What we might term the ‘art-crime complex’ runs from Jean Genet (and further back to De Quincey) through to David Bowie’s extraordinary (and extraordinarily misunderstood) 1995 opus Outside. There’s a tension here between backward-looking Romanticism and the diagnostics inherent in investigation of crime (whether that investigation happens at the level of representation or at the meta-level of the representer). This tension is embodied in the work of Kids On A Crime Spree. But I don’t want to make them sound too formal; if we take a parallel counterpoint, we see, on the one hand, the friction between the Law as it’s implied in the concept of crime and, on the other, the innocence that pop culture ascribes to ‘kids’ — an innocence that, however, manifests in a joyful, rebellious transgression against that Law (of the Father).
Speaking of teenage eros, the living ghost of The Jesus and Mary Chain hangs heavily over the proceedings, but that’s definitively not to say that this isn’t an excellent piece. There are a lot of bands doing the lo-fi scuzzy noise pop sound at the moment, but there are few, if any, doing it this well — though that isn’t necessarily immediately apparent. On a first couple of spins, the album, while obviously full of kicks, doesn’t clearly distinguish itself from its retro-contemporaries, but over repeated listens, particular hooks and lines start to emerge, opening up vistas with more majesty and emotional oomph (but without affective cliché or taking the too-easy route) than is initially evident. This is particularly welcome given that a lot of music of this ilk tends to be fun on a first date, but wears its welcome out very quickly. Indeed, despite the resemblances to the brothers Reid extending even to the ‘hey hey heys’ of mega-catchy opener “I Don’t Want To Call You Baby, Baby” the Kids have some tricks up their sleeve that the Chain don’t bring to the party; witness another highlight, “It’s In My Blood,” which starts out in seemingly familiar syncopated noise pop territory, but then builds unexpectedly to a glorious climax.
There’s a primeval sense of exuberant abandon here that, again, many bands working in similar territory try to capture, but that is rarely manifested so completely. And for hookiness, this is as habit-forming an album as you’re likely to come across; the listener’s desperate struggle against the fade out of the two-and-a-half-minute kickoff track is paradigmatic. KOACS is Mario Hernandez of Ciao Bella and From Bubblegum To Sky, and also features other members of the latter and of #poundsign#. All of these are worthy indie popsters. But on We Love You So Bad, Hernandez has put together something much more than the sum of those parts, abandoning the sunny Beach Boys-esque-ness of #poundsign# and the garage-y organ and riffs of Ciao Bella, and turning his back on the naïve lyrics and jangly clarity of From Bubblegum while maintaining an echo-y Brill Building aesthetic (particularly evident in handclappy lead single “Sweet Tooth”) filtered through a ragged, vibrant kaleidoscope of feedback and fuzz. Both the Brill sound and the songs themselves were, according to the buzz, painstakingly created for the album — the eight tracks were chosen from more than a hundred, while Hernandez moved to New York in order to inhabit the historical continuum of the sonic environment he’d chosen to emulate. Even from the other side of a wall of sound, that ethos of care is apparent.
Lyrically, there’s a sophistication that picks up on, but also extends, the psychogeographies of The Jesus and Mary Chain rather than sticking with the well-worn lovelorn clichés more typical of noise pop. Where we can ascertain the mostly indecipherable vocals, they mediate the bittersweet emotions of classic indie pop with the incipient violence of the post-industrial landscape (and it’s precisely here that we hear the spectre of Spector). The angst-cum-triumph of the teen love/lust thing isn’t absent, but it’s just slightly distanced, observed (and not through the equally weary lens of pomo irony). So it’s not that “we feel so good together” but that “we look so good together,” not that one should know one’s own slipping away but that one should let friends remind one, not that it was a suicide but that you guessed it was. And the landscape in which all of this happens is one of “urban decay,” one where you can’t stand the weather (“To Mess With Dynamite”) — an ambient ‘weather’ that isn’t a simple reflection of interiority but rather exists in a more bi-directional parallel to the construction and crumbling of personal subjectivity.
The situation that emerges could be characterised as post-existential, a state embodied in the title of closer “Jean Paul Sartre 2.” Indeed, we can see this mood throughout in the absurdist but slightly sinister titles (which for the most part, refreshingly, don’t simply reiterate the most memorable line of the chorus) — for example, the bathetic “Trumpets of Death” or the meta-arty “Impasto.” To continue on our very own post-theoretical spree, we can argue that a tendency inherent in the postmodern recreation of the past is to dodge the bullet of the shock of the new — in that vein, let’s hope that these Kids On A Crime Spree don’t meet their romantic narrative-traditional end in a hail of lead any time soon.