It took an hour or so of hemming and hawing, waiting, I guess, for a pitifully sparse crowd to magically inflate to full capacity. Only then did sludgy indie-electro explorers 120 Days at last slink onto the stage to play a monotonous, uninspired set. Maybe the band—a big deal in their native Norway—resented the paltry size of the audience and didn’t take the set seriously; or, giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they actually need a big crowd for their music to make sense. Whatever the case, all the huge, mesmeric energy I’d heard this band was capable of creating was neutralized shortly after the first song.
That first song was huge and mesmeric, for sure, but with it, the band pulled out their tricks in one fell swoop, leaving the set to grow less and less interesting as the show went on. To be honest, I stayed until the end only out of politeness—with the crowd so small, one person less would have been noticed—and professionalism (I did have to review it, after all).
120 Days are national-award winners in Norway, and maybe they were surprised/insulted by Philly’s inattention: Sorry, guys, it was a Sunday night during most area colleges’ spring breaks—bad timing. The band’s members are four young, noble-faced men in tight sweaters with tight T-shirts underneath and intentionally messy heads. The Scandinavian version of, well, most indie bands, they’ve picked up keyboards and synths in place of guitars. As someone who is frequently mistaken for an aloof snob (it’s the nose, that’s all), I hate to speculate about these guys’ inner natures, but they came across to me as undeservingly snooty. It’s a sentiment not really earned for a young band just coming into its own, with one album under its belt (even if it is out in the US on the ultra-hip Vice Recordings).
What they do: Sprawling, tense new-Krautrock devoid of meaning and emotion. They have a few good tricks—hurtling singer Ådne Meisfjord’s vocals through keyboard chords, for instance—but do they have to smirk when they use them?
Of course, that first song was something—an exercise in build with a latticework of reverb-soaked chords and echo-drenched vocals soaring on top. Minutes after it began, in came a stomping drum machine beat, the drummer adding mallet on the ride. Then (still building here), the drummer added snare and hihat, and we were off, we were on, and then (payoff!) the vocals split open into a distorted atonal scream from the depths of hell or heaven or a cave at the end of the universe. After a hypnotic rhythm section took over, we came down in a collapse of shimmery waves. Aaaah. Now that was a well-written song. It took its time to open up and was all the better for it.
But that’s the best they’ve got. The rest of the set couldn’t hold a candle, mostly because the band never established any sort of emotional register from there on out. Later, when Meisfjord sang “well I / just can’t take it / anymore” (again and again and again), he could just as well have been yawning. For such banal lyrics, repeated so many times, to succeed, they must have an emotional arc to hang onto. Instead, they stayed neutral—not neutral-disaffected or neutral-alienated, but neutral-just-sort-of… there as the music rumbled sanguinely underneath.
And so they chugged on, rarely ending a song without prolonging a comedown for several unnecessary minutes. At one point Meisfjord stepped off the stage and into the crowd, hopping around tentatively before stepping back up and attacking the ride. There were many long, sustained vocals. A tambourine buried by static. Synth burps, synth yowls every now and then.
It was as though all their reverb, all their steely backbeats was supposed to make up for the band’s lack of emotional pitch. It was as though they sat around trying to make something that sounds really cool. And yeah, their sound is cool, but it’s a vapid kind of cool—a wannabe-huge sound that’s somewhere in between the mechanical emptiness of Kraftwerk and the solipsism of the modern indie band. Ultimately communicating nothing.