It’s a very common mental illness amongst music critics to learn to hate their indie treasures once they become popular. The phenomenon is a complex web of bitterness, envy and arrogance. Partly, it’s that many people engaged in criticism fancy themselves to be almost orphic in their ability to separate the cream from the crotch rot. Music criticism hinges on the idea that there are people who can troll through the fray of cultural input and give some things futurity while declaring others D.O.A. Pop music infuriates critics for short-circuiting their stamp of approval and elevating music that violates every aesthetic canon of purity. Britney Spears isn’t just bad taste; she’s a critic’s coffin nail.
Bands like the Strokes produce an even more scabby critical schism, because they defy the logic that says that critics have any special faculty that can’t be easily picked up like athlete’s foot in a public locker room. Their success mass markets expert taste and blows open the guarded cartels of indie sensibility. Because of this insecurity, many critics are tragically disinclined to share their music, forcing the bands they love to either starve for their art or risk critical abandon for having more than a respectable handful of fans. Which is why many music writers frequently rationalize their former love of a now popular act by saying how much better their “older” stuff was. This is just to say, that if you rely on record reviews to help you with your purchases, you should keep in mind that you are entering a world of shadowy pecking orders, torturous posing, and many paths that diverge in the fucking wood because they can, damn it.
I give you this long-winded caveat not simply because I’m in love with my own written echo, but because I’m about to engage in what, on the surface, will appear symptomatic of the aforementioned affliction. I needed you to know that I wasn’t being a bitch for the sheer hell of it. Here goes. When I heard the Strokes first few singles, I was absolutely blown away. Those initial salvos were incredible, choked-melody rock songs on the verge of unraveling. But by the time This Is It swung off the RCA teat into stores, their sound had been given a thorough radio-friendly douching. Though I still played it non-stop, I thought that they had clearly shaved their balls for the full length. Even the vocal distortion and guitar scrawk had been soft-lighted and turned into lukewarm porridge. Their bombast seemed slightly muted, or, at the best, a convincing pitch from someone already half in the bag. They didn’t sell out; they just sold themselves short. Of course, I just took the longest possible route to tell you that I think the Moving Units could fulfill the big, bold, and horny promise that Julian & Company shirked.
The Moving Units’ self-titled EP will shake your ass and make you sulk into the corner to look spitefully available for a raunchy encounter. “Between Us and Them” is the best song I’ve heard this year. In fact, I keep finding myself listening it to at abusive levels in the car, wanting Blake Miller’s dirty detachment to burst my eardrums. It’s also the best song the Strokes will never write. Drummer Chris Hathwell’s zig-shagging beats drive the song perilously forward, like, at any minute, his quick, tight sticking will simply fall off the edge of his kit. Miller’s voice is full of sly cadence, halting, pausing, and torquing the song around urbanity layered in sated filth. Although he certainly has his own style, it’s impossible not to hear a little of Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith and Ian Curtis in his low, booming ennui. “X and Y” is a gloriously off-key crash of guitar and vocals that verge on cheerleader chants snottily thrown in almost randomly. “I Am” sounds like some dark cellar Blur b-side, with new wave riffs and drums that wouldn’t be out of place on a Descendents record. “Melodrama” is a hilariously protracted insult about our human tendency to wallow in low-fi theatricality with the priceless chorus “Let’s go / To the / Disco / For Melodrama”. It also happens to be gifted with one the finest and most downtrodden dance beats ever.
Whenever a record sounds sexy to me, I always have to wonder how much of that is the music and how much of it is the fact that I’m constantly ready to fuck. Whereas the Strokes seem to taunt from this pretty-boy position of overstatement, the Moving Units seem suffused with sarcastic, tonguing indifference. Especially Miller’s vocals, which reach out to you only to point to the person over your shoulder. They sound like unclean mattresses, eyeliner, full ashtrays, and too many cheap well drinks.
It’s quite possible that the Moving Units’ full length will be one of the most talked about releases of the coming year. It’s equally possible that their passing resemblance to the Strokes will make them a juicy target for retaliation, a receptacle for all the momentum that critics couldn’t stall and all the wild-eyed adjectives they now wish they could retract. That would be a dull tragedy. But if you’re just reading this because you’re looking for great records to buy, then you should pry your silly ass off your screen and check out this EP before the boring crossfire ensues.