They've earned their stripes with indie institutions like Rilo Kiley, Death Cab for Cutie, Sufjan Stevens, Sleater-Kinney, and Cat Power, but can Smoosh’s teen darlings transcend the awwwww effect on their own?
There's something awe-inspiring about a room full of grumpy New Yorkers being tamed like kindergarteners in a story time circle. Despite their age, fifteen-year-old Asya and thirteen-year-old Chloe -- the pair of twee-pop sisters inciting blog threads throughout the indiesphere as Smoosh -- have thwarted obscurity and managed to make softies out of fans nearly twice their age. How could any reasonable music lover (or warm-blooded publicist) resist such a tantalizing narrative? While the evening’s headliners are sure to be fuzzy and friendly, my restrained anticipation for conflict does not go completely unheard by the concert deities. Fresh off of a critically hailed eponymous debut, opening act the Postmarks deliver on the promise of the poster plastered around the venue's perimeter -- a bashful but alluring girl backed by out-of-focus boys. As sound check comes to a close, the band's prized emblem, lead singer Tim Yehezkely, floats over to her mic. Her looming, white summer dress is bathed in stage light, and long, chestnut tresses follow closely behind her tenuous tiptoe. As the group launches into album favorites such as "Weather the Weather," "Goodbye," and "Winter Spring Summer Fall," cameras flash wildly, determined to capture the oddly compelling waif for posterity. While I watch guitarist Christopher Moll labor along with the rest of the band to replicate the rich cinematic arrangements of the original tracks, I notice that they're dressed much less conspicuously, each in black. Try as I might, I can't avoid speculating that this could all somehow be part of a deliberate presentation, replete with pre-packaged designs of "cool." As their set continues, the magnetic urbane trope I sensed so vividly on the band’s record begins to elude me. Banter is decidedly economic, and Yehezkely barely moves outside of her two-inch radius -- lest her glass-like bodice shatter —and she barely deviates from her modest sway and sporadic tug on the melodica. Yes, the Postmarks can successfully recreate their record's ornate nuances with remarkable exactness, but I can only wonder if what I'm seeing is a two-dimensional simulation of a live performance. It seems the sound guy feels the same way, because, with a deft flip of a switch, the Postmarks' mics are killed as soon as their final note sounds. Hollers for an encore dissipate into irked confusion as audience members slowly grasp the fact that the Knitting Factory techie is missing, or, rather, enjoying a premature smoke break. The band’s members tap their mics for a moment before forfeiting to pesky intermission music. Embarrassing, to say the least. With unfulfilled desire now hanging in the air, the bar of expectation is set to towering heights. As I stand near the club’s bar trying very hard to explain the origin of the Postmarks to an inquiring friend, the level of Smoosh-related discussion becomes difficult to compete with. Locals begin to crowd into nooks and crannies, waiting to affirm the urban myth of the Smoosh sisters. What the duo deliver is far better than the fleeting rewards of their publicity friendly story. If anything, Smoosh's second album, Free to Stay, is more a disservice than a proper introduction: it cannot capture the speedy developments of Asya's burgeoning voice and Chloe's astonishingly competent drumming. As they begin to play, the girls oscillate between skeletally arranged confessionals and percussive rock. Asya and her striped, multi-colored socks are first in the line of sight. Her smiles are spare, but an occasional, confiding grin towards her sister reveals that she’s donning newly acquired braces. Through a decidedly pensive selection of songs such as "This is What We've Become" and "Rock Song," Asya bangs ardently on a distorted Korg keyboard, her intent expression beseeching the audience not to capitulate to hasty verdicts of "cute." Her sister, on the other hand, seems to be motivated purely by the desire to rock. I for one don't fall victim to tawdry maternal coos -- that is, until a third sibling who can’t be a stone's toss away from eight years old makes her bass-playing debut. AWWWWW… Smoosh's paramount moment comes with their cover of Bloc Party's "This Modern Love." Amidst Chloe's thrashing tom-toms and feral backbeat, it's easy to forget the duo's have already acted as openers for the indie kings. During these precious three and a half minutes, pink flowers of light swirl around their heads in a dazzling maelstrom of sincerity, simplicity, and earnestness. During these three minutes, I see a crowd standing bewitched with an ominous stillness. Perhaps it's the prepubescent followers enraptured by Asya's distortion-chunky keyboard hammering. Perhaps it's all of us fully developed adults wondering where our creative undertakings went as we watch the star-bound youngsters. Or perhaps it's all of the unaccompanied males who still feel some mild trepidation for looking straight at the girls onstage. Whatever the reason for the hush, one thing is clear: though Smoosh's songs beg for further context, the professionalism in their skeletal pop act successfully transcends the gimmickry. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re also adorable.