For music fans everywhere, the hallowed “band + band = band” equation has served for years as the simplest way to explain your latest obsession to your friends. Remember when you first discovered Joanna Newsom? “Devendra Banhart plus the Decemberists,” you told your friends, and they listened, despite the fact that your questionable math gave them no clearer picture of what they were in for than if you had spoken of her sound in clear-cut terms: strained and folksy, wordless fables.
So it pains me to say that the best way I can describe Cansei De Ser Sexy, the latest dance-techno-arthouse-whatever sextet to enter our lands from Brazil, is with the following combination: “CSS = Peaches + Deerhoof + The Dandy Warhols.” Signifiers of all of these groups combine to form a strange, sometimes pleasing, sometimes thoroughly off-putting mess on their Sub Pop debut, simply titled CSS.
First, Peaches: the band’s frontgirl, Lovefoxxx, sings lyrics that are one Mile High Club adventure away from indicting her as a full-blown nymphomaniac. Sexual lyrics are all well and good, especially when they nudge us toward a greater understanding of the given lead singer’s deeper, more complex yearnings; as with our favorite former Ontario schoolteacher, however, Lovefoxxx’s lyrics quickly cross the border from lusty to flat-out ridiculous. In “Art Bitch” Lovefoxxx abandons all attempts at either subtlety or poetry, telling us to “Lick my art-tit/Suck my art-hole,” before beginning the clearly titled “Meeting Paris Hilton” with the album’s most laugh-out-loud awful couplet: “I met the bitch/The bitch was so hot.” To make matters worse, she enunciates more emphatic words so obviously—her breathy tone on the aforementioned “hot” sounds less like singing than like acting for a phone-sex commercial—that she brings her own worst work clearly into focus, stacking it above her other lyrics as though she truly believes they’re the most worthy of notice. It’s almost impossible to take her lyrics seriously, and it’s equally difficult to ignore them when trying to think of the band as anything other than a novelty.
Next, Deerhoof. This is where the band really shines: twangy guitars and punky percussion hook us with the same high-pitched energy that signifies all successful dance music. On “Fuckoff Is Not The Only Thing You Have To Show,” a catchy, solid-techno synth progression is paired with a punchy bassline that grounds the song, despite its titular flaws, in memorable territory. On the album’s finale, “This Month, Day 10,” Adriano Cintra’s background guitar strums combine with an urgent electro-drone to similar effect. Listening to these guys gives you the impression that, despite their flaws, they truly grasp the necessary aesthetics. They may not be making great art, but at least they’re competent as a band.
And finally, The Dandy Warhols. Quite simply, CSS is one of the most obsessively image-conscious bands to ever hit the airwaves, a band that corroborates every negative stereotype ever propagated that depicts artists as hipper-than-thou airheads. Hell, the band’s name is taken from a Beyonce quote. Many of their songs are similarly tongue-in-cheek: “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above” refers positively to the DFA, yes, but it also cheapens them, painting one of CSS’s biggest influences as mere background music for another one of Lovefoxxx’s X-rated adventures. And the aforementioned “Meeting Paris Hilton” is the worst offender of them all: profane and indecisive, Lovefoxxx constructs an entire song around what could be the most superficial, pointless encounter imaginable.
I’m saddened to say, then, that I myself am not rating this album primarily based on sheer musical quality, but I suspect CSS wouldn’t want me to. No matter their technical proficiencies, CSS cannot get over themselves, and this harms their music in ways that, it seems, they will always be too oblivious to know.