t’s pretty depressing, almost on the level of my memory loss or my chronic insomnia or the shitload of gray hairs I noticed yesterday among my fallen hair at the barbershop, the fact that I’m more apt these days to stay up late reading Pynchon and slamming Echinacea-rich energy drinks (or, on less productively-minded nights, eating those goddamn hint-of-lime tortilla chips and doing Google searches on obscure ‘80s cartoons) than going out to hipster DJ parties. Nevertheless, I have to admit the fact that I guess I’m not in touch with much contemporary, well, anything. And I guess I never was. So it is that I have to issue a proclamation: stop acting “sassy.” Just stop. I realize this is on the order of Sum 41 parodying The Strokes, or Jerry Seinfeld complaining about Hot Pockets, but I have to say that whatever began happening to indie culture around summer 1999 and has reached its extreme terminus as of late needs to burn itself out, at least if its practitioners value my sanity. The problem, I guess, is rooted in my rather unsavory claim of essentialist O.G. status, but it’s true: I was sitting alone in a dorm room rocking Pere Ubu and This Heat when all the latter-day post-punk revivalists were playing tonsil hockey and wearing out Braid and Get Up Kids 7”s (sure, I was into a lot of other music that might even be more embarrassing, but let’s leave this out of the argument for now. Hey, did you know I was into the Birthday Party in high school?), and now it’s finally begun to bother me, the postpunk revival. Okay, not that I dislike the Liars or The Rapture or even a lot of those bands I haven’t heard, like Hot Hot Heat—chances are if you play anything faintly angular, with guitars set to “scratchy,” I’m going to like you—at all, it’s just that I dislike the, well, sassiness.
Maybe it’s rooted in fashion, the idea that the attractive guy or girl you were not-so-subtly ogling down at the library has to have immaculate taste in literature and music if they’re hot and dress well, or that (to go even farther into the realms of sad unpredictability) they must also be creative, nice, and fascinating. Somehow we got sassiness, the idea that dressing hip and acting hip was a substitute for talent. Now, I’m sure this goes back to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s day, if not Alexander Pope’s; this does little to ease its annoyance on me. I guess I want to see less sassiness and more good art, which Out Hud are thankfully in the business of making.
Because this is, okay, a postpunk revival record, but it’s got enough great ideas, hidden nooks-and-crannies surprises, and fascinating details of production that I manage not to care. In fact, I’d go so far as to claim that Out Hud have succeeded at fusing several idioms—drum-machine retro-disco, Krautrock, abstract electronics, and the list goes on—and arriving with something that’s impossible to pin down, yet indisputably new. This is, in other words, not the sort of record I’d recommend you cross of your to-buy list and replace with something by the Class of ’79; it’s altogether too unique.
Album opener “Story of the Whole Thing” gives us, after a burst of warped white noise, the minimalist clarity of a thumping drum machine, ESG-like catchy bass, and some echoing, minimalist guitar. When a more directly funky sequencer line intrudes, the band’s origins as a Chick Chick Chick side-project become clear for a moment, but the somber, quizzical cello line that we get a moment later sends things in another direction. The latter half of the track, during which the guitar gets greatly more atmospheric and the cello both soars and nervously oscillates, is a treat, and just a sampling of what this record delivers. It’s “Dad, There’s a Little Phrase Called ‘Too Much Information’” that announces the band’s intents of making epic dancefloor-inflected material that rises above its origins and influences: with squelchy clouds of electro-inspired synth work, random detonations of fuzzed-out noise, and a conga-abetted four-on-the-floor thump that recalls the days when house music had yet to develop hypertrophic kickdrums, it manages to stay unpredictable without losing its punch.
“Hair Dude, You’re Stepping on My Mystique” is perhaps the most rock-like track on display here, with a nagging guitar phrase and bass hook that recalls the touch of Martin Hannett. With its whine of scraped strings and crackling bursts of unidentifiable noise backed by a lock-step groove, it again comes off as the work of an experimental band who haven’t sacrificed listenability; indeed, for something so weird and abstract, it’s got a percolating, surprisingly hooky quality. “The L Train is a Swell Train, and I Don’t Want to Hear You Indies Complain” is another lengthy groove, with multiple change-ups that lend it a palimpsest-like quality. As burbling bass and washes of keyboard cross paths in its spacious groove, the track retains a sense of organic fluidity as it introduces one element after the next, be it a crystalline synth figure, a triggered-drums breakdown, or percussive, reverb-soaked wisp of guitar.
It’s on songs like this that S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. has a laid-back, gleeful quality to it, one that gives the listener the sense that its musicians are making things up as they go along, unable to hide their excitement at the fact that it all sounds so unexpectedly awesome. If more music being made today managed to keep this sense of science-project naivete, and if less suffered from fatalistic, self-conscious opacity, I have to believe that the world would be a bit of a better place.
Reviewed by: Chris Smith
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01