Friends of Twee: Brooklyn’s Music Scene Embraces Its Not-So-Dark Side

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Photo by Kenneth Bachor

Photo by Kenneth Bachor

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth, huh? Well, then Brooklyn should be in fine shape. As ground zero for an aesthetic sensibility that can only be described as twee—think cutesy tote bags, decorative birdcages, and small-batch strawberry jams—it’s surprising that, going all the way back to its early-aughts heyday, Brooklyn’s music community hasn’t embraced the kind of indie-pop traditionalism that would seem to pair so perfectly with the rest of it. Fractured synths, rewired R&B, and smeary punk have become more prominent Brooklyn sounds than jangly guitars and singsongy melodies. But there’s a small pack of local artists who are doing their part to tweak the principles of classic twee-pop for the Age of Whatevs.

Upstarts like Small Wonder and eskimeaux resist the childhood regression that characterize their early counterparts. They’re dealing head-on with the dark stuff—there’s talk of death, broken necks, and “rotting, peeling skin” —but they deliver it concealed within dainty melodies. Even Frankie Cosmos, self-described kind of “girl buses splash with rain,” only goes as far back as high school on gold-star album Zentropy, which, for a 20-year-old, isn’t exactly a stretch. Brit-obsessed Ski Lodge and Literature (the latter based in Philly, but they’re regulars on the Brooklyn scene) go in another direction, using self-deprecation to ward off the pain caused by alcoholic father figures and the simple, tragic passing of time.

Others roughen up the core elements of the sound. Gingerlys pair sweetened melodies with blaring, fuzzed-out guitars, while Told Slant interjects hyper-earnest, quivering vocals with frenzied, unpredictable drumming. Mitski, whose Bury Me at Makeout Creek is among the best albums to come out of New York in years, is brimming with emotion: anger, vulnerability, longing—for mind-bending romance, per twee tradition, but also for hard-won self-discovery. The bands that came before saw darkness and hid from it; the new class sees it too, but they’ve got the chops to put up a fight.


Key Players At Their Twee-est

 

Mitski
“First Love/Late Spring”
“And I was so young when I behaved 25/Yet now I find I’ve grown into a tall child.”

Told Slant
“Sleep In”
“Why would I want to get up/
I’d probably fuck up some more.”

Ski Lodge
“Chandeliers”
“I walked into a party/It looked like 1996 to me/And everyone around me was dressed like David Bowie/And I was so afraid of what they’d think of me.”

Frankie Cosmos
“School”
“High school makes you crazy/High school made me cry.”

eskimeaux
“Pocket Full of Posies”
“Our secret has become a child on Halloween/Costume and a basket full of candy/It knows what being scared is/But not how to be scary.”

Small Wonder
“Patron Saint of Pretty Faces”
“You are a whirlwind/You are the light that fills my spaces/And I’m a disciple to the patron saint of pretty faces.”

 

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