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Alt Rock

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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

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“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”


 

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Petite League releases "Greyhound"

"I lost my mind on a cross country bus 
King of the Road packing it up "

On their new single called “Greyhound” Petite League take a self-described bus ride to hell but as Bon Scott once put it "Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be" and I can believe it after listening to this rather wistful and lovely song which does still rock don't get me wrong. In contrast to the AC/DC Aussie-rock classic where there's a woman who “pours my beer, licks my ear," on Petite League’s cross-country bus journey things are a bit more circumspect where “we might have kissed like a blurry dream in the backseat” with “the rest stop lit by your cigarette at dusk” and honestly the latter sounds a good deal more romantic and maybe even more sexy as well. Even if the aforementioned only “might have” happened there’s still a compelling Wild At Heart road trip vibe at work minus Sherilyn Finn with her brains spilling out of her head and also there’s nobody putting their tongue in your ear but that’s fine if that’s your thing of course.

"Greyhound" takes the listener on a shambolic-sounding journey which is usually the best kind of journey. Over-planners are such a drag. I mean maybe sitting next to Lou Barlow for 40 hours would be tough because I’m getting hints of Sebadoh or is that Folk Implosion on this song, but “Greyhound” clocks in at under three minutes so you can handle that. Itinerary be damned just pay your $127 and settle in as you travel across this vast nation stopping at every Stuckey’s along the way (wear the damn mask folks!) and falling in love with someone who may or may not be a hallucination because none of this is going to happen in coach on Spirit Airlines. 

Petite League’s last album Rattler was their fourth and their first on their own Zap World Records imprint. According to songwriter Lorenzo Gillis Cook’s very own social media liner notes it was strongly informed by Daniel Johnston, suicidal urban cowboys, and "a quarter-life crisis." Their upcoming album, Joyrider, is due out in early 2021 and looks to be strongly informed by Lee Hazelwood, Roger Miller, and Antifa. Mr. L.G. Cook and drummer Mr. Henry Schoonmaker keep upping their game with every release so it’s probably a safe bet to pre-order the record but don’t ask me for your money back if you’re disappointed come January. 

Finally, see below for a song about New York Girls called “New York Girls” from their last record. This is the one that made them bigger than the Strokes which is pretty good for a band that started in a dorm room in Syracuse. Just so you’re not too confused I should mention that the video features Gaby Giangola aka “Goth Girlfriend” lip synching the vocals and she quite convincingly portrays a cleaned-up Nancy Spungen type or a lo-fi Harley Quinn type, take your pick, and also she has a music thing of her own (talent everywhere you look!) which you should probably check out too. (Jason Lee)


 

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Pretty Sick explore the "Deep Divine"

Deep Divine is the “coming out” LP or EP or whatever you want to call it (seriously these terms mean next to nothing today) from the rock combo Pretty Sick. Regardless, both the band name and the record name are spot on. Deep Divine is the sound of teenage kicks colliding with the imperative to “just grow up, be adults and die” in the words of one Veronica Sawyer--a deep dive into the muck and the majesty of teenhood and early adulthood. 

Lead singer, songwriter, and bassist Sabrina Fuentes self-reportedly wrote the songs heard here between ages 12 and 20 and the intensity of these transitional years bleeds into every note. Pretty Sick are indeed pretty sick (double-entendre no doubt intended) and appear to be influenced by early, ground-breaking releases on labels such as Sub Pop, Matador, and Kill Rock Stars--a sound that even a generation later is effective sonic shorthand for surviving adulthood with some degree of mental functioning, passion, and sick humor intact. 

Deep Divine not only captures but updates these sounds and sentiments from the past--for one thing the gender fluidity at play in Fuentes’ lyrics is a clear marker of the contemporary moment (he’s and she’s are pretty much interchangeable). The cover image of the record too is a clear riff-on-cum-update-of a certain iconic album cover for this one old record you may have heard of by some band or other, but minus the dollar bill on a hook seeing as record labels aren’t handing out too many million-dollar contracts these days.

Finally this is also a New York City record to the core. The grungetastic 54-second-long instrumental intro called “Comedown” (perfect place to start!) merges straight into “Allen Street” with its subject staring “out on Allen Street at 7:00 in the morning” the song turns into a mini-travelogue taking the listener from the titular LES location to the “Bowery at midnight in the summer” finally ending up “back in Harlem now you won’t even call me / cut myself up now it makes me feel more holy.” Punny-ness aside this last line captures the tightrope act that Pretty Sick has already mastered: balancing hookiness and grittiness and lower bodily stratum and spiritual elevation. (Jason Lee)

 

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A Very Special Episode go for a "Night Drive"

The “very special episode” is a venerable tradition of the televisual arts wherein our society faces down its most vexing problems with the help of inane plot contrivances, buffoonish acting, and howling laugh tracks. All often oddly endearing nonetheless. The ‘80s and ‘90s were perhaps the golden age of this particular art form with VSE’s used to warn the wider populace against such menaces as marauding punk rockers, pedophile bicycle shop owners, and drunken suicidal birthday clowns. Aficionados today savor the delectable discomfort produced by the best of/worst of (same difference) these “episodes” with their bizarre tonal mashups akin to a saccharin diet soda garnished with a dash of strychnine.

The Queens-based band A Very Special Episode likewise merge the sweet and the serrated and in the process make you a more upstanding and aware citizen. Take their latest single--a bedroom production by obvious circumstance--which is a lo-fi, high-sheen number called “Night Drive.” It starts innocently enough with some rollicking drums, four-on-the-floor bass and sing-songy keyboard over which bassist and lead singer Kasey Heisler lays out the scene: “You see it all stretched before you / purple sky painted over blue.” Sounds lovely! But any hopes for a laid-back evening excursion are soon dashed when suddenly “the night is speeding faster / fade to black” and on cue we change channels to a shimmering-distorted blur of guitar and keyboard with Heisler dropping all social niceties: “Hey, you know what / you got it all but I can’t get you off.” From there we circle back to the opening disco-punk groove now overlaid with a layer of buzzsaw guitar (or maybe a neighbor was testing out their new power-sander next door?) that weaves in and out of the song until its crashing climax.

This all can’t help but remind one of the very special episode of Saved By The Bell where Zach gets Jessie addicted to caffeine pills because I'm thinking those guitars must be the sound she heard in her head by the end of the episode. I mean sure it all starts off innocently enough at the ‘50s diner with our girl Jess sharing her dreams of applying to Stanford and debuting her neat little pop-singing combo with Lisa and Kelly. But by the final act Zach is pumping our future Showgirl full of uppers to help her study for midterms and going all Lou Pearlman on her ass with his girl-group svengali schemes. It’s no wonder Jessie aka “Nomi” would soon find herself working the pole and all thanks to that jerkface Zach! (please rest assured, dear reader, The Deli is sex-worker positive!)

OK so I got a little distracted there. Whatever its lo-fi origins, “Night Drive” is the best encapsulation I’ve heard so far of AVSE’s live sound with its mixture of melodic hooks and knuckle-dragging noise. To end things here with the requisite musical-calculus equation I’m gonna go with equal parts Garbage, The Walkmen, and My Bloody Valentine. Or if you prefer metaphors of the TV/movie variety I’ll give you “Saved By The Bell meets David Lynch” (especially Lost Highway on this particular song, not to mention the band’s logo is a VHS videocassette hmmmmm). If it all sounds up your alley check out “Gravity” below for a slightly more polished version of the AVSE sound. (Jason Lee)

 

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Dead Tooth & No Surrender "Hate The Precedent”

 A joint effort between underground electro-fusionists No Surrender and psyched-out local supergroup Dead Tooth released earlier this month, “I Hate the Precedent” is the first fruit of an ongoing collaboration. Intro’ed by a slithering bass groove over ominous electronic textures, Dead Tooth vocalist/guitarist Zach James entreats a certain “ol’ blubber leper [to] please spare your rod” (portrayed below wearing what looks like a Michael Myers mask painted orange). Enter the catchy dance-rock hook and lyrical refrain: “I hate the president / and the precedent that he sets.” Following a volley of staccato guitar outbursts the second-verse vocals are taken over by No Surrender's Darius VanSluytman--“my brother’s a stranger / in his very own land”--until all involved ride out the refrain to the end. More succinct and funkier than a filibuster, one hopes this track will inspire more musical crossovers between Brooklyn artists. (Jason Lee

 

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