The phrase, “Less is more” has been thrown down the throats of millions for what seems like the past million years, or at the very least, for as long as I’ve been alive (Paul Bozzo c. 1987). The phrase has perhaps entered our lexicon like so many other idioms that, despite their easy digestion, always pinch the esophagus on the way down. These cliché clauses have expanded to not only include quasi-metaphoric bits of language, but also action movies, Will Farrell comedies, genres of music. These things are processed like the trite idiomatic expressions of everyday use, no longer used for anything except communication. “The medium is the message” to say it most clearly, though certainly tweaking with that specific cliché’s original context, changing what is meant by those very same words. This is what No Kids do in many of their songs on their debut album, Come Into My House. They build musical clichés from their pervading baseline of silence, sending their signals out into uncharted territory. The effect is strange, as whatever message the medium might be trying to send is much harder to decipher without the distinguishing marks of the medium’s normal context.
An Example of an easily spotted genre can be found in tracks 3 and 4, “The Beaches Are Closed,” and “Bluster In The Air,” respectively. The slow and sparse R&B arrangements of the late ’80s/early ’90s, making extensive use of the drum machine and a vocalist’s variability within an octave (voice fluttering before a chorus), prick up the ears of every listener within range, even Fido. The distinctiveness, discreteness, of these two tracks is remarkable, especially as they follow “Halloween,” a track that could easily be misplaced somewhere in an Architecture in Helsinki album, blending into the falsetto and blocky drums. Despite and in spite of this incredible discreteness, there aren’t any obvious meanings ready to apply to these tracks. True, even in their original context, one might say these easy beats hadn’t much of a message, but now they seem like a scream in outer space.
The same is true of “Dancing in the Stacks.” The deep voice might roll with the slow tempo and slide guitar right out of the country, but where does it roll into? Into a No Kids album, though once again, it’s not so certain what it’s doing there. More pieces show their edges gleaming against their bare bones arrangements: “Four Freshman Locked Out As The Sun Goes Down” and “Listen For It/Courtyard Music,” though its not quite certain (a thoroughly tired sentiment). I do notice that throughout the album, the high-voiced backing chorus seems to re-emerge on nearly every track, regardless of each track’s own style and voice. It is a feature common to the ’80s/’90s-pop/R&B of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis mentioned before, and it is this feature that unites much of the album, disregarding the discrete units that make up the album, threading through borders. Is this to say that the majority of this album is pop? Should all of these tracks be treated the same by the listener, despite their differences, and not stratify the tracks in terms style, features, broad tempo, jagged sound? It might be hard to say so for some people, as not all tracks on the album do carry this high chorus. These are certainly questions to be asked, possibly ones to be answered, but they seem inconsequential even if they should be. Answered or not, all the music of the album would seem to stand on the same plane for listeners, the only difference being that prior to analysis, it is all treated as music, and post-analysis, it can be treated as pop/R&B music. It seems to me that whatever the listener chooses to make of the music is how the music exists, and what he/she will draw from it. I suppose that is a fact of all art, but it is one that is often times lost amidst the analytic idioms we react to as if they were inflicting their meaning upon us like a shockwave or a bug bite. We might just say “the medium is the message” and leave it at that, but No Kids makes sure we ask “What is the message?” when listening.
Pushing aside these ideas on cliché, the volume of voices available to the listener in one album is astonishing, ranging from indie pop to porch swing sing-a-long. What allows these voices to sing in chorus in this album is the ability No Kids has to re-invent themselves in between songs, replacing instruments and faces in the two-second quiet like a secret agent swapping personas. They wouldn’t be able to do that without the return to their baseline though, and its evident throughout the album how that silence has grown intertwined into all of the alter egos. The scanty arrangements full of drums without resonance, falsetto voices that quickly fade, and the woodwind notes that blend into the still air so quickly, reminding us that the music is constantly reaching out of the silence, grabbing for any ears to be heard. Somehow though, the sound is so confident, as if the quiet isn’t coming at the end of the song to swallow it forever. That’s when the new voice escapes from the silence though, slipping through the jaws of quiet with a clever disguise.
Of Montreal – Satanic Panic In the Attic
Half-Handed Cloud – Halos + Lassos
Ladybug Transistor – The Albemarle Sound