Crystal Stilts / Blank Dogs / Women
Music Hall of Williamsburg; Brooklyn, NY

Pop songs infused with a bunch of reverb and distortion have become something of a theme among Next Big Thing designees in the past year or so. Blank Dogs and Crystal Stilts are among two of the most recent Brooklyn bands to make a name playing verbed-out garage pop, and both were on the bill with Women (pictured), whose great 2008 record plays with pop more discretely and carefully than those bands.

But if Blank Dogs or Crystal Stilts wrote a song like Women's "Group Transport Hall," it probably would've been cloaked in reverb. Women, on the other hand, play it straight, sweet, and quick. Rather than overlaying melodies with a coating of noise, Women place them side by side, on equal level. The (comparatively) dulcet tones of "Transport Hall" stood next to the more abrasive "Lawncare" and "Shaking Hand" that, especially in their live show, created a sense of unpredictability and excitement. None of Women's songs departed greatly from their recorded versions, nor did the new ones break the mold in any way -- but the essence of each song, like the brilliantly unresolved tension of "Lawncare," stands out in a live context. Women's live show proves their status as under-appreciated forerunners of 2009 indie rock ‘n’ roll, but it also shows that this state of affairs won't change any time soon.

Meanwhile, Blank Dogs are like a Stereogum wet dream, with their pitch-perfect ’80s nostalgia, ambiguously dark lyrical themes, and garbled pop melodies. But for all their admittedly pretty great and prodigious recorded output in recent months, it's clear that Blank Dogs are still finding their sea legs in respect to the stage. If their live sound is more reminiscent of Big Black than Joy Division, they make up for it by stalking the stage like mopey Cure fans. On this night, they didn't sound bad, but they didn't sound especially good either -- and while it's hardly a surprise, given the effort they've put into maintaining some anonymity and mystique, they certainly didn't wow anyone with theatrics. "Setting Fire to Your House" came off well, but "Leaving the Light On" was the song that really stood out from the set, hinting at something resembling Jay Reatard-garage-pop chops under all the gothic affectation.

Crystal Stilts also towed a similar line, backing up their critically approved output with what would undoubtedly be a critically approved show. Not to be a downer, and maybe it's just cause I had been listening to classic freestyle all day, but I'd personally love to see bands like Crystal Stilts and Blank Dogs try tearing down the fourth wall of reverb, taking a good look at their audience, and lightening up a little.

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