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.
Depending on how irritating you want to be at any given party, you can either be the guy who breaks down every single band into the smallest and seemingly most arbitrarily named micro-genres — or you can take the opposite tack and say, to whomever will listen, “It’s all just music, it’s all just music, it’s all just music…” until your hosts and family and friends and god on high all deeply, deeply regret ever putting Roxy Music on the end of the AUX cord in the first place.
Either way, you’re awful and a party pooper par poopulance, and I have definitely been you. It’s fun to talk about music, and if being a bore is the price to pay, my pockets are empty, the white cloth hanging out in a very comical fashion.
Fortunately, this isn’t a party, it’s a site for talking about music. I’m not (literally) in your home, sitting at the foot of your bed, going through the pockets of the jackets piled there. You can leave at any time. But, please…don’t. I’m lonely and I want to tell you about Flesh World.
What is Flesh World? What is its new album, The Wild Animals in My Life? Is it noise-pop? Maybe! Is it punk? Isn’t everything? Is it shoegaze? I hope not! Or is it “just music, man”? I dunno. Oh, you gotta go get something from the kitchen? No, wait, hold on a second….
Basically, in a world where so many bands on the “indie” (both in truth and in marketing designation) spectrum are genially homogeneous, and young punks play collegiate music that old punks knew was square as hell the first ’90s around, Flesh World is a refreshingly prickly proposition. Originating from San Francisco-until-they-got-priced-out, the band is made up of Jess Scott on vocals and guitar, Scott Moore on guitar and synth, Andrew Luttrell on bass and Diane Anastasio on drums. And despite being composed of members of other notable bands (noise-poppers Brilliant Colors and hardcore legends-in-the-best-circles Limp Wrist), they don’t sound like any of those artists — which is a shame, as I could just tag them “post-hardcore” and call it a day.
Tragically/fortunately for us pigeonholers, however, Flesh World seem intent on carving their own path — even if it’s admittedly within the niche-as-fuck musical subcultures in which they reside (Punk! Indie! Queer!). I add that caveat not as a backhanded compliment, but more as a warning to the consumer not to expect free jazz or unheard symphonies from the distant future; this is still rock & roll music of the pasty and disaffected variety.
There’s an art school vibe to the whole affair — in the people-who-go-to-art-school-because-they-find-art-very-interesting positive way rather than the I-guess-“hipster”-doesn’t-really-apply-here-but-I-still-want-to-hurt-someone’s-feelings way. As one song is even directly inspired by British pop art icon David Hockney (“Poolside Boys,” with its line “I painted/Something for David…”), the observation may be entirely redundant. But, overt allusions aside, the music feels very much in the tradition of the Leeds early art punk scene. There’s an expectation that — even within the oft-times brutish context of rock music — nuance, intelligence and wanting non-processed nor spoon-fed beauty in one’s life is an admirable trait.
Perhaps it’s a reach to see strains of poet Frank O’Hara (who famously collaborated with artist Larry Rivers) in the album — mainly in the title track, which is about the “wild animals” in one’s life and conjures up my favorite O’Hara poem, “Animals.” There’s a fine line between O’Hara’s lines — “Have you forgotten what we were like then/ when we were still first rate/ and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth” — and Flesh World’s lyrics: “Wild animals in my life…I know they’re wild, do as they please/I opened up my civilized heart.” We choose to live among the animals, vivacious and/or cruel, and either regret this choice or regret the beasts’ absence when they’re gone. The poem and song are just two different ways of remembering the same party.
That mix of the awkward art student and the cosmopolitan observer of a scene (punk/straight, gay/straight, whatever) is probably what I find most compelling about Flesh World. Scott’s lyrics tend toward the oblique and obliquely accusatory (such as “Either way, you cut my faith,” from “Just to Tear Me Down”), but they, in combination with the music, still conjure up a world of shaved-head heartbreakers and boho-alt late sleepers. There’s a coolness that’s not too cool there — it’s still full of hella joie de vivre (in the music more than the lyrics, which are not exactly lacking in the “dread of life” department — in a fun way!), just…sophisticated. Whether this comes from the drolly afflicted intonation of Jess Scott or from the guitars, which veer from tasteful to completely blissed-out within single songs, is harder to determine. I’m just the singer in a band; when God was handing out competency with music theory and notes and shit, I was in the back, huffing gas and listening to Crumbsuckers. But I dig listening to this record regardless of the wherefores.
So, yeah, even though I’ve been pressing you against the Frigidaire at this hypothetical party and Flesh World is in the next room playing for beer money and I’m going on about how good the band is — I’m sorry. I don’t know what genre they are. Nor do I particularly care. You may care, on both counts, but that’s your journey.
I just know what I like. I like Flesh World. I like the exhausted romanticism, the cool disdain for liars and controllers, the drums. I dig the scene cred and the indifference to scene cred both. I dig the multiple hooks in the songs that aren’t necessarily looking to pay rent to cohesion. I dig the politics, both stated in interviews and implied in the music and haircuts. And I dig the notion — fine, more a vibe I get from the record, really — that feeling defeated isn’t the same as being defeated. After all, almost all the genres that Flesh World could be placed in are predicated on reveling in the underdog status — the idea of being kicked down (by the man, by love, by a fickle and more likely entirely indifferent universe), being on one’s back, but still kicking.