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Lemon for Limeys

Pittsburgh’s Modey Lemon slices through the hype


Last spring, I read an article in some fanzine about a British band called Rialto. They’re completely obscure in their own country, but superstars in South Korea, where they routinely sell the equivalent of platinum and are besieged by fans at the airport on their frequent (can you blame them?) tours of the country. The lead singer put it best by saying that at home they can go to the grocery store without being recognized by anybody, but when they feel like living the rock star life to the hilt, all they have to do is hop on a plane.

American bands often get similar treatment in the UK, where the self-appointed tastemakers of a mercurial music press routinely fall all over themselves to anoint new rock ’n’ roll saviors, but only for nine months to a year, until said press turns on last year’s saviors, usually savagely. It’s vogueish these days for writers working for big American music rags like Spin to try to out-hipster each other by coyly dissing bands previously subjected to puff-piece fellating just months earlier in the same pages. But even at their snarkiest, Spin writers haven’t got a patch on their antipodal hepcats at British publications like New Musical Express: the world heavyweight champions of fickle hyperbole. Here’s a classic example of NME hype, a live review selected from the assorted clippings accompanying The Modey Lemon’s press kit and annotated where appropriate:

“If you’re going to play music this ugly, you need to be really good-looking. Modey Lemon singer Phil Boyd is. He looks like a Vogue model who’s smoked too much crack and been possessed by the same evil force that once held Neil Hagerty and Jon Spencer in its grip [note the subtle jab at Hagerty, there]. He’s fucking gorgeous. It’s difficult to distinguish much difference at all between any of the songs that the Pittsburgh trio play tonight, but it doesn’t really matter because they all sound amazing—complete white noise rock n roll chaos. Like falling down 15 sets of stairs with 25 aluminum bin-lids [I must admit, I do love the odd salient Briticism that gives UK music writing its ethnic flavor] tied to your body while rats eat into your brain. Only in a really, really good way, obviously. Occasionally, drummer Paul Quattrone will do back-flips across the stage while Boyd stands there with his guitar squealing like a boiled baby, his cheekbones peaking [sic] out from beneath his perfectly disheveled feather cut.”

Note how the writer’s assessment of the music is secondary to the fashion-show aspect of the performance—almost as though Kate Moss or someone were doing the writing. Most American music writers try desperately to act as though they aren’t impressed by fashion, whereas for their British counterparts, fashion is part of the fun, worthy of serious critique in itself, and always has been. Which might explain why the Strokes generated enough hype in the UK music press before their first album even came out for the British to export their surplus to us.

At any rate, even a stopped clock (or, rather, a clock with hands that routinely get stuck on predictable numbers) can still be right twice a day. Our starry-eyed NME fanboy concludes his fashion review thusly, almost as an afterthought: “There’s a lot of shit going round masquerading as garage rock right now, but Modey Lemon are the real deal. They don’t even have to try.”

Ordinarily, you can safely dismiss the rock credibility of any reviewer who mentions a “perfectly disheveled feather cut,” but in this case he happens to be right. The Modey Lemon do whip some serious garage ass, like a Jon Spencer with less bloated material or a Black Keys with less conservatory reverence for the blues. The Pittsburgh group’s newest LP, Thunder + Lightning, is wall-to-wall dirtbag garage bliss, and predictable press-kit hyperbole aside, they probably are “coming to destroy you.” They’ve recently “destroyed” audiences in Australia, where meat-and-potatoes garage rock has never fallen out of fashion—a damn sight more than you can say about the UK.
The Modey Lemon “destroy” the Ritz on Sunday, Jan. 11, at 10 PM. Cover TBA.

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