Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, (mostly) the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
It's a truth so self-evident I admittedly feel a little silly writing it here: Making music is a way to vocalize our problems, to take our anxieties and turn them into catharsis. A communal way to cast free what bothers us. When it comes down to it, why wouldn't you want to write fun, infectious punk songs about the slow collapse of Western society? Mr. Wrong, down to the band's name, feels like an art project designed to articulate dissatisfaction with the systems our world was built upon. Of course, this is a descriptor of almost every punk band that has ever existed, but it seems imperative to include the Portland trio in this legacy.
Though the band has largely outgrown riot grrrl influence on their band in the early days, Distraction Demo, by and large, owes a huge debt to early Sleater-Kinney ("Massive Aggressive") and Bratmobile by way of the Delinquents (the cover of the latter's "Do You Have a Job for a Girl Like Me?"). Appropriate for a band whose two founding members (guitarist Moffett and drummer Ursula) bonded over Girls to the Front -- widely regarded as the Dead Sea Scrolls of feminist punk music. Ursula and Moffett were learning their instruments as they went along, which gives Distraction Demo the reckless, slightly amateurish allure most punk recordings thrive on. After the duo's first show, Leona was asked and ultimately agreed to join the band as their bassist and they were off to the races.
The band's debut full-length, Babes in Boyland, sheds the riot grrrl trappings (though unfortunately couldn't shed music reviewers still attaching the band to the punk subgenre). There are traces of Neo Boys in the band's DNA at this point, which most certainly not a bad civic forebear. Messages found in the lyrics are similar, and a bulk of the songs on Distraction Demo are ramshackle versions of what would end up on its successor, but the same could be said for any proudly feminist screed regardless of genre. The album opens with the headlong rush of its title track, urging you to "ditch the boy band, dump your boyfriend, start your own band!" "Babes in Boyland" is also a sly commentary on womxn not feeling safe in designated safe spaces -- teeming with predators, abusers, and bullies -- and the need to build their own spaces.
Elsewhere on Babes in Boyland are brief, threadbare punk mood pieces and almost-anthems about social media affecting human interaction and the trolls lurking under its bridges, songs sung in German about baby voices filling the mind, flat-earthers and climate change and people with cold attitudes, gentrifiers taking up space, the eponymous Mr. Wrong who didn't start wearing Carhartt jackets until they were trendy and his coolness determination process, and witches doing it for themselves. Like most of the worthwhile punk music since time immemorial, Mr. Wrong uses the roaring current of guitars as a conduit to ferry their frustrations regarding having to be a human in this day and age. None of us chose to be here when we were fetuses barely the size of a human palm; the least we could do is not be so shitty to each other.
One of the most striking things about Mr. Wrong is their innate ability to say so much in a small space. Create a Place is a scant sixteen minutes but holds a wealth of ideas both musically and lyrically. Rather than the frayed basement-punk of Babes in Boyland, the trio's sophomore LP winds and recoils along the serrated edges of post-punk. I hear a little Gang of Four as I hear a little Gang of Four in pretty much every post-punk band with a good sense of rhythm (R.I.P. Andy Gill, what a pioneer), a little Au Pairs; you know, the standards. But there is a skewed individuality in Mr. Wrong, something that can always be warped into sounding like something that could only come from these three individuals.
There is an inherent singularity that comes from being self-taught, regardless of the artistic discipline. When you are formally trained, not only are you taught how to do things, you're also taught how not to do them. Teaching yourself or learning as you go frees you up as an artist to try new techniques, to traverse paths you wouldn't necessarily follow if you had the little voice of a teacher in the back of your head. Some may call it the freedom of ignorance; I think of it as being unencumbered by the rules. Isn't that what the spirit of punk is when you boil it down to its essence?
Create a Place is full of spry and tightly-wound tunes about prime time presidents and white male teachers contributing to the monoculture mainstream tries to perpetuate, dismissing the voices of marginalized people as outsiders. "Prime Time President" is not exactly about the appointed leader of a nation I will decline to name, who spreads his barely-coded message of bigotry and skirts the boundaries of human rights and general ethics for the pithy fulfillment of Twitter notifications, but rather the culture surrounding him. The messages of advertising and television which urge you to "stand in line and sell your soul for the American dream." It only implies you can take close-mindedness and inherited wealth to the highest ranked office in our country.
"White Male Teacher" is about a man given an important role in community -- the person who speaks to youth directly regularly -- who turns out to be a rape culture denier, using his privilege to instead trivialize a very real and very tragic experience, likely experienced by the youth he's supposed to be building up. For their part, the members of Mr. Wrong strike with ferocious righteousness, kicking up dust with drums, bass, guitar, and voice. Like many of their songs, the words hit hardest.
The title of Create a Place is derived from the jittery "Isolation Du Plenty," a minute-and-a-half-long sprint through the feeling of being by yourself for so long you might pull your hair out and escape to a fantasy world where everything is fun and peaceful and everybody likes you. Create a Place is an album supported by clarion calls of self-possession, by the buzz of "Overstimulation," by the weird voyeurism of people watching you walk by their "Window."
Mr. Wrong opens the album with the indelible "Nuclear Generation," which is begging to get the Official Theme Song treatment somewhere, or at least the title card for a particularly nervous episode of High Maintenance, while "Holding for Healthcare" might be the album's highlight. The latter takes the truly boring task of patiently awaiting being approved (or not approved) for what should be a basic human right while finding cuddly solace in the bland muzak playing while on hold. It exposes the idea that many medical industry professionals are in their line of work for the money, while the artistic class -- some of the most trenchant, emotionally intelligent cultural critics we have -- are forced to hold day jobs in open offices and supermarkets.
Tech might be soul-sucking and culturally pernicious, but at least it's an industry that provides decent health insurance.
And that is the genius of Mr. Wrong, finding a way to take all the things that stress out our generation of young adults and turn them into a healthy release. Something we can shout to alleviate the pain of previous generations selling us a dream and calling us entitled for believing it could actually come true.
(Salutations, readers of Throwaway Style! We're going to be expanding the horizons of the column a little. Being as though our objective includes often giving you the first look at the best artists the Pacific Northwest's music scene has to offer, expect to see more premieres and fresh takes on new and up-and-coming artists in the region in this space.)
Over the past couple of months, there have been quite a few raves around Seattle's punk scene about a new band called Rachaels Children. The bassless punk trio have played a small handful of shows, including a headlining spot at Belltown Yacht Club where lead singer REL wore a plastic wolf mask. (I must have seen it a dozen clips in my Instagram Stories the next day; check out a clip here.)
The two-minute "Running," perfect for throwing on repeat for your morning cardio as evidenced by personal experience, details the practice of a run with hilarious and illuminating accuracy. It's part personal trainer pep talk (the ending exclamation of "YOU GOT THIS!") and part rejected Fitbit feature ("You make a stop, you talk to friends / You make a stop, you rest a bit"), with Meer's guitar slinking all around Jordi's deceptively athletic drumming. A good rhythm and good humor, and a little something that adjusts them slightly to the left of the other bands around. A combination of my favorite things when I hear yet another special new band, and a very auspicious (running) start.
Are you a high school senior with an ardent and passionate enthusiasm for music or the arts? I'm guessing if you happen to be a high school senior and are reading this column, you'd fit in that category. Here's a wonderful opportunity for you to potentially net a college scholarship of $3000, $5000, or $7000: Sub Pop's annual Loser scholarship has returned for 2020, offering scholarships in the aforementioned amounts (one for each amount) to three lucky folks who plan on graduating high school this year, provided they are Washington or Oregon residents. All applicants must submit a one-page-or-less essay touching on several topics provided and are encouraged to submit evidence of their art or arts community involvement. To take a full look at details for the Loser scholarship (as well as Sub Pop's use of "Loser" as a term of empowerment), head to Sub Pop's Loser Scholarship page. Please note that all submissions must be received by Thursday, March 19th, 2020. Best of luck, losers!
As far as the tunes on the Rare Forms' very good self-titled LP go, "Worry Me" is its most effective pop tune. It's every bit as loud as, say, "White Feather Treatment," but there's a very striking hint of sunshine on the album's penultimate track. The Yr First Crush-directed video is a virtual nightmare for clean-freaks and conservationists alike; the video's co-star (as well as the band's singer) Kristin Leonard taking a healthy swig of Rainier immediately after hopping out of bed is the tamest instance of consumption here.
There are bananas, Sweethearts, lots of pastries, pieces of pan-fried steak dipped in what looks like strawberry milk, chocolate syrup, freshly squeezed tangerines, blood being spat in spaghetti. The only food left untouched is the bag of Juanita's Tortilla Chips on the counter. In the end, the video's candy apple red-haired co-star, Kitty Crimes, takes a big pink heave into a toilet bowl. There's something vaguely suggestive and brazenly gross going on with all the food, but I have to admit it looks like fun. A very fun thing I would never, ever try.
The Vancouver punk quartet's debut album is 18 minutes of hysterical and endlessly catchy punk music with a sometimes blistering, sometimes melancholy feminist spirit.