by Connor McInerney (@b_ck_tt)
There’s a mediocre haze that permeates the entirety of Thanks For Playing, the most recent effort by Washington DC jangle-pop underdogs BRNDA. I mean this not in terms of the quality of their output (quite the opposite), but the subject matter described by frontman Dave Lesser (with additional vocals from percussionist Leah Gage) is more often less than the reality we believe we’re entitled to, or at least what we expect.
Album opener “House Show” is a pertinent example of this mentality, its lyrics a double-edged sword that both indicts as well celebrates DIY music and culture. Lesser employs a tongue-in-cheek description of a designated “cool band” with fragmentary lyrics and bad equipment that leads to a celebratory chorus of the “cool night” that is to be had by all. While one can sense a certain appreciation for the scene underscoring the lyrical sarcasm, it is a prose of backhanded compliments and bitter thoughts that characterizes the entirety of Thanks For Playing, and the musical element that makes it as enjoyable as it is authentic.
As the album chugs onwards, tracks like “Sixteen Thousand Pounds” and “How to Perform a Tombstone Piledriver (With Pictures)” lean into BRNDA’s more discordant sonic textures, paired with a numbed-out free association narrative that is both disorienting and evocative. Both tracks allude to an amalgamation of culture that has reached the point of content saturation, Lesser moving between name-dropping various pro-wrestling moves and describing “sixteen thousand pounds of a jellyfish’s mind.” The pairing of free association lyrics and a post-punk sound helps to craft a non-literal cultural tableau that discombobulates the listener and imparts of a feeling of modern nausea that is representative of our media-saturated landscape.
This nausea is reiterated on “Five Dollar Shake” (with obvious allusions to Pulp Fiction) in another continuous beatnik description of consuming “blow on fire,” “puffed pieces of fish” and “golden stuffed double dutched deep battered and fried.” The pervasive irony of Lesser as narrator demanding items for consumption (be it media, foodstuffs or drugs) while simultaneously hoping “there’s gonna be more than this” resonates the conspicuous consumption many of us engage in as a means of deducing identity. From a technical perspective, the track’s last two minutes of guitar interplay against radio static, hisses and hums represent some of the best instrumentation of Thanks For Playing in terms of BRNDA’s ability to intersperse bright twee textures with garage-rock dirt.
It’s hard to say if the album’s last track, “Mayhem Tom,” finds any peace in the less-than-average cards we are dealt as individuals - I’m inclined to think the album’s last statement of “I hate my mom and I hate my dad and I’m mayhem tom and I make them glad” is an allusion to the possibility of music as a tool to deduce some pleasure from this world (but that might be a stretch). Overall however, BRNDA’s ability to make witty, sarcastic romps does help find solace in an overarching worldview many of us share; things might kind of suck, but at least we’re in this together.