Melding playful ’70s garage with a postmodern sense of humor, Pillow Queens’ debut release, Kookoolegit, makes a bid for the finest album of 2008 you’ve never heard (yet). Austin, Texas’s dense music scene overflows with unsung bands struggling to one-up each other in an often-cliquish environment. As such, a band not conforming to the dominant local predilection for verbose, histrionic indie rock often goes unnoticed. But quality lurks just under the surface of the Austin music sheen, and one needs to look only as far as a four-piece band with a Farfisa organ and a penchant for dressing up in Dracula make-up and full-body cactus costumes.
Pillow Queens take their cues from the long tradition of DIY heroes sweating it out in the garages of America. Guitarists/multi-instrumentalists Duncan Malashock and Will Slack, bassist Eric Loftis, and drummer Carolyn Cunningham write economical garage pop songs dripping with the heat of a thousand sweaty Austin nights. The sense of fun and bright guitar tones that permeate the bulk of Kookoolegit suggest early Pavement with a dash of Nuggets-era DIY energy.
Distortion and angularity play their part in the dueling guitars of Malashock and Slack, but the darkness never threatens to spoil the party atmosphere. The pair trade lead vocal responsibilities, with Slack bearing an eerie resemblance to Eric Burden, a comparison in line with the band’s classic garage appeal. The rhythm section of Loftis and Cunningham provides solid backing with often-timely accents to enhance the song structures. Overall, Pillow Queens find their contemporary analog in Times New Viking — music that sounds best when blasted from a shitty boombox.
Songs like “Real Cool Head” and “Wild Kingdom” feature hilarious lyrics, sharp arrangements, and plenty of hooks to keep the album moving forward at a brisk clip. It’s a garage rock dance party on Kookoolegit, and the band’s populist refusal to take themselves too seriously ensures you’ll be invited without having to show your Indie Cred ID card.
Pillow Queens excel at creating two-minute ditties seemingly about a) quirky outsiders with strange habits, or b) experiences a band member had talking to a neighbor’s dog while on acid. Even when they try to act tough, it’s a put-on. “Original Bad Boys of Crime” mocks overheated rock masculinity through a narrative about breaking into NASA only to “fuck with the papers” and steal “a Mars bar”. The character in the Malashock-sung “TV Song” struggles to understand American reality television with a disarming innocence that comes across as both humorous and sinister. “Animal Poseurs” derides tattooed birds wearing muscle tees who would rather be piranhas. Keep it real, birdie! It’s a trenchant message for all wildlife (humans included). This is humorous surrealism to counter the not-so-funny surrealism of modern times.
However, songs “Regional Flute” and “Lava Lamp” slow the momentum a bit, and would probably work better as closing tracks (or on another album altogether). This stands as a minor complaint with an album that warrants repeat listening simply because it makes you feel good, if nothing else. It’s a beautiful antidote to the handwringing self-seriousness of so much modern indie rock.
The album is available from Austin’s Monofonus Press by itself, or bundled with a short story by Karen Davidson titled “Clear Violet”. This pairing represents one of several music-and-writing packages available from the multimedia collective. It’s a beautiful collaboration of creative forms, and packages such as this are poised to become more common as the music industry evolves. Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes is one of the most visible proponents of expanding the possibilities of CD packaging in the Digital Age, but he’s not the only one.
Kookoolegit is the manifesto of the socially inept, weird kid next door invited to the neighbor’s garage party. And it’s a pretty damn liberating place.