Is it safe to say rock’n’roll has progressed beyond the point where not being able to play one’s instrument very well translates to unadulterated, “punk” credibility? Is it now true that, while sexism has hardly been eradicated, the proposition of an all-female rock ‘n roll group is no longer a novelty in and of itself Because if the answers to these questions are “yes”, the debut album from UK quartet PINS can, without reservation or hang-ups, be branded as the horrible record it is.
If you scroll through the music scores on aggregator sites like Metacritic, you will find far more positive marks than negative, far more “above average” reviews than below. That is because people who listen to a lot of music generally have open minds about it, can usually appreciate different styles and approaches on their own merits, and are simply predisposed to giving the benefit of the doubt to an art form they so love.
But still, there are some records that are so bad, that fail so completely, that even the most forgiving music critic/lover must turn away in embarrassment. That’s right. You could be listening to Girls Like Us alone, on headphones, in an empty room, and you would still feel awkward. It’s that bad.
What’s worse: mindlessly catchy, studio-polished corporate product that makes no bones about it, or mindlessly sophomoric, anonymous indie product that nearly trips over itself trying to come across as “edgy” and “authentic” when its pretension only belies its complete lack of ambition, and when it sounds about as sincere as a love letter from an Auto-Tune program?
PINS seem to think that because they are from Manchester and Joy Division were from Manchester, they are natural heirs to Joy Division. But throwing all the ingredients into a pot does not a meal make. Edgy, doomy basslines, piercing, spiny guitars, and a vague chill in the air do not equal post-punk catharsis.
Tom-heavy, almost tribal drumming and the occasional burst of feedback do not add up to Jesus and Mary Chain at their most starkly affecting. Raw, eighth-note guitar rhythms that approximate Sonic Youth do not automatically translate into some sort of arty primitivism.
The voices are pouty and sassy and the gasps and coos that punctuate the songs are meant, apparently, to serve as ironic commentary on perceived sex appeal. Or maybe they are just trying to create sex appeal. But the lyrics are hollow and vapid and they are delivered as if by a third-grader speaking before the class for the very first time. Wooden, lacking any emotion or intonation, ineffectual.
PINS’ sense of profundity amounts to writing a song called “Mad For You”, with a chorus that says, “I’m mad / For you” repeatedly. Or a song called “Howlin'”, whose chorus has, well, howling. This is a band whose lyrics consist of rhymes like “go-know”, “you-to”, “see-me”, and “affectionately…”. Actually, they leave “affectionately” unrhymed. This is a band whose sense of self-awareness, not to mention logic, boils down to “I know I’m full of regret / But I don’t feel it yet.” Well, if you know you are full of it….oh, never mind.
PINS are palatable when they give up singing altogether and go spoken-word. But they fumble away any chance at consolation or redemption by calling the song “Velvet Morning”, thereby insulting the Velvet Underground, “Some Velvet Morning”, anyone who’s ever covered it, and hazy, leftfield pop music in general. Those PINS, they’re dangerous, you know.
PINS are somewhat listenable when they allow themselves to squeeze out a bit of a hook, as they do on “Waiting for the End”. But they are not so listenable when they have a go at short interludes with titles like “Interlude”.
This is a bit of a surprise coming from Bella Union, the label that is run by ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde and whose generally impeccable roster includes the likes of Midlake, as well as Beach House and Fleet Foxes in the UK. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the best antidote is a thorough cleanse with Joy Division, JAMC, Sonic Youth, Throwing Muses, and Go-Gos records. No, scathing, merciless, equanimity-be-damned music reviews are not very common. But neither are records as offensively lousy as Girls Like Us.