Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
It may be hard to recall in these dark times, but there really was a moment when that cross-stitched Kanye tweet you bought off Etsy was - dare we say it - cool. While that time has thankfully passed, twee is not gone and nor has its audience. Which brings us to Christchurch's Pickle Darling who, from top to toe, seems about as twee as it gets. Katie loves it; Hussein’s not so sure - time for a debate!
Katie: I think it's pretty safe to say that in 2017, twee is a dirty word: Seth Cohen grew up; Zooey Deschanel isn’t cool anymore; People still like Wes Anderson movies but they probably don’t post pretty little Grand Budapest Hotel stills on their Facebook walls anymore - and nor should they. Objectively, twee is almost always terrible; a hideous mix of cutesiness and cynicism and we all indulged it longer than we ought have.
OR SO I THOUGHT.
While I feel these things in theory, in practice it gets more complicated and this is particularly true of music which can get away with a smidgen more fluff than everything else.
Enter Pickle Darling, the bedroom pop project of Christchurch-based artist Lukas Mayo. His new video for the song ‘Chomsky’s Sweater’ caught my eye and my dopey little heart with a blend of melancholy lo-fi loveliness, the likes of which I had considered myself immune to.
Am I falling into a trap of cute boys and fluffy jumpers or is Pickle Darling the real deal?
You can catch me running in the other direction anytime someone mentions this stupid genre. Well, maybe that's not entirely true - I do have my fair share of Bright Eyes records - but these days I'm firmly on the 'burn all ukuleles' side of the conversation. Something about it just doesn't sit right, which maybe comes down to the fact that it's the easy listening soundtrack to what feels like every commercial on TV. It didn't take long for the genre to wear out its welcome once advertisers figured out they could use it to their advantage.
One other thing: did you know there is a sub-genre of twee called “cuddlecore”? I repeat, THERE IS A GENRE CALLED “CUDDLECORE”.
I'm going to need some more convincing.
Katie: Um, Bright Eyes isn’t twee. I can’t believe you would say that to me.
I think what can keep twee from being truly intolerable is nuance and to me Pickle Darling has it.
Sure he’s signed to a Slovakian label that only makes cassettes which he sells in pretty cases in some niche shop in Japan and on his website he sells handwritten lyric sheets complete with illustrations (my favourite being this one which is called Legend of the Gobbos, named after the incredible ‘90s video game Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and includes a small drawing of Croc himself).
But I also think that stuff here is very intentional and self-aware. The songs are cute, but not at all insubstantial, and when on a track called ‘Pink Hair’ he sings “darling, oh I've a voice not made for mass consumption, headphones can't quite conceal my Sufjan impersonation”, I feel like it’s wry rather than self-indulgent.
I would actually make the case that New Zealand has a good history of twee. Less saccharine and with more self-loathing than their counterparts in the US, Kiwi artists like Goodshirt, The Brunettes, The Ruby Suns, Kane Strang (who Pickle Darling is supporting for an upcoming Christchurch show) etc. have always had more to offer than just cuteness.
Hussein: Damn, I hadn't ever really considered Goodshirt to be twee, but now that I listen back to ‘Sophie’ I think you could make a pretty sound argument for it.
I like a lot of those old Lil' Chief acts, but it's not 2005 anymore and I can't understand why anyone would make time for music that still sounds like this. Give me something new. Besides, the genre already reached its logical conclusion in New Zealand when Avalanche City broke through with a one hit wonder that confirmed just how unremarkable the entire sound and aesthetic had become.
That same song would end up going to number one, winning the Silver Scroll (surprise, surprise) and getting a sweet ad placement on TV2. And it was just a boring rip-off of Owl City!
It's not just the sweaters; the whole twee genre sounds second-hand now.
Katie: You say that it's passé, but when I saw the video for ‘Chomsky’s Sweater’ it felt fresh. Things can feel so sterile in the digital age, and even though sad indie boys playing instruments in their bedrooms is nothing new, it feels increasingly cynical and corporate to the point that we have this dude running around Black Swanning Ed Sheeran.
At a time when everyone is supposed to be the next Lorde, there’s something really nice about a project that feels so simple and unambitious.
And as long as cute skinny boys wear glasses and funny jumpers and make nice plinky plonky music, twee isn’t going anywhere. I suggest you get on board.
Hussein: Ok, ok, I’m knitting as fast as I can.