Step into HOLYCHILD's pop-fueled technicolor circus.
HOLYCHILD currently describes their music as sarcastic pop, but last summer when they put out their debut album The Shape of Brat Pop to Come they had a different preferred genre: brat pop. The band defined brat pop in SPIN last year as, "Sarcastic pop art. It aims to understand our culture’s obsession with perfection, money, fame, beauty, self, and how that shapes us." On their new EP America Oil Lamb, Liz Nistico and Louie Diller continue exploring these themes with all of the bubblegum bombast of their first LP. Lead single and opening salvo "Rotten Teeth" ties a joyful melody with Nistico admitting, "I know I will never be the girl I wanna be, no no I'm never free" on the song's chorus. The title track lampoons our traditional idea of feminine beauty as well as the impulsive nature of American greed. On "Power Play," she spends the first verse describing the terror she feels when contemplating aging, mirroring our youth obsessed culture. She reaches her peak dramatics as she sings, "I cry for all the babies / their beauty quickly fading." There's a slew of pop songs already covering this terrain such as "The Fear" by Lily Allen and "Oh No" by Marina and the Diamonds. Both songs play a large role in the HOLYCHILD's DNA, from the snarky/camp lyrics to the sugary pop production.
The weakness with this kind of music is it can be difficult to tell when HOLYCHILD is mocking societal standards or admitting that deep down those imposed ideas still hold sway. Instead of this murkiness being a flaw in their message, it allows for the real way that oppressive ideas can be something we fight against even as our entire perception of the world has been defined by their standards. When Nistico sings, "Do we eat or just starve our selves tonight" on the same song's bridge, she's talking about the conflict that all budding feminists and "woke" people encounter: if you don't want to support anything problematic, there's nothing left to consume. If only we could isolate ourselves we could "just stop the game, stop the fame, stop the pain." Is such a diet even possible? Nistico and guest vocalist Kate Nash go back to bemoaning their lack of freedom on the song's chorus, but the buoyancy in their voices alludes to the knowledge that this house of cards is about to fall. This is all very highbrow, but it's also important to remember that pop music is about the pleasure principle, and HOLYCHILD hits that sweet spot repeatedly.
The drums on "Rotten Teeth" have a pep rally feel, and Nistico's playful shouts are littered across the EP. Even when describing the ills of society, the duo sounds like they're the grand marshals of their own parade. Following behind them are a who's who of alt pop figures, from the previously mentioned songwriter-turned-punk rocker Kate Nash to nu wave band Kitten. All these collaborators (at least one on each track) could have made for a messy and unfocused EP. But this doesn't bend HOLYCHILD out of shape and instead they make each of their collaborators sound at home in the technicolor circus. Nash and Nistico are almost interchangeable, sounding like they've been trading come-ons for years. MS MR vocalist Lizzy Plapinger's growly verse on "American Oil Lamb" gives the song some soul, and RAC's glitchy production on "Power Play" takes the song up a notch. One of the best contributions is Rapper TKAY Maidza, whose stuttering flow and melodic hooks on "Lying Too" make the song. Ultimately, the EP is so catchy that you'll find yourself unknowingly singing along even hours after listening. That's the true measure of success in pop music.
Listen to HOLYCHILD on soundcloud.
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Mo Wilson is a writer who enjoys collecting posters and still has a CD player. You can find him on twitter @sadgayfriendx.