by Jay Armstrong
Between glitch apps and the often safe visuals thrown up behind bands with holier-than-thou pretension in the name of psychedelia, one is left with the impression that style is more of a mask than an expression. America is this correct? To avoid confusion; I am not talking about Baxu here and will not until further down the page. I am not a purist in any sense. The best an artist can create is not elevated nor limited through the means by which they express themselves. What you create means nothing, from which place it is created is everything. A guitarist with fifty handcrafted pedals pushed mathematically through an obscure amp is in no way better than some dude plugging straight into a Vox despite how much uncreative mediocrities buy into the concept. Playing metal is not inherently superior to coffeeshop acoustic. As a kid I was told that what you do with your left hand on the guitar doesn’t matter—it has all been done—it is what you do with your right that makes the difference. It is the clearest way of looking at life I have found yet.
We are existing in a powerfully creative moment; if my optimism pans out, quite possibly a historically pivotal one. Everyone seems so blase’ about it. Running out of ways to push things technically, our subconscious finds voice in subtle resurfacing through the heart-eyed wowing moments having stopped us in our place growing up. Kerouac, Thompson, Bangs, Dylan, Parsons, Stones, Ramones—the entire communities they grew out of—the entire communities born through their voice; these were moments which at the time seemed as though artists had reached the end of the road; we know now it was a rebirth at the hands of prolific visionaries under the guise of evolved imitation. Our impasse seems to be on acknowledging modern greatness, our refusal to do so is embarrassing; all hung up on how our experience has been channeled through the past rather than rejoicing in how it led us here. We are the first to have the history of existence at our fingertips—in growth, we use it to absorb only the best; in devaluing others, we use it to dissect their craft—technology cuts both ways. Our safety net has been genre loyalty coupled with strict adherence to artistic social mores. I argue we have grown beyond it.
One night playing putt-putt at Peter Pan’s some dude sitting on a bench outside of the office pulling High Life’s out of a plastic bag asked me why I dress the way I do. Maybe he meant it to be a dig—after all, a denim vest and cowboy boots are far from considered acceptable evening attire in most circles—my friends looked appalled but I didn’t take it for offensive, “I figure we wake up each morning and put on our clown suits. We all look ridiculous. Might as well look in the mirror and feel excited about the one I choose. ” He was put back. Silence sat between us for a few seconds. When he did respond we unexpectedly locked into a super enjoyable conversation while the rest of the group worked through the last hole. I hate talking to strangers. This was an exception. Do my clothes say anything about who I am as a person? Doubt it. It is all surface bullshit. The surface though is about all the freedom of choice we have. What we choose to show the world is the only voice we have to let existence know we are here. These bands are showing us how excited they are to channel a lifetime of influence into bold expressions. I for one am excited about championing it with them.
We can safely trust no one who sees themselves as an artist—this goes unchanged. We can safely accept that not everyone around us can be creatively profound—it goes without saying. But if your ears aren’t to the tracks excited about what is coming our way en masse then you better brace yourself for what is putting them sweet rumbles down the line. Everything is coming up Milhouse across all genres. To be blindly one-sided about what we choose to appreciate comes down to taste, not substance. The last few years have been dominated by high-brow judgments. It has all but destroyed us. The best artists in town recently churning out their blends of perfection dripping in pop (Sweet Spirit, Rockyanne Bullwinkle, Sweetfeed, etc,) for the first time signals a shift from being hung up on territorial descriptors to embrace as a collective our need of coming together. Moments like these are what history finds purpose in. It is time to relax our posture a bit. When we hear something fresh we should be asking if the bands are excited to see what they choose to play reflected in their mirror. Are they excited about what they offer? This question alone can separate people treating our time as a means to manipulate us into financially buying into their bullshit or whether they are genuinely worth not skipping out on to laugh over some smokes out back instead. Will we get burnt by such openness from time to time? Who cares and so what. Good music is good music.
Our eyes grew dim before the pandemic. Our hearts heavied by way of overexposure. We forgot this thing between us takes constant cultivation. We took for granted what we were a part of as our ego’s all-seeing ‘I’ looked only for what it could take forsaking the truth that love and community lift us only by way of what we give. A year and a half of nothing. It was not the playing shows which we found ourselves thirsting for, it was the being at shows; standing arms around each other’s shoulders in front of a stage feeling the sweat and breath of the band before us mixing with our own, exalted in our meditative suspension in time that only the alchemy of rock n roll has the ability to do. If this moment doesn’t signify a rebirth then we deserve the condos threatening to crush down upon us. Venues come and go. Bands come and go. Why did our spirit hold us against the flame all the same?
So why use the “X-Rated” video to go off on this ramble? Because it hits…and we need to dance! That and the Johnny Rockers gotta get over their bullshit. What a more dignified way to put the ye ole proverbial finger to their chest than with something the untrained ear might wrongly categorize as the dismissive—and ill-fitting—”electronic.” We are surrounded by art crafted to the highest degree. Fuck off if you need more reverb or less rhythm. You can feel cultivated inspiration seeping out the first moment you hear Baxu. A confident intelligence tows their line. They are bigger than what they offer—and what they offer is pretty damn fine. Michael Regino and Mike Garrido create music vibing with the feeling of carrying a guitar case through the front door of a sold-out show you are headlining. It comes on as you settle into the corner booth with some black and leather babes sitting on both your sides. Cool. Cool. Cool. (For further proof catch also “Turkish Lira“)
Hell, the only thing cooler than what these two are putting down is Youth Racket lending his understated genius to the video for “X-Rated.” You can master After Effects, memorize every Karl Klomp schematic, drop four hundred dollars on some vintage ripped faded t-shirt but embodying the real of strut and style in half the way as Andy Ray Lemon is highly unlikely. The dude showed up years ago excited to shape whatever he could get his hands on. Seeing how that has evolved has me bordering on obsessed. It kind of makes you feel bad for the lesser thans stuck in his shadow. Albeit cute, watching others attempt to shortcut their way to getting the results he puts out almost feels futile There is no route format to being legit. You cannot buy your way to substance. Let us not mistake the tools used for the hands using them. A giant is a giant; the best we can do is look up to him.
This video is the viscerally creative pinnacle of what the three involved have been about and ten times as sexy; a primer of sorts in preparation for the wild life waiting at the end of our trying time. Polish up them boots. Let’s dance.