Paperhaus with Playboy Manbaby and St. Ranger
The Trunk Space
April 26, 2013
Post-punk is a minefield for modern musicians. There's always going to be a group of people who dig through a cool older relative's record collection or read Simon Reynolds' Rip it Up and Start Again and discover bands like Talking Heads, Wire, Gang of Four, and Mission of Burma. They realize that that music is clever and use it as inspiration to make clever music themselves. However, an upbringing within the proximity of FM radio means that a lot of these attempts can either consciously or unconsciously end up sounding more like the Killers or Franz Ferdinand, representatives of the mid-2000's "post-punk revival," than anything else.
With D.C.'s Paperhaus's performance last night at the Trunk Space, I witnessed a young band playing pop-influenced post-punk (or post-punk-influenced pop) that, while doing without the evident arena rock ambitions I mentioned, still manages to be engaging and accessible.
What this means is that it has a beat people can dance to in more ways than just the folded-arm sway. Most people danced that way anyway, but things got a little bit looser as the show progressed, thanks in part to the band's liberal application of funk and blues influences.
I think the diffuse influences are indicative of a newer band (they are apparently on their first nationwide tour) experimenting and finding their musical footing, but what's coming out of these experiments seems really fun and pleasant in a way that feels like poppier take on earlier Talking Heads material.
St Ranger, the local band whose set I managed to catch (I only caught the last two Playboy Manbaby songs, but we'll be writing more about them tomorrow) made me think a lot about the concept of place in pop music. They're on that tropical-guitar-tone kick, whether it's by way of Vampire Weekend or "(Nothing but) Flowers" or somewhere else.
It's bright and shiny and poppy, but there's a shoegaze element to the music that leaves everything drawn-out and reverby. One song, "Tranquilo", features a chorus in which the eponymous word gains about about 3 syllables and is followed by the phrase "take it easy." It sounds corny, but I feel like there's a place for it.
Media outside our state tend to focus on weird and abrasive bands like Destruction Unit and Gay Kiss as being representative of the Sonoran region (they really like the word "Sonoran"), and that's fair. We live in a place that is, by nature of climate and sociology, fairly weird and abrasive. But those bands have a sense of urgency. St. Ranger doesn't, and they feel just as Sonoran because of it. "You don't have to try so hard," the band says repeatedly in a song of the same name. It's a fitting mantra for feeling powerless against the summer heat, succumbing to jumping in a pool or day-drinking or doing both at the same time.
Aside from potentially being unassuming ambassadors of the Sonoran spirit, St Ranger's place in the annals of local pop music is also interesting. The band cites Tom Filardo as their "life coach" on their bandcamp page, and I feel like that influence shows in how layered and playful the music is.
But watching them Friday, I felt as if I was watching a bizarro version of the local band Diners. It was like what would happen if that band decided to invest in a bunch of pedals and only do slow jams. I am not saying this in any way to cheapen what St Ranger does, only to point out convergent and divergent evolutions of local guitar-driven pop bands that all probably share Pet Sounds as a common influence.
With all this mapping of where each band falls in the genealogy of pop music, I estimated that more people who dig catchy music would have been out for this kind of show on a Friday night. Whatever the reason for somewhat small turnout, clever pop music persisted regardless.