King of Jeans CD - Sub Pop
Irony of ironies, that the most emotionally complex album of the year should come from a band whose name shows up as “****** *****” in family newspapers. Indeed, it is a testament to the underground’s strained relationship with mainstream pop culture that King Of Jeans is guaranteed to be on most music publications’ year-end best-of lists, but shunted to the back, somewhere between a Strokes member’s solo outing and the latest Robert Pollard album. In today’s diversity-addled MP3 culture, glutted with Lady Gagas, emo-rappers, and indie rock bands from Scotland, where do you place a group whose signature “hit” is about stifling loneliness with ice cream?
Which is a shame indeed, because Matt Korvette (a.k.a. Matthew Kosloff, a former contributor to Skyscraper) and company have crafted a record that nails twentysomething ennui in a way that manages to balance hilarity and teeth-grinding anxiety without the sense of forced self-pity common to the subject. Moreso than Hope For Men, the band’s previous long-player, King of Jeans is a grower - it doesn’t attack eardrums with the bracing noise of “People Person,” and never attains the fucked-up voyeurism of “Scrapbooking.” What it does, and does exceedingly well, is stack up riffs so fast and furious they seem a step ahead of themselves. “False Jesii Pt. II” and “Human Upskirt” start at a gallop and somehow manage an exponential increase in intensity within their two-minute runtimes. “Dream Smotherer” matches grinding proto-grunge with a recitation of menial office tasks and the insistent snarl, “In my head I run the show.”
The album’s centerpiece, “R-Rated Movie,” describes an afternoon spent by oneself watching a flick loaded with the sex and violence absent from the narrator’s actual existence. “I got nervous watching the sex scene,” Korvette drawls, conjuring the image of Travis Bickle pointing a finger-gun at a porn-theater screen. A “TV Party” for the new millennium, the song isn’t so much about having nothing better to do as it is about being too self-conscious about that feeling to share it with anyone else.
Then there’s the album closer, “Goodbye (Hair),” a mid-tempo dirge that initially seems patterned after a jokey Dead Milkmen B-Side but in fact conjures a sense of bottomless dread that, with its deadpan insistence on the quotidian horror of a receding hairline, frankly mops the floor with anything Radiohead has done in the last few years. Korvette’s spoken-word soliloquy during the final chorus, straight out of the Suicidal Tendencies playbook, is the kind of punk-rock-academic in-joke that simultaneously works as a cheap laugh, a negation of a cheap laugh, and a purely earnest meditation on mortality that overrides any notion that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. “This is what I have to look forward to?” he mutters with the flat affect of a teenager doing a presentation in study hall. The world may not have been starving for an existential grunge record that is also tailor-made for shotgunning tallboys, but here it is, and thank God.
By Matthew V. DeWitt