Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mocking Music Goes Ghetto: S - Puking and Crying

Casey Dorrell

S -  Puking and CryingS
Puking and Crying
Suicide Squeeze - 2004

Rating: 7.4

Illness seems to have hit Mocking Music. First Calum, now myself. There's some irony in my being sick right now, but one of the drawbacks of being widely read is that there are some stories you just can't tell anymore. You'll have to trust me when I say that me being sick is, if not ironic, at least amusing. On top of the whole being sick thing, this week has also been emotionally eclectic (if thematically consistent) as I continue in my starring role as the impossibly poor decision-maker. Having long ago mastered the art of crushing other people, I've now learned the skill of being dumped before a single date, then moved on to actually dumping myself. Yeah, that's right. My narcissistic self-absorption ain't your grandmother's. When I self-destruct, I do it post-modern, baby.

Which brings me to today's music: Puking and Crying, an immensely depressing post-riot grrl album. The late 2004 release is by S, the brain child of post-Carissa's Wierd member, Jenn Ghetto that also features Josh Wackerly manning the electronic side of things. This is the second solo release by S after Ghetto's typo-titled indie folk group disbanded just as it appeared to be on the road to securing a large cult following. The sophomore album is a nice surprise for those males, like myself, who weren't able to get into Carissa Wierd. That band, good as they were, always seemed somewhat the exclusive territory of the other gender, despite being half male.

Sure, Puking and Crying is intensely personal, introspective and, at times, melodramatic. But all genders can enjoy that. If I were a reporter for Spin, S would be easy to classify. I'd throw it in with Buck 65 (emo-rap) and Neva Dinova (emo-folk), and simply label it emo-electronica. Admittedly, there may be some merit to the emo label here. All the songs are dramatic descriptions of seemingly banal dating details which, when read alone, can sometimes be painfully bad as with this lyric from the album opener, "5 Dollars", "If I pass out when you walk by, it's probably cause you looked at me - I probably already said too much". This clearly discredits Ghetto as a poet, but not as a musician. And it is the musicality that saves this album from being another pile of emo-tripe that missed it's audience when the emo-kids turned indie.

Crying and Puking has earned S equally as many comparisons to Postal Service as Xiu Xiu. With the exception of the album opener, all the songs are almost entirely crafted from electronic loops and samples. Although the guitar is featured prominently, none of the chords go beyond rudimentary, and it generally serves more as an introduction to a given song and then as faded bass-line than as the focus of the melody. The electronica is clearly the star instrument, coming off equal parts quirky and glitchy. Yet, all the electronic sounds somehow mesh into the warm fuzz of an organic soundscape. Ghetto's often hushed, whispery, vocals easily play off this.

There are no stand-out songs on this album. This is unusual for an album of this quality, and it isn't because every individual song is equally brilliant. In fact, listened to in isolation, it's not clear that any of these songs would stand up. "Metal Beds" is a charmingly organic instrumental despite the absence of anything unelectronic, "100x" is a heavier tune which sacrifices no emotional clout with the self-loathing vocal, "I could make this hurt 100 times more", while "You Decide Part II" features all the complexity of one repeated vocal and a crescendoing melody that combine to make haunting music. Something similar can be said about all the songs, but that misses the inherent nature of this body of music. Because, ultimately, that's what it is. A body of good songs that combines to make something great. In the end, though, even the combined quality doesn't afford the work the repeat-listening value one would expect. Whether this is because of the relative sonic monotony or simply due to the depressing subject-matter isn't immediately clear.

If Postal Service represents the sonic equivalent of that insufferably cute indie couple, S is the aftermath of their break-up. The disturbingly resigned counterpart to the electro-twee glee of Gibbard. Once you've listened to both, neither seems entirely complete without the other, and that, rather than serve to diminish the individual strength of Puking and Crying, shows its quiet brilliance.

S - The Last Song
S - I'm So Board, I'm Going to Sleep

S - Puking and Crying

S on the Web