The last few weeks in New York have been fucking horrifying.
You wake up every morning, the heat index well into the low hundreds. A/C in the bedroom or not, you break into a sweat, just walking downstairs to the street, just getting out the door and your shirt is soaked. The sun beats down on your head like a punishing God. It’s Do The Right Thing hot, out there. Every day, you find yourself remarking, This is surely the worst it can get. The weather HAS to turn, after today.
And the next day is, somehow, a little more brutal.
The last few weeks of summer have been a meteorological analog for 2016, as a year, thus far. Bowie, Prince, Lemmy. Erik. All dead, all sudden, all shocking. Palisades and Other Music, shut down by rising rents and changing trends. What might have been unrealistically ideological belief in the Bernie Sanders campaign is behind us; what’s left is business as usual on the left and sheer reptile-person insanity on the right. Police brutality is on the rise, gentrification isn’t far behind. In five years, Brooklyn will be the fourth-largest city in America.
Every day, each of us remarks, in his own way, “2016 is awful, but it HAS to get better. It can’t keep on, like this.”
And the next day is, somehow, a little more brutal.
The New York DIY music scene has a long-held tradition of celebrating individuality over streamlined perfection. Our city squeezed out the Velvets, the Dolls and the Ramones in less than a decade. One of the fringe benefits of living in a city so cold and uninviting is the pure, visceral art that comes out of anyone tough/crazy enough to stick it out here. You work all week, punching the stupid clock to make just enough to pay for your crappy apartment and a little bit of food, just so you can put it all behind you for a couple hours a week. Just so you can bang on a can with a couple of other freaks.
Our city spawned Lou, and Patti, and Debbie and Joey, yes. But New York also gave the world John S. Hall, and Paleface, and Japanther and the Beets. What started with Warhol’s loft parties in the 60s evolved into Todd P.’s DIY shows in the early 00s, which begat Death By Audio, etc. There has always been a need for truly freaky, truly outre punk rock in New York City.
Things get weirder, the cultural divide stretches further into Brooklyn, and the weather refuses to abate. Brooklyn’s Pill, with their debut album, Convenience, sound like New York music’s final form. The squalling, cranky beast mode of a band that will either scare away the gentry or bring the whole city down with it, trying.
On opener, “60 sec.,” singer Veronica Torres sounds like she’s waking from a fever dream, trying to bring the night’s last dream to some kind of closure. Elements of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks dominate “Which Is True,” Ben Jaffe’s squalling amplified sax punctuating a herky-jerky rhythm and tumbling bassline. “My Rights” and “Fetish Queen” veer closer in sound to Romeo Void, the heavily-effected guitar coming up to the front, for once, and lending a slightly less frantic feel to things.
Convenience falls prey to the same trap that Pill’s earlier EPs did. Powerful as the LP is, the recording is merely a sample of the psychedelic brutality of their live shows. “100% Cute” comes close, feeling like the quartet never quite fall onto the same note at the same time.
On “Speaking Up,” what would be considered Convenience’s “acoustic” track, Torres and Co. repeatedly warn, “You’re gonna get fired for speaking up.” While the track is clearly a glaring observation of harassment in the workplace, “Speaking Up” could also be seen as a parable for Pill’s reticence to maintaining a media presence. The band gives few interviews, have no Facebook page or Twitter. It’s almost like a club, Pill; one has to know someone who knows someone who can get you into the show. Not in an effort to be exclusive, but in an effort to keep things intimate. Much like Parquet Courts weird-yet-ultimately-brilliant Monastic Living EP, last fall, Convenience is a record that hides in the shadows and demands to be searched out.
On “Love and Other Liquids,” Jaffe’s playing veers somewhere near the realm of “sexy,” the band settle into something of a regular groove, Torres sings breathy come ons in Spanish, before repeating, “I am your smiling, happy girl.” It’s Convenience’s concession to conventionality, the album’s lone pass at a pop song. With a long sax solo at the end and instrumental outro, “Love and Other Liquids” is analogous to the aftermath in Do The Right Thing: the damage has been done, the survivors have survived, all slightly different, for the journey.
Album closer “Medicine” is the perfect epilogue. The perfect reprise of all the skronky themes played out earlier on the record. The closing credits to the next chapter in New York’s long history of cranky, angular punk rock bands. For further listening, blast Convenience out of a Bluetooth speaker, while you bike across Brooklyn, just watching the neighborhood change before your eyes. And as you crest the top of the Williamsburg Bridge, the Manhattan skyline looming large and unforgiving in the distance, be grateful for that moment of cool air, blasting against your face, that briefest of respites from the hellacious New York summer, that most hellacious of seasons, in that most hellacious of years. Get down with Convenience. Get down with Pill. All hail.
Convenience is out now via Mexican Summer.