As a bartender who likes music well enough, I can be a pedantic jerk. But I try not to ruin anyone’s date. Occasionally I’ll be playing some band — reasonably esoteric (as I am as God made me) but, I hope, enjoyable to everyone — and a dude will want to talk about it. I like to talk to my customers and I like (usually) to talk about music, so that’s all well and good. But, occasionally, said dude will have no idea what he’s talking about and I will, losing sight of common human courtesy and my much-needed tips, correct him. I’ll just start talking, thinking I’m being wicked super helpful, and then realize, two minutes in, that I’m actually being a bore and have unwittingly begun a pissing match with a dude who probably wasn’t trying to impress his date or me but was just making conversation. Then I feel bad. Then I realize a dude with actual muscle tone isn’t going be emasculated by me name-checking John Zorn and I feel, well, not exactly better. It’s possible I read too much into these interactions. Music is swell, and if I occasionally weaponize taste, at least I’m getting everyone drunk.
Let’s talk about the albums I played at New York’s 124 Rabbit Club this month!
Foster Body, Moving Display: A delightful album consisting of sentient Suburban Lawns and every fifth down stroke of Gang of Four’s Entertainment!. I play this album a lot as it, like bands like the Feelies, feels hip and peppy but doesn’t scare anyone out. Customers seem to like it. I sure do. One guy asked if it was the Nation of Ulysses because when some dudes stop listening to punk everything sounds like the last punk album that they played when they were seventeen. Of course, a life where everything is slightly nasal and/or frantic-sounding like NOU would be absolute heaven. (BTW shout-out to writer Sam Lefebvre for turning me on to this band. See, music-writing works!)
Primitive Weapons, The Future of Death: Nepotism Alert: the singer of this band, David Castillo, is a dude that I love. But I have lots of friends (OK, a few) and I don’t play all of their bands in the bar. This album has all the things that I like about post-hardcore (Tragedy-esque singing over pretty guitars, relentless drumming and so, so many emotions) and none of the stuff I hate about post-hardcore (boring songs about a singer’s divorce). The other night, there were three customers seemingly negotiating at length a potential threesome but using euphemisms like “backrub,” so I turned this up until I couldn’t hear them and I could only cry at their lips moving.
Nomads, Love It or Leave It: L.A. d-beat wildness that scared off fewer customers than expected. A very nice counterintuitively spray-tanned Goth visiting from New Jersey said it reminded her of Texas thrashers Rigor Mortis. (Nomads does not sound like Rigor Mortis, but in no world could that be construed as an insult.) I play this one late at night — except for their cover of Sister of Mercy’s “Lucretia, My Reflection,” which sounds like Disfear and I play every hour on the hour to presumably rapturous inner response from my customers.
Bambara, Swarm: I used to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the Chrome Cranks. Like, I thought about them a lot. I didn’t even necessarily listen to them that much, but their singer, Peter Aaron, represented a platonic ideal of what a proper Lower East Side gent who wasn’t as pretty as Jon Spencer should be — you know, cool, tormented in tight pants, talented enough to drink for free. I’m not trying to damn Bambara with faint praise. I like them a lot. East Village Goth scuzz is my favorite kind of art. I would genuinely rather listen to Surgery’s Nationwide than look at the fucking Sistine Chapel or whatever. I feel vindicated in this view noting that, without asking specifically who was playing, customers at the corner table shouted, “Why is the music here always so fucking good!?” when I was playing Bambara.
Elucid, Save Yourself: Speaking of LES Goth scuzz, Elucid — a.k.a. the dude who rapped “So Goth I was born black” — has a solo album (as opposed to his collaborative efforts with Billy Woods in the siiiiiiick Armand Hammer), and it’s a stunner. Save Yourself is a minimalist hip-hop exorcism from one of New York’s finest rappers, all old vinyl crackle and new noise feedback, a soul record in the way Swans’ Children of God is a soul record. As dälek also has an (excellent) new album out this month, it’s easy to make comparisons, but it’s more gratifying to see wildly different results (if equally thrilling, with Elucid being a more taut Cop Shoot Cop post-punk threat proposition to dalek’s shoegaze-but-not-dull wall of sound) coming from similar influences.
Sometimes playing hip-hop at a bar that is more known for the punk music can be a little neurosis-inducing. Like, if someone were to ask for punk, what would they really be saying? As this has never happened (more people ask for the punk to be turned off), I should probably not worry about it. I probably have more conversations in my head where I take brave/cowardly stances against theoretical racists than is absolutely necessary. Generally people want to hear good music at a reasonable volume.
The Infinite Three, Lucky Beast: Speaking of Cop Shoot Cop (as I usually am) the PR agent who sent this to me said it sounded like Cop Shoot Cop, which was such an egregious falsehood it almost made me lose my faith in public relations. It sounds like the dude from the Fatima Mansions reading Jaz Coleman’s diary so…“Room 429” by Cop Shoot Cop. My bad, public relations. You’re right. But there’s a lot more dub and echo here, which isn’t surprising considering the band’s avant-’90s rock pedigree (ex members of GOD, maaaan). I wrote this album off at first because it was so easy to get into, which I generally distrust, but it grew on me by leaps and bounds and customers loved it. The guy who runs Black Metal & Brews liked it so much that I introduced him to Infinite Three’s publicist. This is how the low-stakes sausage is made. Another guy said it sounded like Queens of the Stone Age. Plz refer to the first paragraph for my reaction.
VUM, Cryptocrystalline: The music that I play at the bar often has common threads, and most of those threads come from Nick Cave’s hairline, so it’s no surprise that so many bands listed here dip in and out of the Bad Men in Cheap Suits variety of dark music. VUM is not Goth. They’re more sophisticated, textured pop, like a smokier Nadine Shah. But singer Jennifer Pearl used to be in Lion Fever, who were contemporaries of Bellmer Dolls and cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned Bambara, so let’s all take a moment to appreciate my skillful interweaving of bands and humans who probably have a black star tattoo or three somewhere on their bodies. Anyway, I dig VUM a lot and they work real well in a dark bar. We get a lot of Tinder dates at the bar, oftentimes people who seem to have been born without a sense of discernment. I like to think this record helps make people make poor decisions.
Museum Mouth, Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig: I once compared Museum Mouth to “Xiu Xiu fronting the Smoking Popes,” because I excel at writing blurbs nobody could possibly find helpful. The comparison holds up, though, even if there’s a bit of Siamese Dream creeping in these days, for which I begrudge no one. They still sound desperate and desperate to be loved, which are two of my favorite genres of any art form. Customers dig it, especially the alt-rock types. The band Clean Girls are regulars; they asked who it was, because they liked it, and then told me, “I think we wrote these guys about playing a show once.” Just one of the many glamorous and tawdry Rock & Roll Stories you hear as a big-city bartender. Sometimes I feel like Patti Smith is reciting Just Kids directly into my soul.
Moken, Chapters of My Life: A Cameroonian immigrant living in Detroit and just trying to make enough money to make it as a shoe designer. If my column makes anyone rich and famous (chances are good), I hope it’s Moken. He cites Manu Dibango, Nina Simone and Van Morrison as key influences, and I believe him, but this album is so dually eccentric and catchy that I hope he’ll allow me to make comparisons to Scott Walker (the fun ’60s years) and the French pop Walker loved before he disappeared into his own sunglasses. This is probably my favorite folk record of the year. I play it loud with the bar door open to draw people in from the street because, in my heart, I have to believe the best of all you jerks.