If dissolving the playlist of a Williamsburg house party, mixing in a bunch of lyrical self-loathing, and slightly darkening the sonic palette amounts to conceptual maturity, then Miami’s Young Circles are way ahead of their class. At the very least, it suggests a certain timeliness, and here’s why:
Somewhere in the mid-2000s, between Natty Boh benders and reading issues of Vice, a twenty-something realized that Michaels (the arts & crafts store) made for cheaper rebellion than American Apparel, bought a few cans of day-glo paint, decked himself out like Braveheart on acid, and the hipster primitive was born. A few years hence, those arbiters of avant-cool over at n+1 proclaim this odd creature the harbinger of the end of fauxhemia. Hipsterdom was, they argued, following punk rock ‘round the same subcultural cul-de-sac of anti-materialistic movements co-opted into consumer lifestyle identities, just like those commies at Adbusters said it would. And the hipster primitive was its aesthetic Trojan horse, crop-dusting the zeitgeist with contradictions that spelled doom for the counterculture. Chief among these was the glaring disconnect between the idyllic pastoral music (represented, usually, by bands named after animals, heavy doses of reverb, and Pet Sounds-era harmonies) and the inescapable cultural context of the hipster: white gentrification.
We’re now a safe distance from the whole tawdry mess — the n+1 folks declare 2009 the end of the hipster era — and in hindsight, things are coming into focus. For Miami’s Young Circles, this means digging up the sounds of indie dance anthems of the last decade (think LCD Soundsystem) and infusing them with all the lecherousness and hormone-drenched antipathy that we all know was a defining feature of post-9/11 youth but wasn’t expressed in much of the music at the time. “Love is moving on/ Hitching on the side of the room,” goes the chorus to “Love Hitch,” one of the album’s singles. “Even though you love me/ You’ll probably never stay.”
Which brings us back to the album’s rather striking cover art, featuring a sort of hipster Regan MacNeil, puking in a party dress, afflicted by what I assume to be a sort of delirium tremens of vanity. As if the green spew symbolized a decade of identity voraciously consumed, convinced by the cult of esoterica that authenticity could be bought piecemeal and collaged. Of course, “No one is dyin’ to meet you,” Asher warns on “Dreams,” “spendin’ and buyin’ will eat you.” The whole silly exercise was doomed by the absurdity of its own pretense to retch up from the collective unconscious and lie naked beside other fautly conceits like absolute music, “authentic” punk rock, and, maybe, musical transcendence itself.
Apologies, dear TMT reader, for being long on cultural referents but short on musical commentary, but that’s only because Jungle Habits feels very tied to a particular place and time. Which is to say that Jungle Habits already sounds dated. There is the usual array of Radiohead-like transitional tones, bleeps, phases, and synth washes, but here they stand in lieu of compositional variety. “Love Hitch” and the other single, “2012,” are poor substitutes for the dance anthems they ape, with extremely repetitive melodies and structures that go nowhere.
The rock numbers fare slightly better. The chorus to “Dreams” explodes with a melancholy line — “You’re still dreaming of a front porch/ And I’m just wishing we could do things over” — in one of the more affecting moments on the album. “Jangala,” on the other hand, is an ill-advised, mostly instrumental break whose only purpose seems to be to highlight radio samples. And the album’s Quaalude-heavy, Rhodes-driven closer, “Changing,” offers a more upbeat message than the rest of the album: “I saw you in the light/ I love you cuz you’re mine.” But given the possessiveness of the second line, maybe we shouldn’t believe the chorus — “We are still changing.” In a way, this line captures the last decade’s anxieties about tradition vs. originality and how we’ve perhaps overvalued the latter. But the music itself is, in the end, nothing new, which belies the sentiments of “Changing” and confirms this cynic’s opinion that authenticity as we’ve come to understand it is a pipe dream. Meanwhile, in the center of it all, the debauched girl can’t be bothered to close her legs (her white panties draw your eye as if to say “yeah, you looked”) and he eyes are covered by a censor bar while she vomits, the inevitable victim of the doomed shallowness of, yes, her Jungle Habits.