Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Girls’ “Hellhole Rat Race” 10-inch coupled with a thorough thinking about how surprisingly kick ass The Babies are. Download Girls’ “Solitude” and The Babies “Meet Me in the City” and read Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.
Usually movements are documented after their existence—the beatniks, the Russian futurists, the modernists, the hippies, etc—corralled as a narrative social wave by some historian who is able to, with the benefit of hindsight and meditation, identify some purposeless collective momentum. With the internet’s ease of musical distribution and a plethora of blogs feeding on chum, there has been a much more immediate return of feedback on this summer’s nascent scene of lo-fi bedroom pop, and thus, in a self-congratulatory feedback loop, a potentially unearned desire for more music has been yielded. This has watered down both the quality of music and my interest in it. This summer, concurrent with this beach band hysteria, I found myself listening to the band Girls. I wrote a story about them for our current issue, which necessitated a fairly heavy amount of listening to their songs, though, honestly, I would have been well prepped had I listened about a tenth of the amount I did. In the past months, I have gone weeks without listening to almost anything but Girls. But finally it’s worn off (a little) and I’ve sought my pop fix elsewhere. This weekend, for no real reason, I decided to listen to The Babies, despite not being particularly enamored with either Woods nor Vivian Girls (both bands I have listened to fairly extensively and have seen perform), the main gigs and popular groups of their two vocalists and guitar players. Turns out, I really like their side project. I listened to The Babies song “Meet Me in the City” 75 times in three days. That is almost four solid hours of Babies. That does not include the times I listened to the song on their MySpace page, or the large handful of times I listened to the other song they’ve released, “All Things Come to Pass.” I relayed my mild obsession to my coworker Sam, who is our staff cheerleader for all things folk-pop-rock and summer themed, and he was surprised, as I have not shared his incessant appetite for guys singing about nature and pining for the feelings of teen love. I’ve had varied interest in much of this scene: Woodsist, Captured Tracks, Slumberland, etc. So while my interest in guitar pop and my interest in acidic, muffled music are both strong, the overlap—with the hefty exception of Wavves—is not usual. This weird cropping of bands heavily indebted to the humid air of the beach, the intimacy of the outdoors and feckless teenage glory, struck me not as tantalizing but confusing. To play lo-fi in the age of Garage Band is a useful aesthetic decision, but too often masquerades as purposeful when it’s a lack of thoughtfulness and skill.
In many ways, Girls fits perfectly within the base qualifications of summertime bedroom bands: They’re from San Francisco, they write about the sun, love, girls and synthesize all their desires and triumphs into simple pop songs. When I was in San Francisco doing the story, they had just finished recording “Solitude”—just released as the B-side to their “Hellhole Rat Race” 10-inch record—and they excitedly played it for me. Christopher Owens, Girls’ principle songwriter, called it the best song they’d written yet. This surprised me, as the song is extremely tiny and quiet, a solid denouement to the album’s raw power, which seemed to be their thesis. If I settle down, no it won’t be with the blues/ So I’ll keep rolling over right along/ Maybe I’ll settle down with you, some day, some you the song ends on, just after the harmonica and electric guitar wail. At this point, I’ve written endlessly about Girls (feel free to come by my house and check out the thousands of words that didn’t make the story, or pick up the magazine at Barnes and Noble, whichever), but it’s impossible to stress how timeless they sound, touchstones of the Zombies, Everly Brothers, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley. There is a bareness to all of these bands that is furthered in Girls, uncomplicated songwriting perfected and unshrouded. They are not a particularly high fidelity band: no keyboards, no fancy studio, no new age trickery. Such a simple song, one that even wafts and plods hookless, is pretty because it’s not shy. There is a secondary pride that comes with an admission of fault, like a cleansing. It reminds me of Yom Kippur, the Jewish new year, where you write your sins on a piece of paper and throw them into the river, washed away for clean renewal. It’s that same free and freeing feeling that makes “Solitude” such a worthy song. And though it sounds very dissimilar, I think my love for The Babies emanates from the same place.
The three things I like most about this song are the refrains on the verses with the male/female vocals: I’m crazy I’m crazy I’m crazy I’m crazy and I’m crying I’m crying I’m crying like a brother and sister backing each other up in front of their parents; the heavy and consistent use of the crash cymbal, like way more than you would expect or find necessary; and the bridge, where the song drops into a singer-less, somewhat pedestrian guitar solo. The song doesn’t seem to be about anything particular, with the exception of the John Hughes-ish Hey pretty girl you’re awful hard to meet/ Make me weak right in my knees/ Be my lady, my lady, my lady, my lady. Those last words are sung with male and female vocals, which seem to negate the plea for what seems like a plain heterosexual love song. There’s no reason for a woman to jump in with you in your search, she doesn’t want a straight girlfriend in a poodle skirt like you do, so her chorus part makes the song a sort of pantomime of the same classic ’50s and ’60s pop rock Girls are also furthering. But instead of being a pale imitation, “Meet Me in the City” is a worthy competitor, and, I believe, simply a better song than almost all of its peers, young and old. The Babies are a side project, and I am willing to bet that much of their success comes from the lackadaisical non-pressure they must feel away from their well-known, lauded main groups. There is no ribbon mic, no extra fuzz, no acoustic guitar, no tape manipulation, just an affinity for metal buzz and weekend spunk. The point is the process, easy, stupid fun. The band is called The Babies, which is totally dumb. Girls are called Girls because they loved girls and girls loved them. Life is best when it’s filtered to its simplest pursuits and songs are best when they mirror that. You know, come to think of it, all I think about these days is hot girls, cool dogs and drums and I feel great. Maybe I should blog about myself. Oh wait.