I had to stop thinking about garage-rock for a spell; the sunglasses and shorts were bringing me down. As someone who has been reviewed poorly and often in the past, I don’t like to speak ill of bands smaller than U2. But it’s hard when so many garage and punk bands feted by blogs and critics sound like Juliana Hatfield b-sides or, I dunno, the Buck Pets, i.e., ’90s college rock… the genre of music that inspired me to invent a time machine in order to travel to 2014 as a fully grown boy, only, in a Twilight Zoneian twist, to be greeted upon exiting the Zardis (still working on the name) by a bunch of boys and girls in barrettes and stripes playing watered-down grunge pop. It’s hard to stay positive in the face of such aggressive mediocrity. I was ready to pack it all in and start a d-beat/death rock review column in my local alt-weekly, and really embrace the age-appropriate zeitgeist.
But I’m happy to announce that I’m back on board with garage-rock. I’m back on board with garage punk. I’m back on board with psych-garage. Whatever garage you’re calling your loft, I want to hear all about it. I just traded in my electric cigarettes for a lifetime supply of Chesterfield Kings and put a down payment on a black denim jacket with pins of bands I’ve never heard of. Your ninth-rate Black Lips act almost killed me, but you can’t kill me, I’m already dead.
The reason for my newfound lust for life? Pagan Day, the debut album by Montreal psych-punk-disco dryads, PYPY.
First things first: Full disclosure! My old band played with PYPY member Annie-Claude Deschênes’ other band, Duchess Says. It was on a boat at one of the festivals where we play at noon, the headliner (in this case, the Hold Steady) plays at midnight, and from then to eternity, our press kit listed them as a band we opened for. Anyway, Duchess Says were amazing. We nodded at them, they nodded at us, and both bands continued on their tours, confident in the knowledge that they did, in fact, exist. Roy “Choyce” Vucino of PYPY was in CPC Gangbangs, whom I saw at SXSW once and thought were very fine, but not more fine than leaving to go sit at a bar by myself and complain about SXSW. Oh, and Roy and Phil Clem were in Red Mass, a band that I’ve admired from afar but admittedly not explored enough. That’s my history with PYPY.
What makes the PYPY debut so splendid? Let’s start with the choruses. In that there’s a shit-ton of them. Know how a lot of psych bands eschew choruses because they were raised in the desert and they’re afraid anything resembling catchiness will get in the way of their peyote hot-sauce hokum, so they just play and play and play until their fuzz pedals’ batteries die and we all have to go home and pretend we were entertained? Well, PYPY are from Canada, where they don’t take the concept of the chorus for granted. They all grew up with the Pointed Sticks and D.O.A. and whatnot, so they realize that sometimes, in that wendigo-bitten flat field, only a chorus will keep you warm through the night. Mind you, this is just a theory. But every song on Pagan Day has at least three catchy parts. I know Ian Svenonius rails against the concept of catchiness and hooks, but he probably doesn’t mean it. Like most of us, Svenonius found his mode of operating a long time ago and damned if he’s going to stop now. In his rare case it works: repetition, in word, meaning, perversity of idea, or just drum beat can be the grace of God slapping you repeatedly in the face, but it can also just be a goddamned part that keeps repeating, over and over into boredom infinite. Avoid that shit if you don’t know how to handle it.
Speaking of the Three R’s, PYPY play each part until that part should no longer be played, then they do a little skronk part so you know that they are seriously interested in being interesting, then they go back to the other part so you can do a little, you know, groove at the bar (or dance floor or field or whatever) and then they do a realllllllllly epic CHORUS. Like, a Dazed and Confused soundtrack (admittedly by way of Nina Hagen) chorus; I’ve never been a downer or pot sort of guy, preferring the substances that give me the illusion of strength and courage to those that offer the illusion of depth, but if I did like pot, I would put on this album and take some pot and drive into the lake, thoroughly convinced that I was space-trucking into the stars or at least the nearest Cumberland Farms.
Another great thing about this record is the lack of consistency in tone. That’s not a backhanded compliment. Like repetition, consistency can be a drag. As much as I respect solid songwriting in theory, I don’t actually want to listen to 12 perfectly constructed song products in a row. I like a couple of clunkers, ill-conceived experiments, or at least tangents thrown in the mix, just so I know you’re like me and you have bad ideas that you’re willing to fight for. This album has James Chance levels of hubris that I find extremely appealing, and you should too. There’s songs that consist of little more than street hassle cocaine complaints (the song is helpfully titled “Too Much Cocaine” and one of which is that there’s too much dancing… which gets points for novelty in the cocaine complaint division) over an extended skate-rock workout and another, “New York,” that takes the Killing Joke “Eighties” bass line back from Nirvana just like a majestic eagle eating that selfish jerk Prometheus’ liver. And I think their “Molly” song with the “Sweet Emotion” lift actually improves on the entire Aerosmith catalog. I’ll stand by that, I guess.
I love the PYPY album because it sounds like the idea of garage-rock rather than its current reality. It sounds like loosey-goosey malcontents getting together in a garage or loft or basement and working things out for the first time, touching each other’s disgusting flesh and seeing what happens when they try to sound like their heroes. Basically it’s a classic rock no wave record, like the Amboy Dukes and Lydia Lunch doing exactly what you’d expect the Amboy Dukes and Lydia Lunch to do if they formed a band; fuck strangers and eat deer raw.