This Postmodern World

Men or Astro-Men? The Melismatics
Jayson Wold

Those of us who grew up listening to Nirvana's Nevermind didn't need to have discerning schnozzes to know what teen spirit smelled like. It was adolescent rage. It was sexual frustration. It was the brand of deodorant preferred by your friend who also reeked of Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth perfume. A decade later, the malaise that simultaneously torments and unifies us is more difficult to define. Which leads me to wonder: What kind of feelings could a band symbolize now that would exemplify twentysomething spirit? Aggravation? (Favorite sushi bar closed?) Shame? (Too damn old to see the new Harry Potter movie?) More sexual frustration? (To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused: You keep getting older while teen dreamboats stay the same age?)

Nah. If you want angst, it's easier just to go back to high school. Perhaps that's why in the video for their single "Can't Relate," local pop band the Melismatics revisit that old familiar institution where everyone is so misunderstood. Frontman Ryan Smith wriggles through a classroom of bouncing students, shaking his Kurt Cobain-like mane of hair, and singing, "At school I see the people walking by/I can't bring myself to look them in the eye...I can't relate, can't relate to the way things are." (With all of those blond locks draped over his field of vision, it's no wonder that Smith has trouble establishing eye contact.) Through the buoyant bassline and angular guitar riffs, the song is just catchy enough that you can imagine a crowd of teenage fans pumping their fists in the air in unison with the music, thinking Yeah! We can relate to not relating!

Too bad, kiddies. You can groove to the pop tunes--a CD-release party Wednesday, November 21 will give fans the opportunity--but if you really want to understand the music on the Melismatics' debut release Postmodern Rock (Hygh Tension), you'll have to wait until you're old enough to get a university degree in critical theory. Sitting with the other band members at Moose and Sadie's coffee shop in Minneapolis's Warehouse District, guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Ylvisåker says the album title hints that those who enjoy the music "really need to have read Hugo Ball." No matter that the German-born Dadaist died before postmodernism started. The Melismatics thrive upon this kind of anachronistic joke. "Moving Forward (Going Nowhere)" begins with the spoken lines "We're on the moon, and it's not what we expected," as 1950s lounge music plays in the background. Songs like "Mir or Mirror" and "La¯za Beam" begin with bleeps and glitches that sound as if they were sung by an old Altair computer. And songs like "Pha¯se Shifta" dusts Top 40 singles with retro-futurism.

Smith remarks, "The title of the album is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Punk rock happened, everything was built up and torn down, and now we're rebuilding from there. No one really knows what "modern rock" means, so we definitely don't know what "postmodern rock" means."

As an album, Postmodern Rock seems to signify what it's like to be preoccupied with the past as well as the future. It reflects the kind of science-fiction themes that attracted your interest when you were young ("Pha¯se Shifta"), but its lyrics also echo more mature worries about failing to adapt to your own personal future. Like what happens when you're not motivated enough to leave your apartment ("Like People") or to adapt to change ("Sunny Day [Please Go Away]")--all of which makes the album feel like the "Flavor of the Week" for people who can still remember getting excited by Tron. Who needs American Hi-Fi when you've got American sci-fi?

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