My Favorite: The Happiest Days of Our Lives

My Favorite
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Double Agent

Pretension is the new punk. Just as with yesterday's pejoratives, punk and queer, folks have now reclaimed the term "pretense" not as a mere aesthetic stance but as a full-out platform. Naturally you don't hear too much about this, because for these people, dormitories are monasteries, all writing is prison writing, and staying home is the new going out. My Favorite did their four years of penitence at the State University of New York Stonybrook, where they released an awesome prison diary, 1999's Love at Absolute Zero. But on their newest double-album, which collects three previously released EPs alongside new material, we find the gang somewhat reformed. They've moved to New York City, where their black rags of penitence can be handily mistaken for chic, in order to spread their downbeat gospel.

Like the similarly pretentious filmmaker and former Long Island neighbor Hal Hartley, My Favorite are self-appointed martyrs of suburbia. Theirs is a frozen-in-time '80s disaffection that recasts teen alienation as timeless heroism, and depending on your high school experience, maybe it was. There's a surface element to this in Michael Grace Jr.'s smarmy Simon LeBon-styled vocals and in the cold majesty the band borrows from Duran Duran's sweeping keyboard sound, which drives "Burning Hearts." But the song's about Hiroshima--not the simple punk trope about walking like a zombie thru the post-apocalyptic Valley of the Valley Girls, but one where the image of dead teenagers kissing is burned into the ruined walls, transcending the tragedies of both murder and high school. This incredibly pretentious image is a keystone one for My Favorite, who stage noir with silent dialogue that tells you high school is death and pop songs are the afterlife. And beyond this, that pop music is a kind of purgatory truth: There's no half-allegiances here--you were born to die a teenager. Be a ghost or be boring.

Nice work, but if My Favorite want to be canonized they must, by definition, weigh in against previous saints. America's patron saint of gasoline, James Dean, gets some air time in "James Dean (Awaiting Ambulance)." But the band's newest touchstone is Joan of Arc: proto-riot grrl, sexy saint, and namesake of their EP Joan of Arc Awaiting Trial , which is collected here. And Joan of Arc was really just a 15th century French suburbanite who confused regionality and piety. A typical teenager. But in My Favorite's universe, she loves the way James Dean's car smells when the leather seats begin to absorb the heat from the engine. As they drive together, the suburbs become scenic. The radio is still mangled from the car crash, but there's nothing playing anyway.

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