Hey, remember cocaine? For a long stretch of the early ’00s, a decent chunk of the American rock underground was given over to music that would sound good if you were jittery and overconfident at three in the morning. Garage rock, dance-punk, electroclash: all cocaine music. The Strokes were cocaine music. Novelty acts like the Darkness and Electric Six were getting critical acclaim and were getting played at parties. People wore feather boas to clubs. Everyone had floppy Britpop hair long after Britpop had ceased to be a thing. I once watched guys in leather pants light each other’s hair on fire at an after-hours party.
For a while there, it was almost like we, the denizens of America’s smoke-choked indie rock dive bars, were getting our own mini-’80s Sunset Strip thing going. On balance, this was a bad thing. It hurt a lot of people. It pushed a lot of people to do stupid things. It also made for some fun nights out, whether or not you were one of the people snorting coke or getting falling-down drunk or whatever. People still snort coke in indie rock clubs, but they don’t do it quite as openly — or, at least, not that I’ve seen. And in the time since that little blip of an era, the music has gotten more sincere and thoughtful and textured. Maybe, during that weird little blip, the hormonal danger in the music was all a put-on, a Halloween-costume version of older rock ‘n’ roll excesses. But it’s still easy to feel nostalgia for that charge.
“I’m just a lonely girl from the north who loves the danger / It’s all quite clear I don’t deserve being treated like an angel.” That’s Sarah Persephona, leader of the St. Petersburg band angelic milk, essentially laying out her thesis statement on her band’s debut album DIVINE BIKER LOVE. Maybe people at indie rock clubs in Russia still openly snort coke. Maybe their trend-cycles are all out of sync with ours. Or maybe Persephona just grew up romanticizing the same bygone generations that we were romanticizing back during that blip.
Whatever the case, DIVINE BIKER LOVE is an album that would’ve gone over huge in the early ’00s. It’s a fast, cheap, hooky rock album that draws on glam guitar-crunch and shoegaze swirl and dream-pop sighs. It’s not lo-fi, exactly, but it’s not slick, either. Persephona sings in an echo-slathered coo, sometimes sounding a bit like Grimes if she had the early Dum Dum Girls as a backing band. It’s a sharp, competent record, a full-length that makes good on the musical promise of the early angelic milk EPs.
Persephona started angelic milk as a solo bedroom-pop project when she was a teenager. Eventually, she fell in with a St. Petersburg collective called Saint-Brooklynsburg — a name that I find both ridiculous and charming — and turned angelic milk into a full band. The Stockholm/London indie PNKSLM signed her because of her early Bandcamp records. With DIVINE BIKER LOVE, she’s filled out her sound, keeping its gooey and muffled textures while still making sure the sugar-rush hooks come through loud and clear.
But the thing that really sets DIVINE BIKER LOVE apart is the way Persephona sings about rock ‘n’ roll debauchery in ESL syntax. The things she’s singing about aren’t new, but she finds such weirdly off-kilter ways to get those thoughts across that they become new. Like this: “Ball gag kiss promise endless bliss / Black leather skirt for your little miss / Hello Kitty knife on a midnight drive / Cocaine and Velvets and Satan’s high five.” Or this: “Let me be your angel / One helluva drive / I’m in love with danger / They never get us alive.”
Persephona likes to namecheck glamorous Hollywood icons like Humphrey Bogart and Martha Vickers. On one song, she tells a new friend, “You look so damn handsome / You look just like Ian Brady,” the Englishman who murdered five children in the early ’60s. And then she asks him, “Do you think I’m a girl to kill for?” Another song, “Winona,” is all about the joys of shoplifting: “I’m just a little girl, isn’t it funny / When I started to cry, they just let me go.” The whole thing has a funny Shonen Knife appeal — all our own conventions, reflected back at us with funhouse-mirror distortions.
DIVINE BIKER LOVE isn’t going to change your life. But during a slow week, when the music business is still waking up from its holiday languor, it shines bright. Mostly, I’m just happy that 2019 has already given us a lyric as proudly silly as this one: “When I die, don’t get sad / Make a party by my bed / With balloons and a cake / Play music loud, I won’t awake.” Julian Casablancas could never.
DIVINE BIKER LOVE is out 1/11 on PNKSLM Recordings.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Field Music side project You Tell Me’s self-titled debut.
• Tørsö’s Build And Break EP.