On the Cutting Edge of Music

I’ve been going down some obscure musical rabbit holes of late, and, contrary to my norm, I’ve found something newer than “Go Ask Alice.” So I figured I’d let y’all know about a couple of bands that I might be on the cutting edge of. At least in America.

The first is a couple of lasses from England. Or maybe one of the other UK countries? Hell, they could be Irish for all I know. 

Yes, despite being American, I’m aware that Ireland’s been independent for a century or so. My last name’s Kelly, after all. I even know that Jameson’s a Catholic Whiskey and Bushmill’s belongs to the heathens. (Although I kinda like Bushmill’s a little more – don’t tell my dead aunt).

Anyway, I first came across Wet Leg when somebody posted their video on Twitter. As far as I can tell, they only have one or maybe two songs. Like I said, cutting edge stuff. Not like the last time I found “new” bands (Vampire Weekend and Nathaniel Rateliff) that turned out to have a decade of back catalogs. 

But, boy howdy, Wet Leg’s one song is pretty kick ass.

Check out the video.

Tongue in cheek lyrics, driving bass line, kick-ass guitar riffs. Count me in.

Most will note the lyric from the first refrain, “I went to school and I got the Big D.” Despite her taking the time to explain otherwise, I don’t think she’s referencing her degree. But I’ll  take the third verse: “Is your mother worried? Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother.” That’s some Grade A mirth right there. Or maybe Grade Big D, as the case may be.

Not to be overlooked is the refrain of “Excuse me… what?” In the recorded version, the “what?” is restrained. But if you check out a live version (go ahead, I’ll wait), there’s more emotion to the second one each time. As in, “What the fuck? I already responded the first time.” Because how else does someone respond when someone interrupts you twice with the same “Excuse me” without getting on to whatever the hell they’re excusing? Come to my classroom sometime and see. The name I respond to most often is Mr. Um, Um, Mr. Um.

I’m so enamored with the smirkiness that I’m overlooking the obvious faux pas of mispronouncing the song’s title. I mean, come on, it’s clearly a chaise LOUNGE, not a chaise longue. We lounge upon it, do we not? Is this some European versus American thing? Are those limey bastards siding with the French? A faux pas indeed! 

Please pronounce that phonetically, not that “foe pa” bullshit. A fox pass whilst waiting for our whore’s deo weevers.

I looked up chaise longue and chaise lounge. Both are accepted. Whereas the definition for chaise longue, which first appeared in 1800, is a “long, reclining chair.” The definition for chaise lounge, from 1804, is “a chaise longue.” Meaning as soon as that word started being used, we fixed its pronunciation. Yay, ‘Murica!

You can learn so much from a neo-punk song! Now where’s my Big D?

Lyrics aren’t enough to warrant more than one or two re-listens, though. You gotta have great music. 

I didn’t come by that “neo-punk” designation randomly. The first time I heard the song, my mind immediately went to early Police. Back when they were shit-kicking pseudo-anarchists. Not Sting’s easy-listening “phase,” which has lasted longer than three decades. I’m talking about “I Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely.” “I guess you’d call it suicide, but I’m too full to swallow my pride.” If that doesn’t sound like assigning someone to butter your muffin, I don’t know what does.

Not to mention, those bass and guitar riffs could give late-1970s Sting and Andy Summers a run for their money.

When I first played the song for Wife, she went a different route. Not The Police, but The Go-Go’s. At first I thought she was being a little sexist, until she narrowed down her comparison. “The bassline is from “Our Lips are Sealed.” And holy shit if she isn’t right. Go ahead, listen again. I’ll wait. Give that bad boy more YouTube views. Do you hear it now? It could be “We Got the Beat,” too. Maybe an amalgamation of both. Drums and beat from one, progression from the other? Certainly not a straight rip-off, but in the same vein. 

While the Go-Go’s seem like quaint bubble gum 1980’s pop to a modern listener, an all-female band was cutting edge at the time. Similarly, if your first thought when you hear Sting is the tantric singer of a homoerotic trio with Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams, it might be hard to conceive of him as front and center in the avant garde, but that’s where they were.

Unlike the Go-Go’s, Wet Leg has dudes in their band. Or maybe they just do backup when they’re playing live. Not sure. Another band I’ve recently found, Lake Street Dive, also seem to be fronted by two women (only one sings, the other plays a kick-ass stand-up bass) with dudes playing percussions and keyboards and whatnot. It’s a trend I’m enjoying.

Uh oh, should I talk about Lake Street Dive? Three new bands? Nah, they’ve already got at least one bona fide hit. They don’t need my help. (But, if you’re curious, here ya go.)

Regardless of which punk Wet Leg is reminiscent of, Wife and I both agreed that “Chaise Longue” belongs firmly in 1982. And that’s a great thing.

Can there perhaps be another Bertie Higgins on the horizon?

After all, over in Russia, they’re fusing together 1990s dance music with 1970s fashion and, uh… Spanglish?

Let me tell you about the band called Little Big.

First of all, these guys aren’t new. They’ve been around for close to a decade, and if YouTube and Wikipedia are to be believed, their videos have millions of views.  But at least on this side of the Atlantic, they’re still what we’d call “niche.”

They have so many entertaining videos that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s go with the big one, which by all rights could have and should have won Eurovision 2020.

A decade ago, I might need to delve into a doctoral thesis on Eurovision, but it feels like it’s mainstream enough that most Americans are at least aware of it. Nothing like a Will Farrell movie to get some increased exposure. 

For those unaware, each European country sends one new song to a continent-wide competition. In May, all those bands “perform” their songs, then the entire continent calls in votes a la American Idol (except you can’t vote for your own country). The country that wins Eurovision gets to host the competition the following year. Not very socialist, but whatever.

Have you ever noticed that the European sports leagues are cut-throat capitalistic while the American ones do shit like revenue sharing and salary caps? Kinda odd. Maybe that’s a post for another time.

Speaking of differences twixt two sides of the Atlantic, I don’t understand why we can’t do something similar to Eurovision here. Sure, West Virginia and Wyoming might have trouble putting together a bona fide song played by talented musicians, but if you’ve seen the average Moldova entry, I think Wyoming would be fine. 

(JK. I love the Moldova entries. Come for Epic Sax Guy, stay for a lady riding around stage on a unicycle in a dunce hat. I’ll take twenty Moldova entries over one overly warbled French ballad.)

In 2020, the preliminary rounds, where the individual countries vote for who will represent them, had already occurred before the world ended. So we can see all the videos and performances we might have expected if May, 2020 had existed in a standard timeline. In the running was a quirky Icelandic band who all wear aqua sweaters with 8-bit-animation versions of themselves. Evidently Geek Culture loves them. Britain was planning its usual phone-it-in performance of a boring pop song. It’s better than their nudge-nudge, wink-wink song featuring flight attendants asking if we wanted something to suck on for landing. The country that gave us the Beatles, Stones, and Zeppelin (to say nothing of Coldplay, Radiohead, and Mumford) only shows up to Eurovision for the participation trophy. 

Then there was Little Big’s “Uno.”

Sadly, when Eurovision came back around in 2021, the songs that were supposed to be in the 2020 competition were not allowed. The rules state that songs must be released in the calendar year of the competition and somehow, those assholes didn’t amend the rules for a global pandemic. The European Soccer Championship and the Olympics both saw fit to keep the 2020 designation while in 2021, but a competition that sometimes features stripper poles and glowing ass cheeks making smiley faces needs to maintain some standards, amiright?

So unfortunately, Little Big’s “Uno” never made it to the voting stage. I think it’s fair to say that, despite five million deaths, a year spent without seeing loved ones, a generation of children unable to engage in social interactions (or math), the untold suicides and mental breakdowns, not to mention the still-unknown long COVID effects, the generation of children unable to learn social interactions (or math), that THIS tragedy, the cancellation of Little Big’s performance upon the Eurovision stage, is the worst thing COVID took from us

Before I do the link for the video, I must warn you. They’re a Russian band that sings in English. Except for when they’re counting, which is n Spanish. Minus the number three.

Oh, and evidently in Russia it’s still 1978.

Don’t worry about Putin getting pee tapes of you for watching the video. It’s been viewed 216 million times. Only about a million came from me. And if Putin’s seen me pee that many times, he should be blind by now.

Ready? Here you go

Did I forget to mention you’ll never be able to unsee it? Oops. My bad. 

In case you’re wondering, the fat guy does those moves when they perform it live, too. Because if you’re like me, you thought, “Yeah, I could do that move. Once.”

Beyond that, I really don’t know what jumps out the most in that video. The first time I saw it (hell, the first ten times I saw it), I could only stare, agape. Somewhere around viewing number twenty, I began formulating questions. Is that a tattoo of a bear peeking through his very translucent shirt? And what’s the deal with the dude’s black lips? It’s like reverse blackface. Is that still offensive? And how the hell do they do that thing with their legs? All while keeping a straight face.

But similar to Wet Leg, once you get past the gimmicks of the video, the music’s pretty good. It helps to have a proclivity toward 1990s dance music in the vein of La Bouche and Real McCoy. There were a few musical movements in that decade that I feel didn’t overstay their welcome. Those brief flirtations with swing and ska and dance were fun. I might not want to listen to them all the time, but I’ll take that over fifty bands chasing the same sound all day, every day.

Shit, remember when Tony Bennett was “hip” for, like, a minute? Did that really happen?  Maybe I was just taking better drugs back then.

A good further introduction to what Little Big are all about is the song “Hypnodancer.” In the video, they rob various underground casinos by hypnotizing all the other players with his dance moves. Except they’re playing Uno instead of poker. And they’re smoking and/or snorting those mini pencils you normally find at bowling alleys or mini golf. At the end, they encounter another hypnodancer and have to decide if they will compete or combine forces (which includes lots of two dudes pelvic thrusting each other).

Not all their music is as catchy as “Uno,” and some of their videos miss the mark, but dammit if they aren’t trying.

I might or might not have introduced some of my classes to Little Big. Sure, when the lead singer sashays around in “Uno,” he’s holding the microphone at a very phallic angle, but it’s far more appropriate than some pseudo-sexual limey winking at us while asking if we’d like some salty nuts. Little Big has a song called “Sex Machine” that’s actually about as tame as “Love Machine,” which has been in the zeitgeist for close to fifty years.

I now have students coming in to tell me when a new Little Big video is being released. Of the recent additions, our favorite was “Mustache,” a beach mystery wherein all the women have mustaches, but two of them, jealous of another woman’s award-winning facial hair, shave it off and steal it. Then it’s up to the usual Bear Tattoo and Black Lips guy, clad in 1920s era lifeguard uniforms, to “solve the crime” by finding a bevvy of razors. 

Quality. And the music’s fun, too.

We all were a little disappointed by their latest entry, “Turn It Up.” It’s really just people jumping up and down a lot. Maybe the next one will be better, since Little Big seems fit to keep entertaining.

There are a few of their songs I won’t show my students. Even if it’s being performed sarcastically, songs about drinking and/or body parts are still a no-no. Tongue in cheek is fine. Stick that tongue anywhere else and I might get in trouble. But I’ll show “Uno” and “Hypnodancer” all day, every day.

That being said, their tribute to last year deserves a special mention. It’s called “Suck My Dick 2020.” At first I thought this was on par with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86.” You know, a remake of their previous song, named “Suck My Dick,” using their current sound. But as soon as you turn on the video, you see them all wearing Christmas sweaters (with testicles), opening “presents” from the year 2020, showing fires and riots and viruses. And the lyrics bring it home. 

We have many anthems in this world. National anthems, Rock anthems, Generational anthems. We ought to have an anthem for the shitshow of the last eighteen months.

If anyone has reason to take special umbrage with the previous year, it’s Little Big. And me, because it took me a whole extra year to find them. 

Suck my dick, 2020. 2020, suck my dick.

3 Comments

“Bad Self Portraits” by Lake Street Dive is also awesome!

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