Music Reviews
Stop Pretending EP

Default Genders Stop Pretending EP

(Self Released) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Originally operating under the moniker of Elite Gymnastics with talented illustrator and fellow Minneapolisian Josh Clancy (designer of the vibrant RUIN cover), this EP under the banner of Default Genders represents the first real fruits of James Brooks going solo. Name wise its perhaps a less controversial choice than Elite Gymnastics (Brooks professed one of the main reasons the name was chosen was to frustrate and confuse paedophiles on the hunt for child porn, of which this is an apparently popular search term) and also Dead Girlfriends, something David Cameron would definitely be unhappy with finding in your search history (although it was in fact a reference to the writings of American feminist Andrea Dworkin).

At face value, opener Words With Friends has the sort of bouncy and energetic production that could thrive in our modern day top 40, but the subject matter that perches on top is the exact antithesis. The viewpoint is switched to that of a feminine perspective, evident from the very first line, “you ripped this dress the last   time you pulled it off me”, both simultaneously threatening but perhaps also sexual. The David Guetta school of repetitive and unchallenging floor fillers may be massive but you’d never expect them to touch on the lyricism regarding domestic violence Brooks is prepared to address, especially the nihilistic sigh of “fuck them fuck that fuck you oh fuck my life” - Brooks is unafraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve, sidestepping completely the cliché of proud debauchery so common in this day and age. As the track progresses it becomes deeper, the protagonist still being in love despite indiscretions committed by their significant other, love by its very nature being an uncontrollable emotion and one that is hard to keep in check no matter what occurs. Sound wise, it’s very reminiscent of Blood Diamond's work, unsurprising when the tight touring and friendship between Brooks and Tucker are taken into consideration.

Omertà follows and is a significantly more downtempo offering but also poignant, representative of faded memories gone by. Mournful strings and sparse piano chords are accompanied by a background sideswipe of singular notes that in themselves sound like time passing. On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be a clear message here unlike its fellow tracks on the EP, although upon investigating the digital linear notes Omertà itself in fact represents “a popular cultural attitude and code of honour that places heavy importance on a deep rooted code of silence, non-cooperation with authorities and non-interference in the illegal (and legal) actions of others". This is clearly a practice that Brooks himself disagrees with, and this is perhaps shown by the fact he ironically keeps silent himself and lets the music do the talking.

The title track is a return to the Elite Gymnastics sampling ways, Brooks utilising the drum loop from “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” by Barry White before heavily chopping it up to back his tirade against the music industry. Evidently, he feels hard done by the treatment he and his highly unique girlfriend Grimes (Claire Boucher) have received, and from blog posts he’s written on the subject it becomes clear what a messed up industry it truly is. For women it seems that sexual favours are often expected for a quick leg up the career ladder, where any talent is quickly crushed and ironed out in the rush for 4/4 dance euphoria that is so ubiquitous in this day and age, something unimaginable for many of us but evidently something still bleakly real.

Closing track On Fraternity is the most interesting subject wise and open to interpretation, initiated by a propulsive wall of blanketed noise reminiscent of Twin Peaks-esque otherworldly horror. The lyrics seem likely to refer to the horrific sexual assault over the course of an evening of a 16 year old girl by her schoolmates in Steubenville, Ohio, where the perpetrators shamefully seemed proud of what they had done, referring to themselves by the moniker “rape crew” on social media. Brooks jaded voice ironically proclaims “who cares if it’s wrong as long as it’s punk” and one interesting and thought-provoking quote by Mr. Henry Rollins himself puts the whole incident into perspective: "It is ironic and sad that the person who is going to do a life sentence is her". The whole event makes you realise that despite the safety that is believed to exist in today’s society, we still exist in a deeply messed up world where social media drives bravado and allows the filth to rise to the top rather than simmering under.

With his initial output originally referred to as chillwave, Brooks has smashed apart the barriers usually found in the genre and now seems to be operating on another level. These are songs of understandable vitriol at the flaws in life and modern day society, propelled forward by breakbeats and a superb variety of midi synthwork. Brooks voice is now clearly audible, removing somewhat the mystery surrounding the Elite Gymnastics project ,and this allows him to put across a clear message, whereas the lyricism contained in RUIN seemed more philosophical and thoughtful- what ifs and comical slights rather than addressing the faults of the society we live in today. Those who loved and cherished the RUIN package and expected a wholesale change after the lighter and more whimsical Adult Swim offering Andréa 4 Eva in musical direction will be appeased - comparatively, it's a more intelligent undertaking and Clancy’s absence is barely noticeable. It’s a promising start to this new project, but whether the name remains the same is something to be seen.