July 5, 2012

Throwback: Mika Miko - C.Y.S.L.A.B.F.

Why are you making that face?

When I was in seventh grade, I decided to take up the electric bass. My friends and I were dead set on starting a band even though the total amount of instruments owned between us was an acoustic guitar. So I, the one with a penchant for picking up something new before dropping it a few months later, decided to ask for a bass for my Hanukkah present that year. My first round of lessons went great – I had a badass teacher who taught me how to play Louie Louie within my first couple of days. But then he disappeared (literally) and I attended a string of lessons taught me old men who unintentionally convinced me that playing the bass might not be the best idea. And eventually the aforementioned friend group with band aspirations disbanded by the time we go to high school. If we actually pursued a band, got insanely good at our instruments, and became interested in punk instead of whiny emo, we could have been maybe a quarter as good as Mika Miko.

Mika Miko was a mostly all-girl punk group that was based in Los Angeles not too long ago. The band was made up of sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin, who you might know now as Bleached, Jenna Thornhill, Michelle Suarez, and Kate Hall, who replaced Jon Erik as drummer, and then was replaced by Seth Durham. The band first came together in 2003 (around the time I had my ill-fated attempt at playing bass) and released a handful of demos and 7” before debuting their first full-length record, C.Y.S.L.A.B.F., on Kill Rock Stars records in 2006. Mika Miko’s affiliation with Kill Rock Stars is no surprise because the label also released material by almost every original Riot Grrrl band and more contemporary girl rockers such as Marnie Stern, Grass Widow, and Thao and Mirah. Mika Miko was also known for often playing and working at the infamous L.A. venue The Smell, which was and is home to bands like No Age and Abe Vigoda. Sometimes I really want to ditch the East Coast for California.

All of Mika Miko’s material deserves attention, but C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. is required listening for anyone who wants to delve further into the land of girl punk. It’s not because this is the “lite” version of girl punk or that it’s the more accessible version of other more hardcore bands. It’s the opposite of that – the members of Mika Miko are unbelievably talented musicians. They were in their early twenties when they made C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. which actually blows my mind and once you've heard it, you'll understand too. The overall sound is unabashed chaos but each member plays their instrument with extreme precision and skill. I included the anecdote earlier because the bass guitar on the album, played by Jessica Clavin, is one of the most noticable and strongest suits of C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. Over the instrumentals, Jennifer Clavin and Jenna Thornhill balance each other out perfectly with their yelps and howls that make for a perfect melodic mess. Their synchronized chanting on "The Dress" makes it one of my favorites on the album.  This is the kind of music that's best for pushing each other around in the basement of a D.I.Y. venue, which is debatably the best kind. It's frantic, fast, and short and I can only imagine how wild a Mika Miko performance was when they first started out.

The second biggest reason I suggest this album as necessary listening is because of the level of visibility the band reached. While they didn't become megastars, they were relatively well-known and even toured the world during their career. But that didn't change their sound - they're a bunch of girls (and a couple of guys) making some punk music and that was all. Girl punk isn't a genre that's unheard of, but it's a little more obscure than just the typical male-dominated punk. Mika Miko is one of the more prominent bands in the genre and after getting into them, you'll only want to find more. For awhile all I knew about was the classic riot grrrl bands before a friend showed me Mika Miko and I decided to do a little bit more research on what else is out there and it turns out there's a little bit of a resurgence of girl punk right now (but I'll talk about that another time). Even just researching the other bands the members of Mika Miko have been in and are currently in will expose you to a variety of other groups, both punk and not punk.

Mika Miko broke up in 2009 after releasing their second full-length album "We Be Xuxa". According to Jenna Thornhill in an interview with the L.A. Times, there were no bad feelings involved, just a desire to move on to other things (going back to school, new bands, etc). Although Mika Miko no longer exists, most of the members are still musically involved. The Clavin sisters formed Bleached last year, Jenna Thornhill plays with Strange Boys, Kate Hall plays in Dunes, and Michelle Suarez plays in C.R.A.S.H. But the legacy of the girls lives, and you can still try to imitate the moves of the girls in the "Business Cats" video.

Written by Emily Thompson