the mineral girls
by Matt Meade
I hate when anything is all lowercase. It drives me nuts. It feels like some kind of clever marketing gimmick to me. I hate marketing, I hate clever, and I hate gimmicks.
I used to love it, of course. I came of age in the 90s when all lowercase used to be some kind of pandemic among young, relevant musicians. When I first came across this phenomenon, I saw it as a revolution; a deliberate and brave form of civil disobedience. I found it to be a tasteful stylistic choice that conveyed an idea. What idea? There were lots of them: slint was lowercase to underscore the sense of minimalism the band was trying to communicate. silverchair did it to highlight their youth. Tori Amos lowercased the title of her record, from the choirgirl hotel, to emphasize the frail femininity of the songs.
Not capitalizing is to make some kind of vague point about how existentially exhausted you are; or how little faith you put into the prescriptivist rules of the amorphous “They” who tell everyone how words (and everything else for that matter) are supposed to work; or even to partake in some Marxist nose thumbing at the Adam Smith types who want everything conveniently uniform and obedient to an agreed upon rule set so it can be commoditized. I used to believe in what all lowercase stood for.
But now I am cynical and broken hearted. I have seen the ideas communicated by intentionally using lowercase letters overused and sullied by advertising, misuse, and overuse. No one born in the 80s can afford to have any heroes, because they always let you down. They always sell out and they always betray you.
At this point I think everyone is lying to me and I now find the fact that nine inch nails designed an all lowercase font in an effort to transform themselves from an angry industrial band into a merchandise empire not seen since KISS, to be manipulative, subversive, and dangerous.
I know that I am particularly susceptible to this kind of clever marketing and I am an easy mark because I want to believe. I need to believe. Knowing this about myself makes me extra vigilant about marketing because I don’t want to fall for another one of those hollow bands with cool clothes and some sort of irresistible shtick built into the band’s very existence. Because I am so self-aware, I am automatically suspicious of anything that is slick, or well packaged and I am always suspicious of any band or artist who uses all lowercase.
For some reason, however, I don’t feel that way when the mineral girls (sic) released the first single “im sorry it has to be this way, but we have to put an end to all this mindless spending,” (sic) from their record something forever (sic). I get a sense that none of that posturing is at work. The uploading and presentation of the album on Bandcamp seems like it is an afterthought to the music. Like it is some huge drag that lead singer Brett Green has to type in all this shit and he is too lazy to use his pinky to hit the shift key. It’s not that he isn’t excited about the music. He is. But he just wishes he could upload the songs directly into your brain so he doesn’t have to do all this fucking typing.
This is what it’s like in the world of the self-financed, self-promoting musician. Some people are naturals at it and that is nice, but there is little that can make music sound better than an inability to properly market oneself. There are few things more endearing than an inability to present oneself as a product to be purchased, downloaded, or commoditized for advertisers. The fact that The Mineral Girls are bad at this makes the music sound better, the same way the décor of most restaurants is based around orange or red because warm colors makes you want to eat.
“im sorry it has to be this way, but we have to put an end to all this mindless spending” (sic) (Ok. That’s the last sic. You get the point) continues mining old Melvins records, and the entire Sebadoh catalog for their churning, over saturated sound. Vince D’Ambrosio’s drumming is urgent at times, but also subdued and supportive, like D’Ambrosio knows how exhausting all this is on vocalist Brett Green and he wants to help him out anyway he can. He is always right there, keeping everything together. Based solely on his drumming, he seems like a good dude. Like the kind of dude who would help you move, watch your dog, or not say anything when you park all fucked up and take up like two spots.
And the lyrics are just perfect. Restrained, thoughtful, and just abstract enough to avoid being cliché.
jesus robbed a bank
to pay for all your sins
i heard he used to save
but now he just spends
all his money on you
Not that the lyrics matter too much. They decorate the room while while D’Ambrosio ratatats and the tele aches out creaky little notes.
I hate engaging in influence math, but I can’t help but think of the so-washed-out-and-feedback-drenched-that-it-actually-sounds-good Jesus and Mary Chain, mixed with the so-fucked-up-and-simple-that-it-actually-seems-semi-profound nasal shouts of John Lydon. The whole record is like listening to a Girls record that Steve Albini took a blowtorch to.
Green isn’t exactly a guitar player, but he has a propensity for the same kind of little riff featured in Wipers songs like “Over the Edge,” or a slow motion version of anything The Jam recorded in the 1970s.
If you thought authentic American music wasn’t being made anymore, you were wrong. Just when you thought everything was pre-packaged and formulaic, some kid reminds you that there will always be musical artists writing just exactly the kind of song you need to hear right now.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all of it works.
“Xanax” is an example of where Brett Green’s ambitions and imaginations outpace the capabilities of his equipment. In the hands of Modest Mouse, this song would be the opening credits for whatever quirky dramedy Matthew Perry signed up for now that Go On has been canceled. The song “video quilt” is not without its merits, the bass is particularly thick and veiny on this one, but it is, however, unlistenable. I love when a song is a mess, but even I have my limits.
For Green, who is recording these songs with a four track, a couple friends, a lot of beer and even more gumption, sometimes things get away from him. But even the failures feel like a young artist coming into his own, trying to push boundaries and experiment with new ideas. Green is at least smart enough to bury these misfires deep in the center of the record. Without failed attempts like these, however, the band would never be able to write and record an unqualified success like “hotel swimming pool,” which is a beautiful, ramshackle mess of a song about the tragedy of ignoring what is good today to instead dread what tomorrow might bring.
when i was a kid
we took a lot of family vacations
fall asleep in the car
wake up in a different state
please dad, can we stay?
i don’t want to go back to connecticut again
i don’t want to go back to north carolina again
Here he is in the pool, the chlorine clearing his sinuses, the cool water lapping at his chest and all he can think about is how awful it will be when it’s over. We don’t want the weekend to end, we don’t want to go home after the show, and we dread the post-coital rigmarole, so we don’t have fun at the party, we don’t enjoy the concert, and we fail to enjoy how good the sex was.
The bittersweet highs offered by “hotel swimming pool” are found elsewhere on the record as well. The title track, “something forever” is about love’s unique sting. The earnestness is so palpable it’s like they don’t even realize they are being recorded. Green chunks away on his guitar, the microphones pop and sizzle, bottle caps clatter on the cement floor, while the voices of whoever was around that day merge into (pretty much) perfect harmony over the sound of a banjo. On “you were right” the bitter comes to the surface, suppressing the sweet more than on any other song. The drums are muscular, the feedback is thick and menacing and even the admission of guilt sounds like an accusation as the life of a doomed relationship is howled in vain for.
The record ends with two songs that do something different than previous Mineral Girl songs have done and may hint at new paths the band will travel down in their next release. “a/s/l” is manic, frayed at the edges, just like rock and roll is supposed to be. This is the band at its finest. Jungle drums, hooky lead arching over the top of it, and lyrics of alienation and people desperate to make a connection.
A strange thing happens on “i’ll never lie to you again.” While Green is “singing” into the microphone through what sounds like a tube sock, a transformation occurs. For a moment he howls like Rick Danko from The Band during the doleful “Stagefright.” That is to say beautifully. It is a bizarre and shocking transformation. It is one that, miraculously, doesn’t distract from the music. In the end, the song collapses into something of a jam and approaches some kind of epic swell. As epic as The Mineral Girls get, anyway. It ends abruptly, of course. Like someone accidentally shut off the recording too early, or perhaps more appropriately things spiraled out of control at minute 6:19.
Green says that he works in a record store, but I don’t know if I believe that. Are there really guys who work in a record store and make Sebadoh / VU / NMH style inspired music, or does that only happen in bad movies? It is hard to believe that there is someone who makes this kind of music who wants to go to David Bazan living room shows just to give the guy a hug.
Is this guy really so uninterested in marketing himself because all that matters to him is the music? Cuz I have heard that people like him exist. Just like I have heard that friends of friends have appeared on game shows, and that there really are people who like black licorice.
Or is this Mineral Girls project just the thesis of some marketing major?
It’s hard to say, but I’ll keep hoping that no one ever wants to buy them so that I can keep complaining about how fucked up everything is. I’ll keep hoping that they continue to be just as fucked up and worthless to society as I am so that we can be misfits together. I know that none of this can last, I’ll keep listening and hoping they never bother to capitalize, grammatically or financially.