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The Post-Luminous Pop of Factory Kids

Factory Kids
Cried Off
Powertool Records

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I’m a big fan of Fischer-Z, especially their first two albums, and on 1979 debut Word Salad‘s opening track “Pretty Paracetamol,’ head Zed John Watts sings ‘First impressions often lie/they often fool the naked eye.’ Substitute ‘ear’ for ‘eye’ and the pitfall of drawing too hasty a conclusion regarding by whom a band has been influenced or what a particular album ‘sounds like’ has found a most concise and accurate couplet. With that in mind, let’s talk about Cried Off, a tidy career retrospective of Tim Chaplin and Christina Marie’s intimate and idiosyncratic fuzz-garage-pop outfit Factory Kids.

The first five tracks on Cried Off originate from the Scottish duo’s self-titled debut from 2009 (a year after forming) and as “She Said” kicks off the album, you’d be pardoned for thinking ‘Someone was listening to their Jesus & Mary Chain.’ True, it’s a bit poppier than that (and keep hold of that point for a moment), but the JAMC boxes – reverbed vocals, half-buried guitar tracks, imperishable hooks – are all ticked with a rather shameless audacity. If the Mary Chain had never existed (perish that thought) the descriptor ‘Phil Spector goes garage rock’ would be applied to Factory Kids without the obvious, ahem, specter of the Reid brothers hanging over both the phrase and the Kids themselves. The next two tracks, “Sugar Landslide” and “Electric Light Bulb Lies,” do little to dispel the impression, luring the listener into the smug conclusion they’ve got this lot sussed. But then, but then…that nagging word ‘except’ begins creeping in. Except the Mary Chain never quite explored the edges of a raga drone the way the Kids do on “Don’t Meet No One.” Except you can’t recall the Mary Chain having much use for the Faheyesque overtones such as garland the walls of “Father Christmas Still,” and they certainly never lapsed into the stroppy side of pop experimentalism as comes blatting joyously out at you on “Love Destroys Everything,” a Jad Fair-goes-Beefheart jam that pretty much, um, destroys everything you thought you’d figured out about this band.

And the litany of exceptions only continues. “Scrapey Boots” posits a cracked Sufjan Stevens on top a Metal Box, “Miss Monkey Moo” would have us believe that when Mark Linkous checked out he reincarnated as Chris Knox doing his dirtiest Jon Spencer impression, while “New York Midnight, Pt.1” just goes ahead and conjures its own genre called ‘drone and bass’ and the lovely snyth tones do swarm, with Chaplin’s treated voice suggesting something akin to an alien harmonium while also sounding as human as anyone could  when trying to describe the ephemeral. On “Not Enough,” we find out what happens when you pour purple cough syrup and brown acid down Eno’s throat, all mystery and muddle and brilliantly bent.

For all the referential influence grabs, the taking of cues from the Elephant 6 Collective’s pop intensity, from Animal Collective’s fearless density, from The Flaming Lips’ eccentricity, hell, from outer space for all I know, two constants ensure that Factory Kids are a beast all its own. Firstly, for an album consisting of recordings gleaned from some seven different LPs, EPs, downloads and comps, the textural profile of being in a distorted pop museum echo chamber is remarkably consistent.  Second, considering the sometimes woofer-shredding sound plus the multitude of styles threading through Cried Off, the melodies rising to the surface, almost unfailingly,  are as achingly beautiful as anything dreamed up by Christopher Owens. Amid the plentiful noise and fuzz and wrecked electronica, an unquenchable thirst for the hook persists, an effervescent gleam in the heart of the murk.

– Dave Cantrell