[7 October 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Any number of today’s modern professionals could benefit from owning Pins and Needles, the fourth album by young Canadian gothics the Birthday Massacre.
For instance, let’s say you own an apparel store at the mall, one that specializes in selling dark-hued merchandise to disaffected youth. Your overhead music should engage their everyday frustrations and pratfalls. It should feature high quality recording values, prominent guitars, steady but unobtrusive drumming, and lyrics that are vague enough to appeal to the general listener. Play that stuff and you’ll really empty the kids’ brass knuckle chain wallets whenever they visit your shop.
Friend, the Birthday Massacre is here to meet your wallpaper-rock needs, but with a twist: they have synthesizers! Imagine you’re going about your work some afternoon, folding stacks of beskulled hoodies and fretting over your shrink numbers, when through the angsty mélange bursts the Massacre’s “Always”, which isn’t an Erasure remake, but for all its percolating color might as well be. Well! You’ll be inundated with questions: “Who is this?” “Are you sure it’s not Lacuna Coil?” And most importantly: “Do you have their CD and matching beskulled hoody?”
What did your hypothetical customers hear that perked their interest? It comes down to this: the Birthday Massacre play synthpop colored with chunk rock guitars. Their sound is their own, and it’s a good sound, but it’s not so unique that it’s gonna bewilder anybody. Think recent Lacuna Coil with a less powerful singer and zero faux-Arabic riffs; imagine Depeche Mode with power chords, fronted by a goth girl in pigtails. Thrown into your retail setlist, a band like that is a refreshing change of pace.
Or let’s say your business is making custom mixtapes. Breakups, new love, desperate pleas, you do it all. Most Birthday Massacre songs would fit any context, because you can’t really tell what they’re about. This hasn’t always been the case. The Massacre’s 2005 album, Violet, featured some snarling and murderous performances by Chibi, the pigtailed frontwoman. In “Happy Birthday”, she depicted the band’s namesake massacre in sinister detail (“I think my friend said, ‘Don’t forget the video.’”). “Violet” featured the memorable chorus line “We’re never enough / We’re drowning in cliches”. The lyrics on Pins and Needles gamely fulfill that prophecy. I don’t believe there’s a memorable line here, and very few concrete details. Even when the lyrics start to turn evil, as in the song about “two hearts beating” (“one beats the other”), Chibi delivers them with the same innocuous keen. No more murder for her!
Anyway, it’s not like the Birthday Massacre are aiming for the Great Canadian Songbook. Not even the Great Darkwave Songbook, which is pretty slim. These songs are mostly production showcases. The instrumentalists, Michael Falcore and Rainbow, excel at concocting their sound, but not so much at creating memorable tunes. They’re especially good at contrasting bouncy syncopated riffs—“dugga-dugga-dugga-dugGA!”, that sort of thing—with layers of keyboard chirps and atmosphere. Their speedy “Sleepwalking” riff is a note-for-note interpolation of Bobby Brown’s “My Perogative”, so you know they can groove. Each song is pleasant, a couple are memorable, and you probably don’t wanna sit through the whole thing unless it’s the accompaniment to doing your chores. Trying to differentiate these songs is chore enough.
No, this is music for use, preferably for-profit use, in small doses. Consider it a business investment. And for heaven’s sake, before you opt to purchase, confirm with a superior that you can write off the expense.