The core duo of Tiny Masters of Today, bro and sis Ivan and Ada (last names never given) are only 15 and 13-years-old, but are releasing their second album on friggin’ Mute Records. Lucky little bastards. They say stuff like "just joshin’" in interviews, which is just adorable, and Ada is a brace-face. They are kids that can rock, which is basically my constant career goal. I’m confused -- do I want to love them or hate them?
On paper I want to hate them. Who is their daddy (and what does he do?) to allow them to get this far up the totem pole so young? Turns out neither mom nor dad are famous; they just bought them some gear to ensure they stay out of trouble. After an unexplainable number of plays on their MySpace page, a dude from Newsweek interviewed them and it skyrocketed from there. Lucky little bastards. But one listen to Skeletons and my opinion does a 180. They recorded most of this album on their own with the Apple program GarageBand (with some additional recording at a real studio, blah blah blah), giving validation to lazy asses like me who throw down half-baked crap on the basic recording program. I can tell they use the ‘Crunchy Drums’ effect often. But unlike myself, these siblings (along with drummer Jackson Pollis) have their style nailed down and have put together a cohesive album of bare-bones punk with quasi-hip-hop tendencies. Sound awful? It really isn’t.
This is neo-lo-fi. This is not 8-track GBV lo-fi -- rather, a new breed -- and while it sounds kinda shitty in a cool way, it’s different than before. No tape hiss obviously, and the guitars are thin and trebly, the drum beats sometimes seem digitally pasted together or altered, and the vocals distorted with some preset from the program.
The trio excels at the old adage ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ “Pop Chart” has only three chords and a single guitar track in the verses, and though most of the words in the song are the title, it manages to convey a simple teen-punk message against sellouts and artists claiming street cred. But damn if that disco beat and ‘woo-hoo’s aren’t a blast. “Skeletons” has simple synths and glockenspiel supporting an even more addictive melody on this cheery head-bobber, and it’s got a video you absolutely must check out (“Pop Chart” has a hilarious vid as well). My absolute favorite, though, is “Real Good,” which swings on the floor tom “Longview” style, has a sugary sweet melody and pointy guitar tones and Clash-y guitar echoes in the breakdown. And despite the trio’s somewhat limited musical abilities, the song contains a key change at just the right moment. CSS remixed the song “Hey Mr. DJ” off their first album, and I can see why they would be fans. Ada is like Lovefoxxx Jr. with her lazy talk-sing style, and comparisons could also be drawn to Karen O, who is also a fan. It’s very cool and at 13 I would think that it is just her natural way of singing and not some hip posturing. “Two Dead Soldiers” sees Ivan taking the mic in the verses, but Ada steals the show back to the cheers of the fake crowd: "Can you hear me in Brooklyn? / Can you hear me in Brixton? / Can you hear me in Kingston?"
The songs grab hold better when Ada at least half-sings rather than talks. Though their songs sometimes feature record scratching and hip-hop-influenced beats, I would rarely consider anything Ada does ‘rapping’ as she usually falls back on repeating a phrase ad nauseam. “Big Stick” goes all-in with their hip-hop thing and is a bit silly. “Big Bass Drum” contains only “Banging out the rhythm on my big bass drum” over and over and that gets a tad boring. In typical teenage-band fashion, they rail on the ‘popular kids’ on “Abercrombie Zombie” (with a hilarious intro bit "Oh my god! We should totally go on Wikipedia!") and mix things up by going double-time punk. While it brings variety, I don’t think it works as well for the group; they revel in the groove.
How did these kids get so lucky? As a Midwesterner, should I romanticize New York City even more and think being from Brooklyn is all it takes to get fans like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and David Bowie? Nah, these kids got talent. Even ignoring their age, Tiny Masters of Today are a band that have quickly carved their own niche and have created a super cool aesthetic. Skeletons may be front-loaded and in need of some variety, but I have hope that these kids can fine-tune and improve their sound while keeping their raw and fun feel. It’ll be a trick.
I dig these lucky little bastards.