Weekend Music Picks: Back to Basics
Greta Kline and Mac McCaughan revive the best qualities of the early-1980’s nascent New Wave movement, with Kline starting from a folk foundation and McCaughan working in post-punk. They are both playing locally this weekend and are worth catching live.
McCaughan plays Saturday as the headliner in a three-act lineup that starts at 8 pm at Baby’s All Right (146 Broadway). Kline’s band, Frankie Cosmos, plays a benefit for our beloved Williamsburg BARC animal shelter as the last of three acts that start at 6 pm on Sunday at Brooklyn Bow Wow (1581 DeKalb Ave.).
McCaughan’s latest album was influenced by early 80s bands like The Cure, OMD, and Cocteau Twins. Some bands from that era intentionally used antiquated synths and drum machines to reflect discord, disaffection, and alienation. Yet, as he points out, their songs come across as affecting, even romantic.
“I’m constantly discovering and consuming new music, so why does an old New Order song trigger the kind of emotional response that it does?” he wonders. McCaughan provides an updated, modern translation of 80s instrumentation to create his own lasting emotional connection with his audience. His melodies are pop and approachable, and somehow their simplicity does not grate after repeated playing.
Frankie Cosmo’s recordings initially sound like anti-folk. The anti-folk genre avoids rococo finger-picking styles and harmonies of 60s folk because it seeks to distance itself from what it views as folk’s earnestness and pretensions. Unfortunately, in lesser anti-folk performers, spareness comes across as its own pretension, where the lyrics and melodies claim to achieve a noble simplicity, but are in fact just simplistic and unoriginal.
In contrast, Frankie Cosmo’s Kline manages to use spareness to earnestly seek and find plaintive emotions that can cut through even a jaded audience’s pretensions. Too jaded to believe that? Test your powers of resistance here.
I think it is inaccurate to consider Kline anti-folk, despite her spare orchestrations and simple guitar strum, because her songs lack the snarkiness pervasive in that genre. While she does not cite proto-New Wave bands as her influences, their sincerity and recording techniques are echoed in her work.
McCaughan says that while writing recent songs, he used two metaphoric teen Goths as his guidepost, following them as they approached adulthood “and transition[ed] into a world they weren’t sure they’d accept.”
My own first encounter with Goth culture was in Portland, Maine in the early 90s. I was on an excursion with two other camp counselors, a Scot and an Irishman on temporary work authorization. Since those two had, over the course of the summer, been barred from all the waterfront drinking establishments, due to rowdiness and astounding inebriation, we were forced to seek a place on the edge of town, where their reputation had not preceded them.
That led us to the Nowhere House, a local Goth club. It astounded me to see everyone not just dressed in black, but also natural blonds who had died their hair black. This was at a time when many of the pop sex symbols (both guy and girl) had teased, bleach-blond hair. It was an honest and refreshing rejection of artificiality.
It could be that Kline’s and McCaughan’s music, in reconciling individuality and the mainstream, might be just what today’s kids need to hear while struggling with their transition to the workaday world.