100 gecs are sillier than your favorite silly band. If you’ve been paying attention to various trends in alternative pop over the past decade or so, the group’s debut, 1000 gecs, out since May, should leave you feeling vaguely targeted and mocked, your taste dissected and farted upon by experimental avant-pranksters. This music is no parody — to perform absurdity with such enthusiasm, you gotta believe.
100 gecs aren’t irritating the way irritating bands are; they’re irritating the way kids are, pursuing an ideal of irritation with glee and meticulous cunning. The experimental pop duo, Dylan Brady and Laura Les, craft surreal electronic miniatures that cram way too many sonic ingredients into tight spaces.
Mechanically percussive hooks; dubstep-style drops distorted to sound like beatboxing, or a car’s bass speaker turned up too loud; voices that would sound gawky even if they weren’t gargling pixelated buckets of Auto-Tune; lyrics that combine rap and middle-school disses, as if trying to capture how social media-damaged adolescents talk; weird drums and sampled noises thrown in for the sake of clutter — on 1000 gecs, these elements are strewn all over the place, and swerve between comic juxtapositions. The album is sequenced as if by a child who would otherwise follow a rigorous daily regime of sticking fingers in sockets, throwing food at walls, jumping up and down until passing out.
Brady and Les, who lives in Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively, don’t record together; they email song files back and forth, warping the music more each time. A few precursors, mostly from the past decade, are evident, in particular the abrasive maximalism of Sleigh Bells and the dinky concept-pop of PC Music. But those acts were calculated; they played sneaky tricks and made grand statements about meaning and image. 100 gecs are purely playful, committed only to the spirit of positive chaos.
Sometimes their sonic contraptions resemble fully developed songs, or at least coherent thoughts. “Stupid Horse” tells a story in which Les and Brady lose all their money on horse racing, head to the derby, attack the losing jockey, steal his phone, rescue the horse, and drive off in a Porsche. Ecoterrorism! The only way to dramatize such a narrative is with breakneck enthusiasm, with nonstop galloping beats and distorted electronic blats. While Les’s vocal shivers convey cutesy disappointment (“Lost the money in my bank account, oh no”), the song peaks during the break immediately after the first chorus, with a raw, spontaneous “Whooo!”
On “Money Machine” a dusty acoustic guitar loop and blunt synth whomps underscore some of the strangest boasting on record, combining battle rapping with the language of memes and/or cyberbullying: “Hey you little piss baby, you think you’re so fucking cool?” Garbled into grating falsetto, the chorus (“I feel so clean like a money machine”) could also be something a rapper might say, except it (gloriously) makes no sense.
Elsewhere their fragments remain fragments, with no loss of humor: “I Need Help Immediately” is a disjointed compilation of studio comedy sound effects, pasting together snippets of canned applause, slapstick boings, junk saxophone, snare drums, flute, and triangle clicks. Always, though, their rapidly shifting song structures and seemingly random barrage of noise creates the impression of fragmented recursion, as each new tiny musical module splinters into a dozen more. The album feels like a hundred-sided die rolling down a flight of stairs and revealing a new face on each step. Music so multifaceted could be simulating information overload, or the queasy experience of reading a news feed, or the way social media chips away at the attention span and requires switching between personae, or maybe just what it feels like to process sensory information. Ultimately, the plasticity is the point — along with the thrill of anticipating the next weird sound.
Yet the album’s thrill isn’t only cerebral; it’s heartwarming, and even romantic. As singers and manipulators of their own voices, Les and Brady belong to the freaky emo-electronic tradition of Brokencyde, Ke$ha, and iLoveFriday: vulnerable dorks who stretch their voices into a piercing tweedle, an obnoxious and beautiful noise, thus amplifying their dorkiness. The touching sentiments sung by grating, artificially contorted voices begs the questions: who are these robot squealers, who are they talking to, and why? Such cognitive dissonance lends 1000 Gecs emotional resonance, as they croon, wail, and make adoring noises throughout the digital din.
“xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜxXx” could be an EDM radio ballad heard through a malfunctioning speaker. Its bland, shimmery intro verse, perverted by too many Auto-Tune wobbles, builds to an explosion of jittery electronic burps and snorts — perhaps its a parody of all the abrasive drops DJs have inserted inappropriately into sweet love songs over the past decade, but its also loud and crunchy and awesome. When, on the second verse, Brady wails “Giving my heart for you to take/we could go and drive and leave this place/getting my strength from your embrace/baby let’s go all the way,” the moment — lyrics, melody and all — exactly fits EDM. The song mocks commercial convention, but not love songs per se, and despite the distortion, the essential yearning is retained.
That’s their trick: their absurdity is a goofy means to make emotions huge. Concept-pop doesn’t usually work like that; when PC Music’s Hannah Diamond, say, sings “Now I’ve saved you as a picture on my phone” to an audience of melancholy sprites, she suggests a comment on modern technology and the paradoxes of digitally mediated connection. But when, on “Ringtone,” 100 gecs announce “My boy’s got his own ringtone,” sounding gushy and lovelorn over a beat that skips and bounces, it’s just happy adolescent flirtation. And when Les veers off in a harsher, more demented voice to babble “I’ve got a little thing for you/I’ve got a little crush or something,” behold a dork’s declaration of love.
1000 gecs is a dense album. In just 23 minutes, it includes inane sounds, alarming jokes, and countless competing ideas, molded into forms that are chaotic but not unstructured. It’s an argument for music choked with noise and stimulus, a portrayal of manic energy and awkward heartache. It’s a tribute to irritation and invention.