sound patrol 12-2-04
Chicks have cake and eat it, too
Chicks on Speed
(Chicks on Speed Records)
The shopping season is upon us, a grim reminder that ours is a fat, frivolous, reckless nation, drunk on debt and self-destruction. Still, even Adbusters subscribers and anarchists deserve Christmas presents, and it's a safe bet that they won't recoil in horror to find 99 Cents, the new Chicks on Speed CD, in their stockings. One part Frederick Jameson, one part Bananarama, Chicks on Speed is what happens when art-school veterans exchange their pastels for microphones and plot to undermine the hegemony by means of Casios and pomo polemics. The Berlin-based trio consists of Australian Alex Murray-Leslie, German Kiki Moorse, and American Melissa Logan, three women who rail against capitalism, commodification, commercialism, conformity, consumerism -- in other words, all the ingredients of Christmas.
"Let's burn down the malls," a Chick urges in "Sell Out" -- a worthy sentiment, perhaps, but a paradoxical one. Chicks on Speed have a product to sell (actually, if you count their two previous releases and their new line of -- no lie-- fashion accessories, they have several), and the product that they're selling tells us buying stuff is wrong. This strategy works pretty well, actually. Many an actual Eurotrash girl shook her bethonged booty to "Eurotrash Girl," Chicks on Speed's deliciously dismissive first single, so don't be surprised if "Fashion Rules!" a noisy indictment of the fashion industry, becomes a soundtrack staple of the European catwalks.
Thanks goodness for irony, whereby one can have one's cake, eat it too, and then rag on all the other cake-havers and -eaters. In the tradition of The Who Sell Out and Gang of Four's Entertainment, 99 Cents is both cultural critique and object of consumption. Fortunately, like both those albums, it's also a rewarding listen. Chicks on Speed kick out dizzy cheers and brittle beats, crafting a propulsive, surprisingly funky blend of '80s-flavored electropunk and experimental glitchcore. With guest appearances by Peaches and Miss Kittin and a bonus disc of freaky remixes, 99 Cents is a true entertainment bargain. Plus, by buying it, you fulfill your patriotic duty as a consumer -- a consumer of anticonsumerist rhetoric, no less. Ho, ho, ho, suckers!
Dim but well-meaning music writers are fond of calling Kimya Dawson's music "antifolk," a meaningless label based on a nonexistent dichotomy. If weird hair, tattoos, and a few facial piercings are all that it takes to make someone the un-Melanie, is Jessica Simpson the new Dylan? Dawson strums an acoustic guitar and sings about heady matters such as globalization, child abuse, death, media consolidation, the limits of psychiatry, and the redemptive properties of love -- so let's just call her a folk singer and be done with it.
Dawson, a former daycare worker, became semifamous as half of the Moldy Peaches, the silly, crass, oddly inventive brainchild of Adam Green, whom Dawson used to babysit. After the Peaches disbanded, the 31-year-old New Yorker released a smattering of lo-fi solo CDs and went on perpetual tour. For Hidden Vagenda, her first outing for K Records, she's availed herself of an actual recording studio for the first time, filling it with dozens of friends (ranging from Vanessa Carlton to Daniel Johnston) who embellish her minimalist ditties with raucous harmonies and sympathetic instrumentation. Compared with earlier efforts, Vagenda is Dawson's most elaborately produced CD, but it's far from fancy. The occasional ukelele, toy piano, cello, and Optiganadd sparkle to her sometimes monotonous melodies without overpowering her childlike delivery or obscuring her often brilliant lyrics. Still, it's telling that "Lullaby for the Taken," the CD's highlight, is all Dawson, nothing but her tender hoarse voice, her rudimentary guitar-playing, and what can only be described as mad flow.