Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Masked Intruder - s/t

Masked Intruder are four dudes in masks who sing pop-punk songs about doing crimes wearing masks. They go right for the super-poppy end of that style of punk too, that same infectious doo-wop energy that The Unlovables trade (traded? are they still together) in, tracking the genre back past the Ramones to 50s boy bands and 60s girl-group pop that the Ramones loved so much that they unwisely employed noted Pacino-in-a-Robert-Smith-biopic-lookin' crackpot Phil fucking Spector to produce End of the Century.

 I love gimmick bands done well, and punk rock lends itself incredibly well to them, given how easy it is to master the basics of the genre and then plaster on a silly constructed image and latch onto a dumb fun thing to sing about, but Masked Intruder aren't just like any gimmick band sticking religiously to an apparently arbitrary topic. Yeah, they just sing songs about crimes, sometimes about robbery and B&E but the dominant felony these rainbow balaclava boys sing about is stalking women, which means that at their best Masked Intruder are basically doing exactly the same thing with pop-punk/ramonescore that Hard Skin are doing with Oi! They're exaggerating the implied values of the genre in order to satirise the genre and doing it with great verve and making a terrific example of that genre stylistically.

There are gonna be people who do not get the joke or the point either way, be it to get offended by what they perceive as a defence of stalking or to believe that the song is serious and try and genuinely defend it. That's what happens with satire. Poe's Law applies to everything, especially everything online. That line about exaggerating implied values I cribbed from a Stewart Lee routine about Top Gear where he constantly repeats the tired old "It's just a joke" line that Top Gear presenters use to excuse all their blokish racism, sexism and homophobia while wishing death on all the presenters of Top Gear. The reason he has to make what he's doing explicit at the end of the bit is that when he first did it someone from a newspaper ran a headline like FOUL COMIC MAKES DEATH THREATS TO NATIONAL TREASURES or some stupid bullshit.

I am definitely not saying that it's unacceptable to write songs about getting dumped or unrequited love, because if I said that then that would destroy like 75% of all pop music ever and often when you start to unpick it it's bitter and hateful and shitty because emotions are, they're angry and uncertain and don't make a whole lot of sense so you can often relate (or just fucking dance) to some raw shit when it's packed into a couple minutes of perfectly put together pop, but if the only thing you know how to write songs about is how some girl broke your heart or how you just wish this girl would notice without a hint of self-deprecation, never ever moving past or just simply acknowledging the folly of the crappy recriminatory hate-spiral that people sometimes get trapped in in these moments then obviously it's gonna read at least a little damn creepy and sometimes it does seem that some pop-punk bands get like that.

Obviously heartbreak is a fantastic eternal thing to write a song about, to make fucking any art about. It's such a great everlasting topic because what the fuck else is there really? It's something that everyone can relate to because everyone's had their fair share of knocks regarding it, everyone done their own silly self-defeating unrequited dance at some point and it fucking huuurts, yeah, and when shit stings like that you wanna make art about it and feel a little less alone in it, but if you're so obsessively single-minded in your topic it starts to get just a little pathetic and a little shitty, especially in the context of a world where the sovereignty of women's bodies is still ridiculously a fucking object of discussion to way way way too many stupid fucking dickheads, and especially if all the songs are about the object of your affections and her actions rather than you and your feelings.* It can exist on an emotional plateau which you can wise-up to, get a little context and back away from, and that's cool, in the mess of yearning and desire that is a failed connection with another human being you're probably gonna be pissed off with someone else at some point, but if you persevere with the broken logic beneath those feelings, if you stay on that path a little further of then it's really just a hop, skip and a jump to outright misogyny that a shit-ton of easycore bands seem to have gleefully made.** That is the point Masked Intruder are making by pushing that sort of "Hey I love this girl she don't love me back" narrative to the conclusion it all too often reaches in real life, with a supremely fucked-up creepy dude stalking someone who just had the misfortune to have an inkling that he was the sort of supremely fucked-up creepy dude who would stalk someone and shut him the fuck down. That's the main point here, if you're the sort of person who writes endless uncontemplative songs about a girl who told you to get gone then she was almost certainly in the right telling you to get gone.

So there's a bunch of songs on this album which start as seemingly innocent paeans to a beautiful girl and then ramp up the weirdness and intensity of the affection until people who would start off by proclaiming the depiction of unanswered love (which often isn't love but just lust in a thin jacket of neutering shit poetry) to be a most fine GPOY have to start going "Hey, dude that's kinda fucked-up." when the lyrics turn to the subject of brandishing a knife in the girl's bedroom and peeling away in the manner of the Mountie choir abandoning Michael Palin's lumberjack as his penchant for cross-dressing begins to first peep-through and then overwhelm the macho façade that they were invested in. Songs where lines like "I'm crazy for you" are dragged out of the swirling void of empty cliché that is the notion of love-as-insanity and imbued with new starker meaning in a place where the lead singer's character is a genuine danger to the one who justifiably jilted him.

(There's also a bunch of songs which just play the hoods-in-hoods gimmick line straight chronicling a power-pop crime-spree in the manner of the Hanson Brothers' hockey songs and they're just as catchy and well-constructed in their sweet-voiced hooky ramonomaniacal Shonen Knife/Manges/whoever spirit as the rest of the album but less interesting in the way their jokes and knives are aimed.)

Nowhere on the record is the pop-punk creep-factor put more firmly or clearly on blast than in the terrific Heart-Shaped Guitar, a duet with Maura Weaver from Mixtapes, which stands as the key song here in regards to Masked Intruder's satirical intentions, ripping that pathetic unselfaware romantic bullshit to shreds by counterpointing the desperate lovelorn poetry of a guy standing outside a girl's house at 3am and his total conviction in his prick-poet starry-eyed righteousness with the utterly fucking freaked-out weirded-out creeped-out and probably many other sorts of outs feeling of the girl standing inside the house looking at this potential psychopath strumming songs on her lawn. It gives agency to the usually anonymously perfect blank objects-of-affection in these sorts of odes and she is not fucking impressed. The call-and-response takedown/reversal of a song of matters-of-the-heart has been done a lot over the years and been packed with a lot of human fire from June and John's braggadocio and scoffing on Jackson to Margie Hendricks playing automatic rejector to Ray Charles on Hit the Road, Jack and here it sometimes reminds me of those Frankee/Eamon back-and-forth response songs from a few years back trapped into one fucking fantastic sharp-as-shit buzz-pop jam in how it sets up the standard perspective of the tragic melancholy male whine and then comes at it biting from the other side. So in addition to being a great bubblegum punk song it might work as a kick up the arse to people who don't get that yet they're not the shining romeo of the world's greatest love story, of course I'm sure some people will not get it at all and just be like "OH MY GOD THIS SONG IS TOTALLY ABOUT ME I TOTALLY RELATE TO THAT GUY!" without realising it's a bad thing and those people are probably like 2 years tops from posting on Reddit about 'friendzones' like they're some serious social phenomenon not the feverish invention of sad hack comedians and calling themselves a Men's Rights Activist. Cunts.

In the meantime, the rest of us can dance along to some of the most irresistible sweet-sounding goofy pop-punk. Damn those melodies get right down in your criminal bones.

*my favourite break-up songs are ones that are more conflicted deal more ambiguously with the fucked-up emotional tangle of a parting, like Oblivians' Bad Man, AM!'s Cavalier Eternal (which I've written about on this blog before) or any number of supremely witty self-deprecating MTX songs (which I was gonna write about but then I followed Dr Frank on Twitter which ended with him complimenting me on my blog and I got weirded-out freaked-out and all sorts of other outs and didn't do it)

**I seriously heard a terrible easycore song the other day which included the line SO WHEN YOU'RE BLOWING ALL TIME LOW I HOPE YOU THINK OF ME! and there is at least one totally vile A Story So Far song like this as well. Something about the genre just melds the worst tendencies of pop-punk with the worst tendencies of hardcore too. Those people need this record though I'm sure it'll go way over their head because it sounds more like Dion and the Belmonts*** than Title Fight

***Runaround Sue is a tremendous pop-song and has some really fucked-up sexual politics, which kinda goes back to what I was saying about pop-music always being knee-deep in this heartbreak miasma and how not everyone can unpick the catchiness of the melodies from the twattishness of the feelings.