I never liked that indie rock thing. All those dudes snuggled up in ratty cardigans with greasy hair hanging over their eyes, flopping around up there in old sneakers, slouching their shoulders as if they were apologizing for playing rock 'n' roll. The ingratiating modesty, all in the name of authenticity, comes off as painfully disingenuous to me--and so plain. But somehow I like it when a girl band like Luke's Angels does the indie rock thing. When it's plain Jane, count me in.
There's probably more than a little creepy Humbert Humbert-like chauvinism in there--an attraction to feminine meekness. (Not that I only listen to indie women who are feminine or meek: Le Tigre's JD Samson proves that a lady can rock a mustache and a guitar at the same time, and when Peaches tells her fans to suck her dick, she shows she's man enough to be an pop diva.) But watching Luke's Angels, I find myself drawn to their girlish timidity. Guitars slung low against dirty blue jeans, dressed in the most mundane cotton blouses and work shirts, the Angels stare at their sensible shoes until, in the midst of a buzzed-out riff, they grope for each other's voices and find each other in sweet harmony. Then they blush collectively, murmur "Thank you," and move on.
"We don't want to make mistakes," bassist Amy Carson demurs over light beers at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. "But we do, and if we're smiling a lot up there, it's usually because, oops...we did it again."
This is the same Gee whiz, don't mind us pose that indie rock boys are guilty of striking, but when the Angels do it, their sweetness seems genuine. Maybe that's because they really don't have a hidden rock-star agenda beneath those flannel shirts: All three women are married, and Carson had her first baby this last spring and is now working as a stay-at-home mom. Rhythm guitarist Jennie Kalpin is a dental student. And Jennie's older sister, Melissa, the Angels' lead guitarist and primary songwriter, is a librarian. "[Luke's Angels] is a release from everything else that we do," explains Melissa. "It's our fun time. It's not like we take it less seriously, but...I guess we do."
"We're not trying to be anything we're not up there," insists Jennie. "I'd rather be appreciated for the music than for our looks, or the fact that we're girls, or that we're getting up there to get people to look at us."
The Angels' sound is characterized by the contrast between Carson and Jennie Kalpin's sugar-pop harmonies and Melissa's whip-smart lead guitar--an update on the old Pixies paradigm of quiet-loud-quiet. On "One Small Glimpse," the opener of their self-titled debut, the girls' voices beat a so-in-love lyric ("I see hidden words arise/In one small glimpse through your eyes") into sea foam before Melissa strafes her own words with a firing squad of chords. "Cinema" matches a story about drive-in romance with a chugging, neh-neh-neh-neh-Batman melody. And on "Mixing Words," a pretty line about lying in bed and talking to your boyfriend is almost overwhelmed by a gigantic fuzz-box riff. A lot of the lyrics swirl together cactuses, puffy clouds, and mountaintops--the things that girls admire in road trip diaries. All of that good-girl purity contrasts well with the idiosyncratic Kelly Deal guitars.
Melissa chafes at such comparisons to the Breeders. "It's just because we're girls," she says. But she kind of understands. All three Angels were in a cover band--playing stuff by the Breeders, the Throwing Muses, a little Fugazi--during their high school days in St. Cloud, and it's easy to imagine them in grubby overalls, playing polite covers of "Divine Hammer." Before high school, you might say Melissa and Jennie were in a Bach cover band, practicing the violin and the viola as kids. They didn't find their own sound until college, when they teamed up with Jennie's husband, as well as current Angels drummer Jamie Bollman, to play those cover songs from eight years ago. "We sucked," Carson says. "We were really awful. So we tried to write and play some of our own stuff." And? "It was terrible."
These days, they know how to write songs, but they still show a lingering sense of amazement at how easy it is to come up with an interesting hook. Bollman, the group's token male, explains how the Angels differ from other bands he's been in: "With a bunch of fellas, you get halfway through a song, and they say, 'That's not the direction we want to go.' With these guys, the song starts and Amy is like, 'Oh, that sounds great!' And then Melissa steps on the fuzz box, and 'Oh, that's rockin!' They get exhilarated." So exhilarated that you realize you're totally in the middle of a girl-group slumber party, Jamie? "Well, it's not too bad. But they were whispering about cheating on their diets at practice tonight."
"Jamie!" all three Angels squeal.
"So, They're nice girls. Is that the angle?" Melissa asks with all the sarcasm she can muster.
But Jennie understands what Bollman means. "When we get together, we talk just as much as we play," she says. "If you went to some guy group's practice, I wonder if they ask each other how their day was."
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