I seem to recall a memorable portion of the ’90s during which self-deprecation among musical artists was at an all-time high. Primus and KMFDM both marketed stickers with “sucks” after their names, and the latter even wrote a song about how much they suck. Rivers Cuomo made an entire career out of his insecurities with women, and tons of emo kids followed suit. In the past decade, though, there’s been a lot more emphasis on earnest hopefulness, starry-eyed, childlike wonder, and religious mythology under the guise of alcoholic urban anecdotes (or whatever you want to call Craig Finn’s lyrics). Yet upon seeing that The Gang’s new album was titled Zero Hits, I couldn’t help but think back to that age of the lovable loser.
To be fair, The Gang hasn’t been around long enough to have any commercial hits, and that isn’t to say that it won’t ever happen. In fact, the group’s ultra-dense guitar jangle pop is fun and catchy enough that they may eventually nullify such a statement. But for the time being, this Brooklyn outfit makes an impressive first impression, hits or no hits.
Zero Hits is heavy on guitars. That’s not necessarily anything novel, as countless bands are built upon the typical guitar-bass-drums framework that The Gang likewise are. But with The Gang, the guitars seem to have an even greater presence than the vocals. On leadoff track “Rose Island,” the shimmering, thick layers of chords cascade over the rest of the song, leaving less room for Gary Keating’s vocals to be heard. Yet it’s his guitar as well, so perhaps he prefers it this way. Subsequent tracks reveal more space, however, suggesting that there’s more to this band than an impenetrable wall of guitars. “Fits and Shadow Fights” nonetheless is quite guitar-centric at its core, but Eva Johannesdottir’s keyboard comes into play with greater clarity. In fact, her keyboards become an even greater presence with “One Up The Sun,” bringing a sort of prog freakout session to an otherwise rowdy indie rocker.
With “Sea So,” however, the guitar rules once again, becoming the focal point of the song with its scratchy, imperfect riffs playing companion to Keating’s delivery, which could best be compared to Michael Stipe in “It’s the End Of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”. Yet the most accessible, most perfect moment lies in the brief “Mann Drap,” which is somewhat reminiscent of The Poster Children in their heyday. Still, catchy as The Gang’s songs may sometimes be, I am loath to call them `hits.’ There’s something too raw, too unhinged for commercial radio, and it leads one to wonder whether the band was really making a joke with their title, or just matter-of-factly stating their case as a band that makes music for the enjoyment of making music, mass appeal be damned.
The Sun – Blame It On The Youth
Poster Children – Junior Citizen
The Dandy Warhols – Dandys Rule OK
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.