Pruning the next months’ concert calendar for the not-to-be-missed
Youth Lagoon (4/13 at the Independent · Sold Out – Start Craigslisting)
If “garage” implies the invasion of a concrete, vacant space to the neighbor’s aggravation, “bedroom” suggests the inhabitation of a far more comfy, insular place to Mom’s delight. Of the latter DIY pop genre, a typical specimen weaves fuzzy keyboard, meek, sentimental vocals and maybe a few bells and whistles (literally) over a thin drum machine beat, in effect presenting its lameness with a precious delicacy.
Youth Lagoon is such a specimen; there is no denying it. But – and of course there was going to be a “but” – on The Year of Hibernation, the cozy little debut by the 22-year-old Boise artist, you can all but hear the shell of this confining genre cracking. Therein lies a compelling enough reason to listen.
To supply a different metaphor, the eight songs on the album feel like awakenings; they begin with a keyboard yawn, then find vocalist (and sole member) Trevor Powers groggily milling about behind a screen of effacing lo-fi fuzz. Eventually, though, they all rise to greet the day.
In “Cannons,” “Afternoon,” and “Montana”, the songs actually expand to a size that is downright large, and confidently so. On “Afternoon”‘s chorus, Powers’ voice leaps over a pounding drum line with a catchy agility belied by its wispy, unassuming timbre. The rousing guitar in the last third of “Montana” can withstand, even calls for, a considerable volume hike.
At the end of the day, The Year of Hibernation still holds the most appeal for fans of intimate-sounding pop constructions, sung by anxiety-ridden youths (which is more or less how Powers describes himself). Youth Lagoon’s whimpers sound more authentic than those of most bedroom-pop artists, though, and, to Powers’ credit, his shouts reveal the spark of something more.
Pulp (4/17 at The Warfield · Old Out)
Pulp’s reunion is an intriguing and slightly perilous one. In contrast with, say, the recently reunited Pixies, whose influence on modern indie music has remained apparent, in effect promising them safe passage for re-emergence, Pulp is an outsider to the community of their 21st century successors. Their clean, punchy Britpop sound and unwaveringly literal, narrative lyrics would be most unwelcome in today’s dreamy and oblique milieu. And yet, here they are.
Could Pulp 2.0 be a harbinger of the 1990s’ sanctioned return to the realm of indie music? Stranger things have happened, and such a restoration could prove a good thing. Pulp’s charmingly enthusiastic, bravely wordy approach – characteristics now isolated almost entirely to the mainstream – could be the rejuvenating jolt that modern left-of-center rock needs.
“Pulp” has served as an accurate name for the British band, whose songs recurrently amount to vivid vignettes about a sexually entangled boy and girl, breathily voiced by sharp-tongued frontman Jarvis Cocker. No mistake, it takes charisma to pull off a morsel of storytelling as unabashedly straightforward as His ‘n’ Hers standout “Babies,” a fond recollection of – to paraphrase – hiding in my girlfriend’s older sister’s closet to watch her screw.
Like any verbal fountain, Cocker’s lines are hit or miss, but the hits hit hard – sometimes resonatingly so, as with his deft summarization of upper-classness in Different Class‘ “Common People”: “Rent a flat above a shop/ cut your hair and get a job/ smoke some fags and play some pool/ pretend you never went to school/ But still you’ll never get it right/ ’cause when you’re laid in bed at night/ watching roaches climb the wall/ if you call your dad he could stop it all.” Strikingly well put, for a square-jawed weirdo in a shopping cart.
Pulp’s career spanned two decades, not one, but you wouldn’t know it from their music. Distinctly out of cultural tune with their Reagan/Thatcher-era New Wave contemporaries, Pulp’s It (1983) and Freaks (1987) are clean, bright guitar pop, full of accentuated, rather than muted, personality – Britpop a decade before Britpop existed. These earlier works operate on a smaller scale than lush late-career giants Different Class and We Love Life, but are similarly (and anachronistically) ebullient, at times even cloyingly so (“Love Love” straddles the border of tolerability.)
Such virility can only perpetuate itself for so long, in most cases, and it seemed appropriate that Pulp should retire itself in the early aughts. Cocker even foretold the 21st century to be the end of a personal era in Different Class single “Disco 2000“: “I said let’s all meet up in the year 2000/ Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown/ Be there at 2 o’clock by the fountain down the road/ I never knew that you’d get married/ and I would be living down here on my own/ on that damp and lonely Thursday years ago.” From his 1995 vantage point, the conservative, quieting forces of adulthood already loomed on the millennial horizon.
Twelve years after this calendar event, Pulp’s announcement of a small but formidable tour, including stops in New York, Coachella, San Francisco and Spain, feels promisingly open-ended. So long as Cocker doesn’t go the way of the Pixies, re-emerging as a severely dilapidated version of his former self, these 90s rockers stand to remind us of something we’ve been missing, lately.