Welcome to the first installment of Lo-Fi Hi-Fives: a column where I examine Lo-Fi albums albums in search of gold nuggets from rivers of tape hiss. Lo-fi (“low fidelity”) music is recorded at a lower quality than the usual contemporary standards. Today: The Moldy Peaches’ The Moldy Peaches, a divisive piece of anti-folk with the worst Windows Media Player rating I’ve ever seen.
Adam Green and Kimya Dawson met at Exile on Main Street Records in 1994. For six years, they goofed around with friends under the moniker Moldy Peaches 2000 and made music mostly for their own consumption. Around the turn of the century they got (slightly) more serious and dropped the numbers, becoming The Moldy Peaches. The duo became player’s in the NYC anti-folk scene (‘folk deserves a greater enemy” said Pitchfork in a delicious 1.8 review), playing rainy days at the SideWalk cafe while dressed as a bunny and a pirate. They eventually reached a deal with UK’s Rough Trade, who released their debut swan song on a day that will be hard to forget.
The Moldy Peaches and The Moldy Peaches are one in the same: because it is the band’s only document (there’s also the compilation Unreleased Cutz and Live Jamz but frankly it suckz). They’re Belle and Beavis and Sebastian and Butthead, quite inventive and thoughtful in their delivery of taint humor. If it weren’t for the PARENTAL ADVISORY sticker, The Moldy Peaches would look like a long-lost European children’s album from the early sixties. Their rudimentary instrumentation is only outmatched (or under matched) by their crude and mental points-of-view: imagine VU and Nico’s banana rotted brown.
Things begin with two of the more straight-forward entries. The neurotic indie kids set the table with “Lucky Number Nine”. It gives a nice preview of the lyrical style–flights of fancy from society’s bottom rung–and is quite upbeat (“hey, I’m starting to feel OK.”). “Jorge Regula” hilariously rips the “do do do do do dos” from “Low Rider” for transitions from mundane accounts of everyday work and romance. “Jorge Regula” was used in a Latin American Pepsodent Commercial without the group’s permission.
“What Went Wrong”, fittingly, is when things start to get weird. This is one of the only times in which Green’s voice rises above a mumbling monotone. His banshee screaming also sets off one of the albums recurring motifs: Kimya Dawson cracking up in fits of laughter. At times, breaking can be charming and infectious (see “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”); it happens a little too often in these songs, but uncovering all the mishaps throughout can become a fun, audio Where’s Waldo.
“Nothing Came Out” is the longest track by nearly two minutes. Dawson laments her weight and the fact that a crush won’t notice her (Green? The two certainly seem to be in love in some of these tracks but that’s none of my buisness). The desire to just find someone to watch cartoons with is a relatable, possibly universal, one. At the 2:43 mark, Dawson’s phone rings, causing her to giggle her way through the remainder of this previously somber song. It’s a moment of irritating brilliance that Kimya’s rehearsed loneliness is interrupted by the call of a friend (or lover).
The next gang of four contains the two dirtiest songs and the two worst (with no overlap). “These Burgers” is like a deodorant commercial that tries too hard to be weird, you start to feel bad for everyone involved. The Kimya-less “On Top” takes a cue from the lowest moment of Yip Jump Music (“Danny Don’t RAAAP”) for some noxious white boy rapping. You can almost imagine Green jumping on his bed, performing for an audience of Rob Van Dam posters.
The raunchy ragtime “Downloading Porn with Dave” imagines if the Butthole Surfers played 50’s piano halls instead of 80’s dive bars. “Steak for Chicken” is essentially two songs at once, Green and Dawson are simultaneous narrators telling how they became penniless vagabonds. This song technically might be longer than “Nothing Came Out” since some people probably listen to 2:44 of one singer then hit repeat for 2:44 of the other. The lyrics are hilarious and converge in inventive ways (“whose empty heart needs filling?” asks Dawson, “whose pussyhole needs filling?” sings Green at the same time).
Possibly the album’s greatest asset is the way it uses the two voices. Green’s dull white guy voice certainly isn’t new but feels practically new when paired with Dawson’s deep, raspy vocals. Green indifference to everything makes the emotion coming from Kimya that much better. “Greyhound Bus” interchanges from innocent, childlike lyrics from Dawson to religious, soul-searching questions from Green (“I love my roller skates, I ride them everywhere/circle froze eternally, how can I find a savior?”)
In the process of finding music for his feature film Juno, Director Jason Reitman asked lead actress Ellen Page what kind of music her character, pregnant teen Juno McGuff, listened to. Her decision inadvertently created one of the last One Hit Wonders before the internet would take off and make such a thing virtually impossible. The Moldy Peaches were her choice (though I personally feel McGuff would be more into something like the Stooges) and the exactly three minute “Anyone Else But You” would become a late bloomer hit and groan-inducing college open mic night staple.
The gooey melted fruit gusher lyrics are passable on first listen, then became annoying once the song became unavoidable. The association to Hollywood pipsqueak and fellow lo-fi musician Michael Cera certainly didn’t help. To the track’s credit, it contains more sincerity than most modern day love ballads
and I chuckle at the thought of bubbly freshmen following “A.E.B.Y’s” rabbit hole down to “Steak for Chicken” and “Porn with Dave.”
The surprising success of Juno briefly made the Moldy Peaches a coffeehousehold name. The band had disbanded after guitarist Aaron Wilkonsin died of an overdose in 2003 (The Strokes’ Room on Fire is dedicated to his memory). Both musicians went their separate ways and released a slew of solo records (the most notable being Dawson’s Remember That I Love You, which was heavily featured in Juno). They were booked to perform on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2008 but cancelled due to the writer’s strike and have only performed together sporadically since.
5 of the next 6 songs rank in the Bottom Ten of the superfluous rankings I’m going to do at the end of every review, so here’s a lightning round for the asses in the crack of humanity: “Little Bunny Foo Foo” is quite literally fluff, a straight-forward rendition of the children’s song. “Lucky Charms” is a funeral dirge/salute to cereal–it’s mostly grain with very few marshmallows. “The Ballad of Helenkeller and R.V.W.” is Deep Blue Something dull and would’ve been the track featured in an indie movie if this album came out in 1995. “D.2. Boyfriend,”Dawson’s ode to Duran Duran and believing in yourself, is Disney Channel level, “Lazy Confessions'” instrumentation reminds me of Daytime Cleaning Supplies commercials and I was going to write something clever about the last of these mediocre songs but…”I Forgot.”
“Who’s Got the Crack” is the oasis of this sequencing desert. A lazy folkie that turns into punk noise without warning. A Jimmy Buffet song not about some kind of liquid but rather the hard stuff. Near the end, all of their friends gather in a chorus and their voices crack and converge in a way that is actually kind of beautiful. You wouldn’t have gotten that effect by perfected each vocal track then laying them in one after the other like pieces of a sandwich.
This record had the misfortune of being released on the same day as Jay Z’s The Blueprint, where it got crushed in sales. An infinitely greater misfortune was the date: September 11th, 2001. Stylized fart jokes (from New York of all places) were probably the last thing on everyone’s mind. Certain albums come with an additional emotional weight between the plastic (Live Through This, for instance). In this bizarre instance, the entire emotional weight of an unrelated tragedy is shouldered by the unfortunately named final song.
Coincidences aside, “NYC’s Like a Graveyard” was always the best song here. Dawson’s laugh in the opening seconds is the only one of its kind on the album that is not a goof but rather and act of defiance (“So if you hate me, go on hating”). There is a fun, energy-filled edge that is absent everywhere else but here and the end of “Crack.” If these moments were not merely moments but rather forty five minutes of material The Moldy Peaches might be talked about in a hushed, less sarcastic manner.
Closer “Goodbye Song” meanders through the ashes of “Graveyard” with a subtle, soft, Vashti Bunyan-like acoustic rumble, then remarkably doesn’t ruin things by getting nashti. With eyes closed in reflection, there’s no time to wink at the audience. “Song” accomplishes it’s solemn goals without creating a tonal mismatch; a challenge many silly bands struggle with when attempting something serious.
The Moldy Peaches shares a lot in common with the Kevin Smith sequel Clerks 2: confidently crass, clumsily sweet, and redeemed by a Dawson. This album would be unlistenable with two Adam Greens; it is Kimya’s unique voice and perspective (not many black girls in the world of indie rock, both then and now) that gives Peach to the Mold. It’s an impressive balancing act: the entire outfit constantly wobbles towards disaster, but there are enough compelling moments–and even one or two transcendent ones–that make the album worth seeking out.
Final Judgement, on the order of zero to five fingers (with a hi five being a perfect score): Three Fingers; a thumb and pointer on one hand forming an “o” and the pointer on my opposite hand going through the “o”, creating a sophomoric charade of penetration.
Superfluous Song Ranking:
1. NYC’s Like a Graveyard
2. Who’s Got the Crack
3. Lucky Number Nine
4. Steak for Chicken
5. Goodbye Song
6. Nothing Came Out
7. Anyone Else But You
8. Jorge Regula
9. Greyhound Bus
10. Downloading Porn With Dave
11. What Went Wrong
12. Lazy Confessions
13. The Ballad of Helenkeller and Rip Van Winkle
14. I Forgot
15. D.2. Boyfriend
16. Lucky Charms
17. Little Bunny Foo Foo
18. These Burgers
19. On Top (I actually think “These Burgers” is worse, but I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to put “On Top” on the bottom)
Next Time: We go from an album tangentially related to 9/11 to an album I believe to be secretly about 9/11. Gather up your tinfoil, folks. I’ll also take suggestions on future reviews (I mean, I’ll also do that next time, but I’ll also take suggestions now).