“Gogogo Airheart” really is a great band name. It implies stuttering, speed, crowds cheering you on, something weird and wonderful careening around the corner. It also evokes some old video games and a lost aviatrix. Unfortunately the name, as adopted by this particular San Diego band, is deeply misleading: Gogogo Airheart are a run-of-the-mill retro-post-punk band with anonymous songs and too many promo photos showing the boys sitting around on a couch. Sure, they’ve been around since before Interpol and the Strokes and !!!, but that just makes their name even more fallacious. The new album, Rats! Sing! Sing! is the band’s first in three years, and even after 12 listens I still can’t get a grip on it. We get some groovy three-chord post-punk, some phoned-in dub, and a few comical cartwheels into garagetown, but it all slips away from me every time. Maybe it’s because now every post-punkological band in the known universe eventually devolves into this “punk-funk-dub mash-up” and Gogogo Airheart are just not particularly adept at it. Well. Sometimes mediocrity is its own reward, and there’s certainly some narcotic value in the sub-Strokes sound this band creates. It’s like a warm glass of soy milk at bedtime.
From what I understand, during the mating season male rats do screech some post-coital melodies at frequencies far above the human range of hearing. I’m not sure if this is the “singing” the album title’s supposed to evoke, but it does give us a clue. This is a post-coital record from start to finish, complete with strung-out vocals from Mike Vermillion and sticky-faced chord-plunging from returning hero Mike White. The overall effect is an enervated toss-off, like a scabby rat tumbling into the Richard Hell archaeological dig. (And yes, I truly believe the entire history of popular music can be divided between post-coital and pre-coital songs. For example, Rosemary Clooney’s “Come-on a My House” is definitely pre-coital, whereas Gogogo Airheart’s put-the-sheets-in-the-dryer song “Come to My House” is bizarrely postcoital, or at least post-wank.)
The great songs are these three: “So Good”, “Shake it Off”, and “Shattered”. I think we can see a pattern in that sequence of titles. Even so, they each have a guitar hook, a warm, felt personality, and in the case of “Shake it Off”, an excellent performance by a bad singer (this being guitarist Mike White’s only turn at the mike). Several other tracks (e.g. “Taxi Up”, “Lie With the Lamb”, and “Heart on a Chain”) have good sonic premises, each of which is inevitably spoilt by bad ideas and tedium. For example, “Taxi Up” gets mired in this weird stoned chant for the… chorus?, then gets irrevocably destroyed by this “dub” called “Tin Pie”. Yes, dub: these boys should not have strayed into that mucky tunnel. Such excursions (e.g. “Dub II” and “Turn Out the Lights”) are uniformly abysmal—the sonic equivalent of lighting up stale incense—and I hope Gogogo Airheart finds a more interesting way to diddle around in the studio next time.
I can’t recommend this album, but for those of you who are hungry for that stone-canyon top-of-the-bottom-of-the-world sound that the Strokes used to groove on, I bet you’ll dig it. Rats! Sing! Sing! is very bland and safety-first (this being L.A.-via- San Diego and all), a sign that these boys definitely need to get more reckless with their talents: quicker, more explicit, maybe even shoot up Mike Vermillion with a distinct and vivid personality (which he surely possesses). Then Gogogo Airheart can finally live up to their own name.