Sonic ReducerBy Kimberly Chun
Babes in playland
HIGHLIGHT OF NOISE Pop 2005: I've succumbed to Smoosh, like so many little-boy and -girl peers, Neverland-style Peter-and-Polly-Pan indie rocker fans, dirty old/young oglers, plain ole rock stars, et al.
It's so easy, though. You don't even have to know how old the Seattle duo are (but if you must, vocalist-keyboardist Asya is a dozen years young, and drummer Chloe is about decade along, putting a nice spin to the school-yard insult "What are you, 12?") or what they look like (everyday little-girl cute with long, straight blond hair and an ever-so-slightly eerie mirrorlike resemblance, reminiscent of The Shining's ghostly twins). Just close your eyes, pop on their 2004 CD, She Like Electric (Pattern 25), and go with their uncanny, one-two combination punch of angsty, suburby white girl soul à la early Kate Bush by way of Tori Amos, and playful, cleaned-up, and stripped-down Fannypack-style hip-hop. What saves them from dreaded "MMMbop" derision (man, remember those rapidly proliferating "Hanson Sucks," "Hanson Bites" sites?) and plops them on bills with Rilo Kiley, Sleater-Kinney, and, at Noise Pop, the similarly instrumented Mates of State is Smoosh's punky forcefulness, less-than-radio-ready sparseness and raw edges, and all-over-the-place quirks that pair somewhat-navel-gazing numbers with funny stuff like "The Quack." Asya has an endearingly off-the-cuff tendency to dispense with enunciation altogether and blur together lyrics, vocables, and perhaps, at this point in her vocabulary, un-articulate-able worries on songs like "About the Picture."
Smoosh's lyrics tend to revolve around those vagued-out feelings, gliding words and phrases like "I'll be fine" and "your day to shine" on Asya's pretty bird trills, though the group's finest moment, the hand-clapping, booty-shaking "Rad," clearly praises soccer teams, happiness, and hip-hoppity-don't-stoppity fun. Nonetheless I play "About the Picture" over and over, trying to make out the lyrics: did that little girl really sing, "It's impossible for me to love"? Unsettling fissures open up between Asya's emotional delivery and sorta-declared lack of feeling, the break between the immediate assumption that she's drawing on life experience followed by the just-as-quick flash that Smoosh are trying out and playing with characters and interior lives like so many costumes or musical styles. Is it so hard to believe that love isn't easy for a preteen, or anyone for that matter when you have songs on what it is, where it is, how to get it, and how to throw it away everywhere you turn? And maybe you need to be 12 to sing the otherwise unsayable.
It's even more complicated when you open your peepers and watch them live, as they perform at Slim's, thanking the other bands on the bill, including another Seattle band, Aqueduct, who play up their joke (visually disparate fratty guys rap and play indie rock!) much more (annoyingly) than Smoosh. Slight, in thermals, they're so small, adorable, and serious confident and better players than some much older usual suspects that I can't help but feel, despite the throng of middle school-age girls around me ... weird watching them. Sure, they've played for their peers at places like Oregon's Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, but I feel vaguely pervy watching them in this context, an adult music venue (the very phrase makes me picture a stripper-laden juke joint). Maybe it's just the fact that many Noise Pop shows tend to have an older, mostly male audience, or maybe it's remembering the Donnas talking about the sometimes sweet, sometimes creepy fellows who'd populate their shows and how they'd have to make sure they had security. Maybe it's the inevitable associations between Smoosh and notions of "purity," "innocence," and "authenticity," and maybe it becomes easier to just dismiss them as some kind of cute joke act: I overhear one probably twentysomething guy tell another, "You have to get Carl to see them, and don't tell him anything about them." Just by being themselves and straddling the children's and, uh, wannabe-children's music scenes, Smoosh's existence triggers questions about kidsploitation especially in an era of School of Rock, the Kidz Bop CD series, and the rising wave (and economic might) of children's music being created by reputable, non-Raffi types like They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes. Smoosh are so easy to like, but are they likable because they remind us of ourselves our much more musically skilled selves at their age, or because they're ably aping indie rock conventions, like a Mini Me, kid-size version of, say, Mates of State?
In any case, you can't diss Smoosh's talent, the genuine enthusiasm of the crowd of seeming neophytes, and even the reaction when I speak at the National College Newspaper Convention later that week and play the collegiate journo crowd She Like Electric. An excited and, well, electric buzz races through the room little kids do rock! and a longhaired dude runs up to me afterward and tells me his bud back home opens his college radio show with "Rad" every week. Rad, yeah.
21 Grams, more or less On March 5, the sixth annual Sleepless Nights: Gram Parsons Tribute Concert slips into Great American Music Hall with performances by Red Meat, Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch, Fairchilde, Mike Therieau Band, and others. Therieau amiably told me that he and bandmate Dave Gleason recently played a similar tribute near the Parsons death site at Joshua Tree National Monument. "It was a little disorganized, tons and tons of bands playing," he said, though he dug playing with Flying Burrito Brothers' Chris Ethridge and Sneeky Pete Kleinow and hanging out with songwriter and onetime Bob Dylan sideguy Spooner Oldham and Linda Ronstadt vet Bob Warford. "He was telling all these great stories like he was in the Everly Brothers band the night they broke up at Knox Berry Farm. Guess they had a huge fight in the dressing room, and the mics were on, so everyone in the audience could hear them".... Would Bono feel ripped off? Adam of Stockholm, Sweden's Shout Out Louds is a dead ringer for the U2 titan, from the sound of the group's current Very Loud EP (Bud Fox/Capitol), which almost gives classic alt-rock a good name.... Shockingly groovy Tucson, Ariz., psych project Galactic Federation of Love land at the Make-Out Room March 2.... What does DMBQ stand for? Totally awesome psycho-garage rock, I hear, listening to their upcoming Estrus album, The Essential Sounds from the Far East. The Japanese combo bring their unhinged sounds to Hemlock Tavern March 3. If you know what's bad for you and you have a strong constitution and hearty earplugs you'll get a taste of that essential noise.
Galactic Federation of Love perform with Rykarda Parasol and
Bill Luty Wed/2, Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F. Call for time and
price. (415) 647-2888. DMBQ play with Harold Ray Live in
Concert and the Appreciation Thurs/3, 10 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk,
S.F. $7. (415) 923-0923. Sleepless Nights: Gram Parsons Tribute
Concert takes place Sat/5, 9 p.m., Great American Music Hall, 859
O'Farrell, S.F. $10-$12. (415) 885-0750. Shout Out Louds
play with the Futureheads and High Speed Scene March 10, 8 p.m., Slim's,
333 11th St., S.F. $11-$13. (415) 522-0333.