neither of these) which together with all the asymmetric twisty melodies and time-signature changes creates a cool funhouse mirror vibe. Relevant note: Sadie made it a point to work exclusively with female sound engineers on all the tracks which is a role that’s still a male-dominated enclave of the recording industry today so yea!

Be forewarned going in that, much like your average nominal “fun” house, there’s some scary stuff lurking in the dark even if all the shiny surfaces and candy-coated textures may distract you from the stuff. Except for when the dark stuff occasionally bubbles up to the surface like near the end of “Ruby Wand” which is mostly a straight-up Baroque electropop number until towards when it goes all haywire for a minute. Oh, and don’t listen to or read the lyrics if you don’t like the dark stuff. 

It’s all somehow insular and mind-expanding all at once. The whole aesthetic applies equally to the videos released alongside the album which are equal parts silly and creepy and strange and ornate. To give a couple examples on “Ghost” Sadie Dupuis goes all Cindy Sherman with the multiple personas who look right into your soul both seductively and ominously, and the video for “Hysterical” that riffs on the whole entire-movie-taking-place-on-a-computer-screen premise of 2014 social media horror flick “Unfriended” but updated here for the Zoom age. Also, Sadie essentially admits over the course of the video that she’s been stalking Wallace Shawn for ages so we’ve got some incriminating evidence for when Wallace goes missing.

Finally, I should mention that our fearless bandleader is based in Philadelphia and not New York City. But that’s ok I’m just going to go ahead and claim her as ours because Sadie’s life-altering turning point was self-reportedly when she transferred colleges from M.I.T. to Barnard, and changed her major from mathematics to poetry in the process, which led directly to her songwriting career. Yea Barnard University!

And finally finally the other reason to write about Sad13 at this very moment is that they’ll be appearing tonight as part of the No Bummer All Summer “Virtual” Beach Party with Sadie doing a “beach read” of her poetry--Could that be a Zoom background or the real thing? You be the judge!--as part of the evening’s lineup of performances, activities, and specials organized by Montreal shoegazers No Joy which all starts at 8PM EST. Check out details and get your tickets here. (Jason Lee)



Climates cover version of Daria theme song

Daria - Could they make the holidays any more vulgar?
Jane - I hope so.
Daria - What?
Jane - The more debased they become, the less reason to celebrate them, and the less reason for my family to get together, until presto! I'm finally alone on Thanksgiving with a TV dinner


“Depth Takes A Holiday” (Daria S03/E03, aired 1999) opens with the exchange quoted above between our anti-social hero Daria Morgendorffer and her partner-in-sarcasm Jane Lane as they watch a TV ad for show-within-a-show “Sick Sad World” featuring a pitchman hyping a story about a massive Nativity scene constructed at the mall in the month of August. The half hour that follows is a surreal parody of the “very special holiday episode” (VSHE) that’s a fixture of TV-Landia around this time of year

The typical VSHE features a cast of characters—usually a biological family or a ragtag surrogate family—who together overcome a series of serio-comic misadventures on their way to a happy, heartwarming holiday celebration; or more typically for the 21st century, on their way to a disastrous, uproarious failure to meet the heightened expectations of the holiday season. Either way, what’s rarely questioned in these episodes is the sacrosanct nature of the holidays themselves, and their vision of an ideal world often based more in fantasy than anything resembling reality.

Daria, of course, breaks with VSHE conventions and parodies the heck out of them instead. A groundbreaking animated series that turned the Bechdel test on its head and set a new standard for realistic hot takes on high school (not to mention its fantastic soundtrack that'll never make it onto a DVD or Blu-Ray release) “Depth Takes A Holiday” departs even from the show’s own conventions with its wholesale flight into fantasy. Centered on an array of holidays in human form—Halloween is a goth rock chick, Guy Fawkes Day is a Sid Vicious lookalike, etc.—the plot revolves around several of them escaping “Holiday Island” through a wormhole behind a Chinese restaurant in search of fame as a hip-hop-punk-electronica band in the suburban purgatory of Lawndale. It’s up to Daria and Jane, with the help of an overgrown Cupid and a cranky Brit-baiting Saint Patrick’s Day, to restore the (very relatively speaking) natural order of things by ushering the errant holidays back to their island. Like I said, pretty surreal stuff.

True to form the episode’s Holiday Island turns out to be its own sick, sad world with its own sick, sad Lawndale-like high school chock full of weirdos and petty rivalries between the holidays. A bizarre, tossed-off seasonal affective disorder fable, “Depth Takes A Holiday” is also the perfect teachable moment for late 2020. The lesson being not to believe the holiday hype and that you're usually better off just staying the f*ck home. Besides to do otherwise is to risk the ire of a girl in a pleated skirt, combat boots and Edna Mode specs who's expert at tossing off withering disses delivered in monotone. (A question for another day: did Daria invent SoundCloud rap?)

Speaking of Daria in the present day, the Daria-loving four-piece who go by the name Climates recently put out a cover of the show’s iconic opening theme song “You’re Standing on My Neck.” It’s perfectly suited to the Brooklynites’ self-designated “glitter grunge” sound, “Seether”-style harmonies (sounds like the Breeders) and feminist politics. Their cover version can be heard on SoundCloud and on Spotify or purchased wherever records and tapes are sold (yeah better stick to streaming for now). It's lucky for all involved that Splendora bequeathed to the world those five “nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah” notes that ring out Close Encounters-style at the start, and bridge and the ending of “Standing On My Neck”--a clarion call to tribes of disaffected kids, and to girls and young women in particular who appreciate the “strongly layered female characters” on the show.

Once you’ve had time to fully take in the Climates version of the theme song and it’s source material you may want to check out this article on Splendora. Another Brooklyn-spawned-all-female band, led by two sisters who today work in Manhattan’s high powered publishing industry, they never quite received their due and disbanded soon after Daria hit the airwaves and cable boxes of America, languishing in no small part due to limited resources dedicated to the promotion of female bands at the time. It’s a shame as their one and only full album release from 1995 is a solid piece of work. One can only hope that better is in store for Climates--despite some minor obstacles like a pandemic that makes it impossible to practice or a band member relocating to Seattle--because even with just a handful of songs on record so far they’ve already proven some serious songwriting chops and an ability to command a stage. This interview with Climates from Chez Nous highlights some of the challenges still faced by female-identified bands but they appear prepared to power through. 

And finally, after ingesting every recorded version of “You’re Standing On My Neck” and watching the five-season run of Daria in full, you would be well advised to check out the Climates’ single below released earlier this year. “Super 8” is a song that has some interesting things to communicate about the nature of fantasy and reality and the porous line between the two--the throughline to my ramblings here if you're being generous--with lyrics revolving around the idea that our lives are at their most "real" when our lives feel most like we're living in a movie. Super 8 film is a consumer-oriented motion picture format that spawned the home movie explosion of the ‘60s and ‘70s--you can hear the sound of an old-style film projector in the intro of the song--technology that led directly to the videotape boom of the ‘80s and ultimately to our current show-me-your-phone-video-or-it-didn’t-happen social media era.

Maybe it's overreaching but I'm putting it out there that this song speaks to a transformation in our collective consciousness that's still taking place today where we continually narrative our very own “very special episodes” 24/7 to an adoring audience, or an ignoring audience, but who can really tell the difference half the time. Either way the song is a moodily seductive banger that’ll mash up your mind with its killer earworm chorus: “big things get in the way / we’re filming away." 

Although admittedly I sometimes hear that first line as “fake things get in the way" and don't know which is correct but maybe this sense of ambiguity and uncertainty is the realest thing of all. (Jason Lee)



“Picture this in glitter and smoke
hold the camera steady
Candy-flossed clouds, who’s the boss now
sugar on the lenses and the roses in the ground”