Talkhouse Contributing Writer Zachary Lipez is the former singer for Freshkills and the current singer of Publicist UK. He writes the “Adult Problems” column for Noisey/VICE. He also contributes to Hazlitt, MySpace, and Vol.1 Brooklyn. His most recent book, with Nick Zinner and Stacey Wakefield, is Please Take Me Off the Guest List (Akashic Books, 2010). He tends bar at 124 Rabbit Club. You can follow him on Twitter here.
I write fan letters to record labels. In the way that my pal Sean Doyle writes to poets and essayists he admires, just to let them know that they do good work and someone out there is doing more than just to “like” them on Facebook, I write small punk labels and tell them “I like this record. I like that record. When is the Diät full-length coming out? Why do bands not mix their vocals loud enough anymore? I like your label. Do you like me?” They always respond. They usually say “rad” a lot. In this way, I ensure that I will always be a terrible critic. I’m a booster. Gene Shalit in an ill-fitting Kriegshög shirt. Just like a good god made me.
I say all this because I like and respect you and I want you to know where we stand. A full disclosure if you will: I don’t know Cairo Pythian (the name of the man, the band, the project). I’ve never met him or any of the Olympia luminaries he plays with. I don’t know his real name, but few people do. Cairo Pythian could steal my drugs and hit on my girlfriend and not return loaned books and, while I’d certainly be upset, it wouldn’t be a personal betrayal, because we aren’t friends. I correspond with the owner of the label Cairo is on, Perennial Records. I liked Perennial’s owner Hayes Waring’s old band White Boss, and I like the label and, within the confines of DM’s on Twitter, I like Hayes. I don’t, however, like every damn thing Perennial puts out, and if there’s payola checks in the mail, I’ve yet to receive them. So I feel comfortable saying nice things about Cairo Pythian’s new EP. I just, like I said, want you to feel fully disclosed and shit.
The EP starts with the title track “Unity Mitford.” As you all know, cold wave dudes and their fascism fixation is a thing that exists. It starts with tucking your shirt in and enjoying a crisp haircut and ends with calling yourself “apolitical” and a “provocateur.” All very tiresome to adults and people who don’t find serial killers “just so fascinating.” But, first of all, Cairo Pythian rejects the “cold wave” tag entirely. As he said in an interview, “I describe my music as adult contemporary because I am adult.” See, he’s an adult too! And, all my snideness aside, I have to take the artist’s word in good faith. It’s too exhausting not to. And “Unity Mitford” is hardly a celebration of the lamest Mitford sister (with two other fascist siblings and one who, while in other ways was completely awesome, was still carrying water for Stalin well into the ‘50s, it’s a tight competition); rather, it’s a complicated stab at equal parts empathy and contempt for someone making the absolute worst choices one can make. It’s a fine addition to the tradition of folk songs about fucked-up historical figures, well in line with “Hate So Real,” “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes,” and “Angel of Death,” or every song ever written about Stagger Lee.
Unity Mitford is four songs of burbling electro; let’s not say cold wave or minimal synth. Minimal funk? For wallflowers? Even if you couldn’t dance to it, you could totally share a last cigarette and make out in a kitchen to it while everyone was dancing to Drake in the next room. I know “witch house” gets a bad rap, but the hints of southern hip-hop in the second song, “Jaguar Music,” make it an apt term. It’s OK, witch house is no stupider a genre than anything else. I like Youth Crew. And if you have the time and some nitrous, I’ll defend electro clash ’til dawn.
There’s a remix of the Olympia/New York artist Wooden Kimono’s song “Walking Around,” a black-draped bedroom dirge which Cairo Pythian transforms into a legitimate banger. It’s not better than the original (I find remixes that “improve” a song sort of disrespectful) but it adds dimension. The EP ends with “Spider Life,” a lovely chill-out room of a song to hide in until your jaw starts to feel normal. And then it’s daylight and you can go home.
The thing that moves me most about the Unity Mitford EP, and why I’m advocating for it over the legions of other slink-sleaze-synth night moves on the market, is what Cairo does with his voice. Besides his obvious songwriting ability, he never sounds bored or disaffected. This matters so much to me. I prefer Grace Jones levels of scorn and Dave Gahan peaks of romantic yearning to cool removal. Cairo Pythian, while certainly sounding Roxy Music-cosmopolitan at times, isn’t afraid to croon like an r&b princeling. I appreciate his yearning. Fuck distance; wanting everything is, seriously, the only way to go.
I’m pretty psyched on a lot of the music coming out of the Pacific Northwest right now. Between this, Dangerous Boys Club, and a new Criminal Damage album, I may stop making heroin and self-serious fake ecologist black metal band jokes about that part of the country. Just kidding — I’ll always hate you, Pacific Northwest. You underrated the Dandy Warhols and called dude from Brian Jonestown Massacre a genius. A GENIUS. (And maybe he is, but he once yelled at me for not DJing enough Ted Nugent, so I dunno.) But despite that, and your deeply flawed attitude towards fluoride in the drinking water, I’m on my way to becoming a civic booster of sorts: as we speak, I’m wearing a Steven “Jesse” Bernstein onesie. And I sure do thank you for Perennial Records and Cairo Pythian.