Alone late at night in a screen-lit room, the infinite scroll is the only reason you need to stay awake. Tumblr will go on and on and on, consumed unselfconsciously, like snacking, fed to you by the automatic dragging of your finger. You’re between loneliness and frustration, unstuck and drifting in the nothing-feeling of strange .jpgs, LiveJournal-esque text posts, and YouTube videos you don’t even really care about. It’s a sort of haven, in its dismissal of the bad day you just had or the weird mood you’ve caught yourself in lately. It’s in this space you can feel like you’re being honest to both yourself and whoever else is out there, spilling everything that matters to you and making it matter on a page, as a post, as an answer. Here, giving a fuck and not giving a fuck don’t seem dissimilar.
Default Genders (James Brooks, previously of Elite Gymnastics) makes music that sounds like the heart-on-screen unrestraint of a late-night Tumblr post. It has all the intimacy and trappings of a millennial bedroom project built for Bandcamp and is disinterested in coolness, success, and itself as a product. It’s easy to imagine the unfinished tracks moved to different folders, the countless poetry .docs that went unused. Magical Pessimism 2014 is as rough as that, with punky, emo-ish vocals buried beneath washes of Ableton filters, breakneck percussion loops dropping in and out, and lyrics that unironically address “you” and your love and your punk and your shit-talking.
He calls it “future twee,” for which he provides the contemporary example of Taylor Swift’s Red (with a tongue in cheek, or not, or whatever). For the barefacedness of Brooks’ lyrics about belonging to scenes and his attention to detail about his personal life, he insists on his own unknowability and probably doesn’t care about his haters (in fitting TSwift fashion). Your tolerance for the music will depend on how you can handle lyrics like “If people talk shit and say you’re not one of us/ I guess we can stop pretending that I ever was” and “Fine, cool, whatever/ Thanks for clearing that up/ Ugh.” Both lines are from “Stop Pretending,” which has a hooky horn sample to turn its deadpan angst (I repeat, “ugh”) into something of a minor anthem for us scorned nerds.
So, this is not an album for subtlety. The diary-hyperbole of the song titles is a good meter for the under-your-breath melodrama of the music. Brooks’ emotionality is immediate and uncomplicated, the lyrics as grandiose and belittling as feeling left alone, vulnerable to your own anxieties. The only reliefs from this constant-catharsis confessional songwriting are the small instrumental interludes “Omertà” and “Kairosis in Real Life.” These quiet passages disrupt the flow of the album, but they make it something more at the same time. There’s space for quiet, pauses between rants, where Brooks can indulge in inconsequential beauty. If anything, Default Genders is for these indulgences, and not for critics.
music writers please unfollow me why are you still following me jesus go away
– James Brooks
It’s Brooks’ selfish/unselfconscious attitude that makes Magical Pessimism 2014 an engaging, if forgettable listen.