This year's Levi's/FADER Fort at SXSW saw a few famous faces. Saul Williams, a scantily clad Har Mar Superstar and comedian/metal-head/dork Brian Posehn to name a few. One that caught my eye though was Michael Pitt. I was headed back to the 'ol makeshift Tripwire office when I saw him, thinking immediately, "what's that dude from Last Days doing here?" I didn't put everything together until I picked up the self-titled debut from Brooklyn's Pagoda.
Mathematically, Pagoda makes a lot of sense. They are fronted by founding member Pitt, who turned in an incredibly eerie performance in Gus Van Sant's Last Days, a film which is based in large part on what might have occurred during Kurt Cobain's final 48 hours. Also, Pagoda resides on Thurston (Sonic Youth) Moore's record label, Ecstatic Peace. The sum of these parts can be estimated in a grunge-like fashion.
It would be easy to write off Pagoda as another actor-fronted outfit (I mean, I love Keanu....but come on), but give the album a listen and you'll be won over with that same angst ridden feeling that pulled us all in back in the '90s. Pitt's raspy vocals strain through nearly every track but still maintain a melody, and he is lyrically entertaining enough to keep your attention. Yes, he does sound a lot like Cobain, but you gotta get past it, because there are some genuinely great songs here. Opener "Lesson Learned" may be the most easily accessible and reminiscent of the grunge era. Also, "Alone" and "I Do" both benefit greatly from Chris Hoffman's work on Cello as does "Death To Birth," which (along with "Lesson Learned") may be one of the strongest tracks on the album. Coincidentally it was also featured in Van Sant's film, which is both a blessing and a curse. Through these ties Pagoda have a hard road ahead, but I say here's to hoping people can push past the irony and give them an actual opportunity.