Review Summary: Death and rebirth of the shitpost
100 gecs is the collaboration of bubblegum bass musicians Laura Les and Dylan Brady. Their first album is called 1000 gecs
even though the project name is only 100 gecs. If you don’t appreciate quite how fucking funny
that is, it is unlikely that this album will bring you much joy.
Let’s start from the top: it must be tough to make a worthwhile freak-pop record of any kind in 2019. In the first half of the decade, the prolific chaos of and wildfire hype of acts like Death Grips and (to a lesser degree) Crystal Castles sparked off a legacy of making what on paper might have been seen as wilfully awful compositional choices and reaping tearaway rewards from them. Cut to the present and groups all over the world (...internet) are still in love with the same kind of novelty that these groups channelled but struggle to reach similar levels of craft, and as a result the field has become something of a crapshoot when it comes to entertaining obnoxiousness. Genres like bubblegum bass and happy hardcore sit at the bottom of the pile when it comes to prestige for the primary reason that they are often seen as mismanaging the balance between their tongue-in-cheek takes on pop immediacy and competent songwriting. A few months ago, Black Dresses give us a crash course in grotesque, insufferably earnest abrasion, landing one of one of 2019’s worst albums to date; years before, Bubblegum Octopus’s more tongue-in-cheek fare majorly hampered itself with a sense that the project wished it could be viewed as respectable as well as entertaining; the songwriting was a little too conventional for comfort and its parody didn’t cut deep enough to hold up at all beyond initial novelty. As such, it takes a lot to have it both ways and very few acts have the chops for it. It’s not enough to take half-baked ironic potshots at the same pop norms everyone else on the planet is tired of - you have either to be writing on the same level as pop producers to trash every aspect of the genre without mercy, misgivings or self-respect.
Fortunately, as the latest arrivals to the School of Bad Decisions, 100 gecs save us the tedium of having to make a considered judgement on their ‘respectability’ by throwing their chips entirely on the shitpost end of the table and holding their chins firmly up. It’s not so much that they forfeit the right to be taken seriously (as though that was ever going to be a helpful attitude here) as much as they embrace their near total uninterest in the category with inspiring zeal. 1000 gecs
is 23 minutes of unapologetic butchery and, for those prepared to come off their high horse for a short while, it presents a hysterical and uncomfortably infectious thrill.
While the opening pairing throws down an approachable catastrophe of autotuned hip-hop and obnoxious bass eruptions, it isn’t until 800db cloud
that 1000 gecs
shows off its full irreverent glory. The track is part-meat and potatoes synth banger and part-cookie monster breakdown, already a recipe for (boring) disaster in the hands of other acts, but 100 gecs turn it into something hysterically entertaining. Two things stand out here: the synthbass earthquake that runs through much of the song is very catchy in its brazenness and benefits from some simple but highly effective dynamic counterpoint, while the breakdown at the end is so ham-fisted and crudely shoehorned in a way that smacks of just the right kind of gratuitous self-sabotage. The harsh vocals sound as though they were performed with specific emphasis on mid-growl cracks (which in turn are emphasised by the distortion mix), but the section is just short enough to avoid outliving its novelty. In a manner that even at this point feels entirely unsurprising, this is then followed up it with a I Need Help Immediately
, a short mismatch of cartoonish electro-skits and mangled vocal recordings that makes no secret of its irreverence to its title. Remember when Modest Mouse yelled “This plane is definitely crashing!” and people thought it was funny because they were shooting for sarcastically overstated desperation rather than Isaac Brock’s usual cynical arseholery？ Cool! This is funnier.
As goes without saying, these tracks are stupid as hell, but the gecs bring just enough goofiness and production flourishes to the table for them to carry themselves. Inevitably, there are some points at which things get too asinine for their own good. stupid horse
is the clearest example of this, with an upbeat ska rhythm and a headache of a chorus (“Stupid horse, I just fell outta the Porsche/Lost the money in my bank account, oh no.”) that winds up the wrong shade of fiercely repetitive. Ringtone
is slightly less aggressive but also less idiotic, opting for vapid rather than grating lyrics and falling short of both novelty and catchiness. It ends up as the album’s tamest and most forgettable track.
However, 100 gecs generally keep up a well-gauged balanced of registers and ideas throughout the album, and it rarely hurts when they push things to their limits. The first half of gecgecgec
, for instance, plays out like a seizure-inducing joke at the expense of the listener’s attention, yet was somehow the part that made me grin the hardest. As usual with flippant acts, there is a slight onus for the duo to indicate they the chops to play the styles they butcher straight up, were they so inclined; it’s all very well for them to throw the concept of radio-friendly synthpop a la Basshunter under the wheels of the clunkiest bus in town on xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx
(that’s I Would Never Stop You, kids), or to close the album with a nausea-inducing staccato rush at the end of the relatively well-behaved gec 2 Ü
, but can they write a decent pop song ？ hand crushed by a mallet
would indicate a strong yes and is perhaps the only song here that can be heard without the group’s prescribed pinch of irony, but the gecs generally keep their moments of pop slickness short and sweet. xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx
, for instance, unexpectedly bursts into a doozy of a coda that cannibalises its own purposefully recycled vocal hooks and burns up in a glorious blaze of autotuned melodic richness, while even the otherwise drab Ringtone
builds into an absolutely delicious bridge. These moments are scattered throughout the album and ground it in an unobtrusive but absolutely necessary manner. If Laura Les and Dylan Brady made a fat-free pop or rap album I’d be eager to hear it, and by virtue of this fact they have a free pass in my book for any further misadventures in the vein of this album.
It’s tough to think of a concluding statement for 1000 gecs
that isn’t some variant of “so do you get it, ha ha？”, but then again the amount of explication I have given the album already is something of an injustice to its meme value. The inevitable Big Questions, then: Will anyone remember 100 gecs within a day/week/month of hearing them ？ Is this an augur of the future of the shitpost？ Does this mean there is a new imperative to take bubblegum bass as a concept seriously？ Just how far can the human spirit tap into irony before it becomes a self-consuming husk？
I have no answers to any of these, but it is to the album’s credit that all of these theoretically important considerations seem oddly tangential during its playtime. It’s that entertaining.