Friday, June 26, 2009

Tiny Masters of Today: Skeletons

It's difficult to view Tiny Masters of Today as anything but a prepubescent neo-punk novelty act. Its sibling members Ivan and Ada are just so goddamn young, even by today's post-Britney-in-a-schoolgirl-outfit standards: Ivan is 15 and Ada is all of 13. To put that in perspective, Ivan was born the year Kurt Cobain offed himself, while Ada likely doesn't have any memory of George W. Bush's election in 2000 (if only the rest of us could say the same thing). They're still in public school in New York, for chrissakes. Despite their youthfulness, the band has already released two EPs and now two albums, while much-older garage bands the world over still flail away with a mixture of determination and desperation in mom's dingy basement.

Tiny Masters of Today has garnered some modest critical and commercial attention the old-fashioned way: through MySpace. A few homemade recordings posted on that massive testament to the reach and butt-puckering terrible power of the Internet made the band's bones and turned some media outlets and musicians into blubbering fools. Newsweek Magazine (yes, that Newsweek Magazine) offered up a brief but enamored profile of the band, while the little known Artrocker, in a cover story article filled with the type of masturbatory exaggeration the magazine will surely one day regret and wish to purge from their archives 1984-style, called the band (ahem) "the future of rock and roll." Novelty act or not, the band has likewise since received support from big-name musicians and indie artists alike. David Bowie tossed out the now-ubiquitous "genius" to describe the band's first single, though perhaps Bowie's checkered output over the last 30 years has lowered his standards when applying such a term. Debut album Bang Bang Boom Cake included contributions from Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers and a few members of Yeah Yeah Yeahs; B-52 Fred Schneider was even brought out of deep freeze to perform on the album.

Of course with any band who achieves "overnight success" - at least to some degree - the trick for any reviewer is to look past this hype at the band's actual content. Certainly Ivan's and Ada's ages will turn some narrow-minded reviewers off immediately; after all, how can a couple pre-teens connect with critics or listeners who are decades older than them? Though criticizing a couple kids so young feels akin to kicking a terrier in the spleen, the band's age shouldn't absolve them from criticism either. So what can one say of the band's latest album Skeletons? As an example of the oft-mentioned DIY aesthetic, it's passable: according to press material, the siblings wrote the album themselves and recorded most of the tracks at home with the Garageband computer program. Though additional recording and mixing were done later, the majority of the heavy lifting was apparently done by the two siblings. So we'll give them a few points for ingenuity.

Still, that's about as generous as I can be here. Skeletons is agonizingly repetitive and dull, a computer-generated album that favors software trickery over something - anything - worthwhile, meaningful, or, shit, even humorous. There's simply no soul or conviction here; it's imitation lo-fi music awash in technological overindulgence. Like a hooker going through the motions on a busy night, every song follows the same basic approach and is equally predictable and disappointing: heavily distorted vocals are used constantly, while software-created fragments of everything from hip-hop to punk, dub, electronica and disco suffocate the songs quickly. Every song consists of repeated lyrics and phrases - "Drop the Bomb" and "Big Stick" are the most egregious offenders - that are tinny as hell and layered slightly above a muddled and cluttered musical sludge that suggests the band relied on a checklist of 20th-century musical genres, deciding to implement pieces each one at the same time. Though some songs might work as innocuous background noise for a video game or as filler for one of MTV's mindless programs, in an album setting they become increasingly monotonous and mind-numbing.

Do I feel like a bastard for panning this album? In a way, yes. It's no great joy in trashing a couple of young teens' sophomore album. Assuming the band is serious and not just playing a joke on us - judging by the artists lining up to support them, they are serious - Skeletons suggests the band is long on hype and short on substance. Maybe there's a generation gap here - I still can't seem to get the humor of the bland and limp "Abercrombie Zombie" - but poor music transcends all ages. Give the band's members a free pass because of their age if you like, but be aware that Skeletons is a clinical and entirely lifeless album, an uninspired also-ran that will endear the band to very few listeners.

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