With a visit to the giga-hip Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, one comes away with more than just a sense of tension between urban bohemia and rabid gentrification; there’s also the sense that, at least in this taste-didactic microcosm, ’80s revivalism has reached shoulder pad level absurdity. Young skinny tie fashionistas, though stilettoed and neon, appear unable to sift the decade’s aesthetic and thematic horrors from its retro-future wonders.
In accordance with this style brigade is a wave of acts like Miss Kitten and Fischerspooner high on Casio, asymmetry and grandiose self-absorption. While some feel vital in the way that a shot of tequila or a bump of something seems vital, many of these bands simply do something visceral and fade to white. Fortunately for us, the five New York-based 20-somethings who comprise My Favorite have long since mastered sorting through the Reagan years’ synth parts and culture cues; they’ve moved on to creating visionary pop that pretends the ’90s never happened.
On its 1999 full length debut, Love at Absolute Zero, My Favorite proved itself a band of intrepid saints; chronicling, mourning and lionizing the secrets of America’s hopeless suburban youth. Its songs were the apotheosis of a fading mix tape culture: technopop hits tailor made for both bedroom sulking and alt-disco stomping. For the album’s follow up, My Favorite is releasing a triptych of EPs, thematically linked (however loosely) by the patron saint of teen angst herself, Joan of Arc. Positing themselves as the hagiographers of a girl who was either crazy or divine, the members of My Favorite have found the ideal muse for its earnest time wrinkling.
On A Cult of One, the most recent and second in the series, My Favorite continues to soar on its crystalline neo-New Wave trajectory of technological ambivalence and cinematic alienation. The ominous opening bass line of “Le Monster” is familiar, evoking the Cure, before singer Andrea Vaughn gets a little J.G. Ballard in her ghostly delivery: “I think he crashed the car / I flew through the glass / I guess when it rains it pours.” The pulsing, eerie mood gives way to a bright, chiming refrain as the crash victim sings from her hospital bed: “He never sent me letters / He only sent me dirty Polaroids.” As the “he”, this monster, is constructed, one wonders if our narrator is speaking through her drip or out of her diary. Either way, she’s another ambiguous distillation of My Favorite doyen/multi-instrumentalist/singer Michael Grace Jr.’s pantheon of disaffected and yearning antiheroes.
For “The Suburbs are Killing Us,” with its feedback squalls, stuttering refrain and weeping violin, Grace sings a plaintive, breathless tale of boredom-spawned violence and unfinished art: “You did what you did because a pathetic mythology is better than no mythology at all.” While such sentiments could come off as stilted in less capable hands, My Favorite exalts its own melodrama, raising the conceit to a dizzying, operatic pitch.
While My Favorite excels in mining suburbia’s mass produced patina and parochial confines for dark, synth-pop ready images, it also revels in the thin, shining margins that bookend them. On the twinkling, breezy, “The Black Cassette”, the band pull out New Order guitar textures and melodica riffs, evoking an awkward summer friendship spent “feverish and celibate”. Here, the five-piece’s tight musicianship comes to head as they piece together disparate parts with odd timing flourishes to create a pop song that’s deceptively complex. Though the band’s cult-ish following conversely fumes and savors that their pet band continues to go unrecognized, songs like these implore that My Favorite’s devotees will swell beyond A Cult of One.