the mineral girls
Self Aware Records, 2015
The mineral girls show up in my itunes in between The Microphones and The Minutemen and that feels just about right. (note: They actually show up in between Miles Davis and Missy Elliot, but I am ignoring that fact because that is not how the alphabet works and my beef with Apple over this point is a gripe for another time and place.) Having this band lodged in between the dreamy sizzle of Phil Elvrum’s The Microphones and the stiff sarcasm of the Minutemen makes a lot of sense to me. After all, the mineral girls are some kind of lo fidelity loving post-post-post punk band, the prefixes of that somewhat meaningless identifier sapping it of all meaning and ironically making it new again and an appropriate term for describing this fresh take on a hardcore and emo influenced rock and roll outfit.
cozy body is the next logical step for this bedroom band of skinny North Carolinians whose sound was actually born in a bedroom and not in a “bedroom.” On this echoey, lackadaisical effort they further define their sound. Gone are the delicate melodies and the pinned feedback, but those are the kinds of things anyone recording onto a Tascam 8-track relies upon. Perhaps cozy body is what the Girls were going for all along. Perhaps it is their most honest record to date.
It was produced, far more adeptly and assuredly than their last two records, by Bo White and like a lover finding a birthmark tucked behind your ear that gives your flesh a whole new kind of charm, he seems to have found something in their sound that they might have missed themselves. He brings out some of their more serrated sounds, the kind of tasty turns that Mission of Burma or a pre-hiatus Pixies might have tried.
The guitars are crisp, but the vocals are hazy. The room sounds scuzzy and the bass can be felt but not heard. Plus the drums are in just the right place. It’s not as grubby as something forever, and not as charmingly remorseful as their debut but you can’t keep doing that stuff forever.
The sound is still rough around the edges but there is a focus applied to the music that already had a direction and a purpose to begin with. White manages to bring some of the more ambitious ideas to the surface. Listening to the records one after the other sort of has the effect of a drunk getting his bearings after a black out.
White seems to know just what to do with these malcontents. Ever reliable drummer Vince D’Ambrasio adds the neat, feral tricks that hold the shambling tunes together and Dylan Fleming’s rubbery bass lines are deliberate and chewed upon. His contributions have the unobtrusive feel of a child who was given a Rubik’s Cube to keep him quiet on a long car trip and that kind of long-form un-puzzling works well for these kind of ramshackle songs.
The most noticeable addition is that of the battery-licking guitar playing of Mackenzey Ayers. Her playing gives the band something of a hot foot. She adds Television style counterpoint squeals to “It’s never safe to leave your home” and the kind of fret board acuity that would appease Richard Lloyd on “feeder mice.” The metal-esque, but not exactly metal, alternate picking that opens “I wanna be your child bride,” is lifted right from The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs Fever to Tell, and it is well-appropriated here.
Earlier releases have found lead singer and lyricist Brett Green fumbling with ways to express his feelings of frustrations and alienation and the same is true here, but never is he funnier than on this record. He has started to perfect the art of dropping one liners without affecting the somber and serious tone of the songs. He smirks his way through these bleak tracks like he’s the illegitimate child of Vic Chestnut and Siouxie Sioux.
Take “sunshine biscuit club” for example. The song is about refusing to be accountable for the demise of a relationship. Green trots out the old trope about getting in touch with all your exes, but in this context it is only the ones he’s cheated on, and hilariously, he’s only doing it to explain to them that everything was their fault. There is a sly and subversive humor to these tunes.
The song, just like the rest of the record, is told from the point of view of someone so immature and selfish that they are physiologically incapable of taking responsibility for relationships that have gone haywire. There is even a line that says, “These girls are like plants,” as if they were placed in his life by the government or a Bond villain. And yet, despite how defiant and petulant it all is, there is still beauty to be found. “I can love anyone I want,” they all sing. It takes a special kind of maturity and self-awareness to write a song so immature and self-obsessed.
And that self-obsession is warranted because ultimately this is a record about acceptance. Self-acceptance and all the other flavors of acceptance too. Take the horn-goosed title track which culminates with the line, “Was Jesus happy with the body he was given?” In addition to returning Green to the fertile ground that is songs-about-Jesus, the lyric also invokes a person whose physical description has been debated on a daily bases for 2000 years.
In a record that is about gender and sexual identity, body dysmorphia, and self-loathing, imagining our lord and savior perseverating on his own flaws makes a lot of sense. The idea of Jesus asking if his sandals make him look fat is funny, but it also subverts the whole idea of perfection. Poor self-conscious Jesus; now that the kind of savior with whom we can all identify.
Like I said earlier, this is some kind of progression for the band. The record is their most consistent and most assured. They leave some things behind, their feckless charm, their raw and adolescent yearning, but they trade those things for other things. The threat of danceability, the commitment to craft. They shed the protection that is the amateur label like a stripper graduating to pornography. No more glitter and champagne rooms, now it’s on to bright lights and grimacing through the money shot. This is the sound of a band coming into its own.
In some ways cozy body is the best thing they’ve done. They were always shouty, always rambunctious, but now they are developing thousand yard stares to go along with it. With the final song, “the most recent addition to” they establish an insistent beat that they can maintain for the foreseeable future. The piano melody is sweet and keeps an eye on the past as well as the future and the final, seemingly ad libed pronouncement that “that’s the end of it,” is clearly a lie. But it’s the sweetest kind of lie. It’s the kind of lie we tell lovers we have let down: “I swear I’ll stop calling,” “That’s the last time I ever do mescaline,” or “you’ll never hear from me again.” It’s the kind of lie that tells us we are in it for the long haul.