Drag-loving duo blur gender roles, rock out Nineties style on a delightfully fresh debut
It finally happened: The theater kids have staked their claim on Nineties rock nostalgia. Though the self-described “genre-queer” tunes on PWR BTTM’s debut album are closer to early Fountains of Wayne than, say, any number from Rent, drama definitely takes center stage for the glittery duo, who first met as students and drag performers at Bard College. “I held my breath in a suit and a tie because I didn’t know I could fight back,” drummer Liv Bruce confesses in “Serving Goffman,” adding, “I want to put the whole world in drag, but I’m starting to realize it’s already like that.”
The band’s musings on desire and gender performance betray an academically-trained eye for queer theory, but the analysis is delivered with a healthy dose of humor, not to mention searing guitar solos courtesy of Ben Hopkins. Hopkins takes over the mic (and the Big Muff) on the nihilistic garage ballad “1994,” which turns out to be the highlight of the album. The thrilling music video sees Hopkins’ blue, sparkly lips spliced into the faces of heavily-oiled wrestling heroes like Hulk Hogan, hitting a zenith of gay kitsch.
The long history of gender play in rock music — from David Bowie to My Chemical Romance and beyond — means that a band like PWR BTTM really shouldn’t feel like such an anomaly in 2015. What sets them apart from those famous androgynes is that there’s no alter ego or artistic pretense in their candid admissions of queer insecurity. Perhaps the true novelty of an album like Ugly Cherries isn’t its glam presentation or its commitment to celebrating all things under a rainbow of pride. It’s the heart-bursting sincerity that comes through in Bruce and Hopkins’ eagerness to slather lipstick all over their chins and serenade their fellow weirdos in basements.
When he’s not writing charming freak folk ballads as one half of Jóvenes y Sexys, or touring with Mexican pop ensemble Torreblanca, Venezuelan singer-songwriter Cheky Bertho commands the mixing board as Algodón Egipcio. (Or, Egyptian Cotton.) Four years after his debut, La Lucha Constante, Bertho gives us a taste of his next effort in “Multiestabilidad”. What’s otherwise a heavily postmodernist meditation is buried beneath a glitchy patchwork of samples mined from Multistability, the 2010 album by the visionary British producer Mark Fell.
“How can it be wrong? If what I perceive to me is real?” Bertho gently muses, “Many faces that feel an illusion, all under the same sun.” With surgical precision, he constructs a crystalline ziggurat of noise, each prismatic building block cracking under the pressure of each sound that follows. Fault lines become valleys, spilling into an array of warm tones. As scientific as his method is, Bertho’s ode to the multiplicity of reality is quite comforting. The fragments, discordant as they seem at first, fall neatly into place, clean as an expertly-played game of Tetris.