Black Kids, 'Partie Traumatic' (Almost Gold/Columbia)

8
Partie Traumatic
Critical Mass
Label: Almost Gold/Columbia

by Barry Walters

Flanked by his sister and friends, Reggie Youngblood sings catchy tunes about dancing and desire with a yelp that suggests, as countless enraptured bloggers have pointed out, the Cure's goth godfather Robert Smith. Often referring to himself in song as a girl, he writes terse, bittersweet lyrics that recall Morrissey and the Magnetic Fields'Stephin Merritt, ambi/homosexual songwriters whose mischievous affection for taboo signifiers of whiteness has unfairly gotten them tagged as racist. Reggie and sister Ali, however, are African American; their mixed-gender bandmates are white; and together they're known as Black Kids.

Delivering bright, flat Pop Art surfaces to complement the dark, bumpy depths of their debut album, Partie Traumatic, Black Kids look and sound like a biracialArchies -- the cartoon act that scored 1969's bubblegum milestone "Sugar, Sugar" -- right down to keyboardists Ali's and Dawn Watley's brunette and blonde hairdos. Set in the disco, the rare forum that privileges blacks, women, and gays over straight white guys, their first single, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You," depicts the dance floor as a lovers' battleground. "He's got two left feet and he bites my moves," Youngblood cries of his opponent. Our hero doesn't get the girl. His consolation is style -- that triumph of envied minorities -- and he refuses to share its secrets.

Youngblood applies that underdog aesthetic to deceptively simple pop anthems packing complicated aches. Partie Traumatic toughens up the twee-ness of last year's four-song Internet demo Wizard of Ahhhs with production from ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler that maximizes both the band's playfulness and the heartbreak it conceals. Punctuated by intersecting guitar, bass, and keyboards, the light staccato verses of "Hurricane Jane" set the stage for the chorus: "It's Friday night and I ain't got nobody," Youngblood wails, paraphrasing soul pioneer Sam Cooke's yearning "Another Saturday Night" while suggesting the Smiths' lonely "How Soon Is Now?" The re-recorded album version of the song is so well honed that his whimper of sexual frustration feels like a howl of existential defeat, even as the beat's steadiness suggests survival.

While Democrats debated whether an African American or a woman should be our next president, Black Kids became the most buzzed-about new band since Vampire Weekend. They resembled the future but sounded like a past only plugged-in Anglophiles could've fully inhabited. But now, with confident new songs like "Listen to Your Body Tonight," they seize the moment by blasting past underground insularity: Their self- assured hooks position the group as winners no matter how hard their leader loses in love. Kissing goodbye to the obsolete racial and gender roles that pop, hip-hop, or indie rock still demand, Youngblood and pals throw a thrillingly subversive victory party to lift the country out of eight years of anguish.

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