|Be Your Own Pet - Be Your Own Pet|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Matt Fink|
|Tuesday, 01 August 2006|
When I interviewed Thurston Moore last month, I was taken aback by how the 48-year-old vocalist/guitarist for Sonic Youth has the entire history of independent music – from the obscure art-rock bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the modern-day freak folkies – catalogued in his brain. Noise, punk rock, garage, avant-classical – he obviously takes his role as an archivist (his word, not mine) very seriously, and it only makes sense that he would begin taking an active role in pushing forward his favorite new finds with his own label, Ecstatic Peace. Thus far, the most notable of his discoveries is Be Your Own Pet.
Interestingly, with BYOP, Moore is giving a forum to the kind of band he and his Sonic Youth bandmates essentially rendered archaic with their detuned guitars, no hook songwriting and non-linear song structures. A scruffy quartet of kids from Nashville, the band plays enthusiastic and twitchy punk rock that is full of no-frills swagger, theatrical vocals and buzz-saw guitars that wouldn’t have been out of place in the American punk rock scene against which the fledgling Sonic Youth seemed like a highbrow reaction. That’s not to say that BYOP doesn’t have a certain art-damaged charm. The arrangements are giddily unhinged, with guitars churning and swerving around vocalist Jemina Pearl’s preening and sneering performances, and an understated wall of screeching distortion and noise keeping the arrangements from becoming too cuddly. But despite their occasional manic flourishes, these songs are mostly disarmingly simple exclamations of youthful energy, and few bands have done it better in the new century.
From the menacing guitar lines and foreboding thuds that build to a chorus of vague exclamations and scrambled guitar feedback that open their full-length debut with “Thresher’s Flail,” it’s obvious that BYOP know how to build suspense. Foregoing that, they’re simply a take-no-prisoners rock band with brash hooks and spirited interplay, from the pogo-pop and shout-along choruses of “Fill My Pill” to the twitchy “Stairway to Heaven” that wisely decides to only rip off the other-song-by-that-name’s title for its first line. Changing the tempo a bit, the band adopts a disco beat for the sing-songy “October, First Account,” and stretches out through the deft mid-tempo rhythm changes and melodic key changes on “Adventure,” with Pearl intoning her very best “no duh” Valley Girl affectations. In Pearl, BYOP has a powerhouse vocalist with even more character and range than the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, one moment cooing like a little girl about her kitten, then leering predatorily after drowning her boyfriend on “Bog.” The lyrics often don’t make much sense on the surface, full of empowered commands and angry declarations, but the attitude is all that matters, and BYOP has tons of it. “I’m an independent motherfucker/And I’m here to take your money/I’m a wicked rat/And I’m here to steal your virginity,” Pearl barks over chugging guitars on “Bunk Trunk Skunk,” one of many tracks that offer allusions to coming violence.
BYOP is what Sonic Youth has rarely been: a fairly straightforward indie rock band with clear hooks and a crudely visceral appeal. This is music to jump around a room to, to play air drums to on your steering wheel, and for what it is, it’s very effective. Ominously pounding drums, simmering walls of guitar and menacing bass lines lead into the careening guitar and snarled verses of “We Will Vacation, You Can be My Parasol” – a swirling Nirvana-like arrangement that is set up to make the most of the loud-soft dynamic’s inherent rallying quality. Like the Dead Kennedys with the political sloganeering drained out and replaced with a noisy avant-pop pedigree, most of these songs pulse along at a punchy pace, with a woozy, about-to-fall-apart aesthetic serving the hit-and-run hooks exceptionally well.
If there’s any real complaint, it’s that the band displays little range, and their arrangements soon become predictable in their simmer-to-explode trajectories. Further, the melodies tend to be a bit similar, as Pearl favors hooks that are big on quick repeated phrases that lead into longer, more forceful lines to finish the chorus. Often, these vocal hooks are little more than dressing for the caustically chugging guitar figures, and attitude is frequently a substitute for a memorable hook.
As Sonic Youth was the bridge between the first generation of American punk rock and Nirvana’s eventual push of underground music into the mainstream, it seems altogether appropriate that Moore would discover a band that essentially is what music would sound like if his band never existed. They aren’t likely to kick off another art-punk revival, but in Be Your Own Pet he has found a distinctive (if not entirely innovative) band with a vocalist who possesses enough charismatic charm that even the less imaginative songs can survive on attitude. We should all feel better knowing Moore is scouring the underground so we don’t miss anything.
Like most of the first wave of American punk rock bands, the recording has a live-in-the-studio immediacy. Aside from a few double-tracked vocals and guitar dubs, this is the sound of a band playfully bouncing around the room. The guitar textures are punchy and over-the-top, with the thudding and snapping drumming placed lower in the mix. Appropriately, Pearl’s vocals are the sonic centerpiece, bold and loud and presented in all their theatrical glory.