Fractured Chants and No-Wave Rituals
If you feel that Teenage Jesus never quite broke the bonds of traditional song structure, if your problem with Devo is their annoying tendency towards melody, then Brooklyn’s Seconds are the band for you. This trio—Zach Lehroff of Ex Models, Jean Kwon, and Brian Chase from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—makes raw, jolting songs that are completely drained of sentiment. They repeat short, often nonsensical phrases into oblivion, drilling the words into listeners’ heads with maniacal reiteration. Their dead-panned and anti-melodic rants ride uneasily atop pounding drum beats spiked with electro-shock blasts of guitar. Their sound is as alien and devoid of color as a moonscape, yet for all that, intermittently powerful.
Kratitude, the Seconds’ second album, starts with the ferocious “Moving”, a clattering, crashing, headlong charge into chaos whose entire lyrical content is comprised of the phrases “Moving slowly” and “Moving faster” traded back and forth between Lehroff and Kwon. The tempo of the song does change, accelerating at certain points, then sputtering to a halt in others, but it doesn’t match the lyrics in any obvious way. That would be too easy. That track leads into “Sister8MySon”, one of the album’s most compelling cuts, with its lurching leaps of guitar and subversive cheerleader yells. The male and female voices, both screaming the song’s title, criss-cross and intersect each other. Although each voice is monotone in itself, the band uses their different timbres like a punk rock bell choir, eliciting one note from each for a minimalist’s palette of tonal variation.
The band also uses layered voices, just slightly out of unison, to create lurching time-changing patterns. The song “Teeth”, for instance, is mostly constructed out of the three band members intoning “The lady at the front has her mouth shut / Because her teeth are filed to points”. The two male voices, more or less together, lead with the phrase, while Kwon comes in a little later, just fractionally off, all interleaved with each other, slouching toward the phrase’s conclusion. It is very much like hearing a high school assembly stumble through the Pledge of Allegiance. The Seconds have simply substituted a subversive, violent, alienating phrase for the conventional mantra.
“AL”, the cryptically named next-to-last song on Kratitude, starts as nearly all Seconds songs do, with primitively pounded drums. Heavy on the toms, elementally simple, the drum beat comes courtesy of the band’s best-known member, Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and it’s more than a rhythm, it’s the core of the song. Within a second or two, it is joined by jolts of occasional guitar, then repeated choruses of sung-spoken words, Lehroff and Kwon trading off pop phrases like “Be my baby” and “The darkest hour… is just before dawn” in robotic monotones. The song ends, fittingly, with the phrase “Dedicated… to the one I…” trailing off into oblivion. Significantly, it ends without the word you anticipate—without the final “love”. The band’s been skirting sentiment and avoiding the expected all through Kratitude, and you can hardly expect them to cave at the end.