HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS – a Good Band Despite The Predator-Suggestivity of Their Name
by Steve Henn
I met Eric Taylor and Jeff Mather of High School Girls last spring in West Lafayette and immediately asked them why they couldn’t’ve just chosen a slightly less creepy band name. Actually, I didn’t say that. That’s what I would say if I saw them now. I do, however, remember the first time I laid eyes on Eric, and not because of his rippling pectorals, but because he wore a button down shirt under an argyle sweater vest, and he looked to me like he’d come to the poetry reading in Jeff’s basement venue (“Jurassic Park”) dressed in his own idea-of-what-people-wear-to-poetry-readings.
It turns out he was one of the poets. The other four were my peeriest peer, Oren Wagner, myself, future-former-phenom Kavek Akbar, and a young man named Johnny, who told me at Kaveh’s shithole apartment (with Trash Castle spraypainted on the wall of the living room, it advertised itself accurately) that his nickname was “the Wolf.” “Some people call me ‘the Wolf’” he said. Then he asked me which wolf t shirt he should wear. Then he left the room to go into his bedroom and change into wolf clothing and Kaveh said “Nobody calls him the wolf.” A friend, or roommate, I’m not sure which, seconded Kaveh’s claim.
In the process of The Wolf’s opening set, all done without aid of anything written down, he used the word “swag” approximately every 6th word of his between-poem patter with an apparent total lack of syntactical or semantic relationship to any of the other words, he told the crowd that “this poem goes out to everyone out there under 30” (all 15ish people in the room, save for Oren and I, were under 30), and he publicly apologized to Kaveh for some self-perceived slight, then hugged Kaveh publicly, then months later ditched out on his portion of the rent, causing Kaveh and his less-wolfy roommates to be evicted. Swag, Johnny. So swag.
Maybe in some other article I’ll recount the poetry performing efforts of Kaveh, Oren, and I, because this article is supposed to be a brief and generally positive review of High School Girls new (and free! and good!) e.p., Breakfast Years, but I want to mention Eric was a decent writer. Not a poser. He didn’t appear to spend more time daydreaming of the adulation he expects to receive for his poems than working on the poems, so, you know, that’s good, and a good policy, for people not self-nicknamed “the Wolf.”
Right, so, the e.p. Look, I was hooked from the first line, which begins “One-two-three-whooo!” DUN, DUN NA, DUN DUN DUN NA “Whooo!” I defy anyone to listen to the opening of “I Would be a Great Lover for You” and not buy in immediately. That hook, that time honored rock and roll repetition of “Whooo!” is what sells the message of the song title. The lyrics actually describe a fairly mundane, if romantically confident, young man who is sure he can romance a girl by bringing her flowers, asking what her favorite color is, and asserting that “I know a cool place I really wanna take you!” It’s pretty standard bubblegum lovesong stuff, but the infectious enthusiasm of both the playing and the singing by the bandmates is what might convince a young lady that they truly are “not just another,” as the outro indicates.
The equally melodic “Strobe Light” follows. It’s got an opening verse that I think is a lyrical improvement but it’s hard to tell at the moment when my two oldest girls are jumping out of bed and trying to sneak Fruit Loops™ into their room. Taylor’s a good lead vocalist. There’s a hint of Interpol in his delivery but this song and the first are sweeter than Interpol. They don’t so much say “let me do cocaine off your left boob after I loosen my necktie” as they say, “kissing and holding hands and sweet nothings, my dear” [Note: neither of the previous two lines exist in the songs of High School Girls or Interpol, as far as we know – Ed.]. And they follow up the Whooo with a “sha na na na na na na na na na na” outro. Pretty special, guys. You’ve got that meaningless syllable thing down pat.
“Breakfast Years” is also a quality song, and at this point in the e.p. an astute listener like me realizes: hey! These guys have a style. Neato! Taylor’s melodic lead vocals, Mather’s capable backing vocals, solid, hooky guitar, nonsense syllables (was that “oooh la la la oooh la la la hooooo”? Yes. Yes I think it was. Brilliant), and upbeat drumming that serves as a perfect backdrop and compliment to the rest of the song structure.
Finally, when I saw the title on the last song “You are so beautiful (home demo),” I expected it to be an off kilter cover of that song that goes “You … are … so beautiful … to me-eee.” Who was that? Kenny Rogers? Kenny Loggins? Bob Seger? Lord, I don’t know. But it’s only fair to note that Casey Latter’s recording, mixing, and engineering and mastering on the first three tracks really did High School Girls justice. The last song is not bad, especially for a homerecorded demo, but the punch and pop and power of the first three tracks is really well-recorded and mixed, and even though I don’t have a lot of technical expertise in recording, it sure sounds like Latter’s expertise served the Girls well. Find their 4-song e.p. here: http://highschoolgirlsband.bandcamp.com/. Look, if you’re like me, you’re not only going to download this e.p. and listen to it once – you’ll put it on your ipod, if you’re not a Luddite, or you’ll burn it for repeat play in your car. And you won’t be afraid to let your 11, 8, and 6 year old girls hear it. It beats the hell outta subjecting them to Taylor Swift.
Jan. 15 2012