Over the last half-century or so, pop music has benefited and borrowed greatly from the genuine experimentalism occurring in music typically relegated to artistic spheres often unrecognized by the mainstream. As time has passed, these realms have become increasingly blurred and larger numbers of those potentially safer artists have fused their pop with elements that many may consider “weird.” Take a look at music now, whether the seemingly endless amount of internet-propelled and semi-obscure indie artists pushing pop form into sometimes baffling territory or the impressive amount of big name mainstream artists delving into their own experimental weirdness (Lil’ Wayne, anyone?) – weird is so prevalent that safe is on its way to becoming the new weird. So, when you listen to a lot of new music, including the debut record from Saddle Creek’s UUVVWWZ, you’ll often find that you need to ask: where does it fit into this expanding framework of strange?
For UUVVWWZ (cutesy pronunciation guide available here), weirdness seems to be more than simply an element, concern, or recurring theme. Here, weirdness feels like an encompassing calculation and perhaps even a central aim. From the band name, the music, the lyrical content, right down to the press sheet, UUVVWWZ are decisively postured as a curveball for current indies. The successes of such an aim are mixed—at their best, this Nebraska band is fairly sublime, but they also force the issue on their debut, at times yielding music that feels a little weird for the sake of being weird. No, “a suit made of shark teeth making a tooth suit” isn’t really compelling imagery, but the same could be said for a lot of their lyrics. And for a band that supposes they’re difficult to categorize, they sound a lot like Deerhoof.
Forced experimental tendencies or not, the high points of UUVVWWZ’s clattering post-punk are worth a listen. After taking audiences by storm with their reportedly rousing live performances, I’m guessing the sound of the record may come off as a bit tame to some of their existing fan base. However, the production on their self-titled debut allows for a significant amount of breathing room that helps temper and strengthen a number of songs. The slow blossom of “Neolaño” drones along within an abyss of space before pushing into brief, periodic crescendos of sound. Opener “Berry Can” finds vocalist Teal Gardner’s smooth voice delicately spewing nonsensical lyrics against muted instrumentation before Jim Schroeder’s guitars cut through the hypnotic repetition with bold proto-metal riffage, while the relatively immediate weirdness of “Jap Dad,” “Green Starred Sleeve” and “Trapezeus” acutely exposes some of UUVVWWZ’s more obvious influences.
You could probably argue all day about whether UUVVWWZ’s experimental bent is genuine, original, or even worthwhile. Then again, how much does that really matter? Though the presence of superfluous and occasionally poorly executed elements of songwriting can hurt any album, this is still essentially pop music. And while they may not muster the charm or perspective to sell much of the absurdity on their debut and are probably destined to split listeners into opposing camps of eye-rolling naysayers and impassioned followers, UUVVWWZ deserve credit for creating a record that on first listen placed me squarely in the former, but has ultimately left me leaning a bit toward the latter.
Deerhoof – Apple O’
Dog Faced Hermans – Those Deep Buds
Brainiac – Hissing Prigs in Static Couture
MP3: “Shark Suit”