The Playful Pop of 100 gecs

The Playful Pop of 100 gecs

The band’s new album is absurd but that is part of the point.

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Laura Les and Dylan Brady, the duo behind 100 gecs, operate at the bleeding edge of something. Their music feels like a breath of fresh air: at once wearing its musical inspirations on its sleeve, while also working toward something entirely organic and fresh. Call it what you’d like, but to me it sounds like the zeitgeist.

The sound of their second studio album, 10,000 gecs, is immediately familiar and recognizably gecs. Despite displaying more polish than their earlier records, it is full of wild inventiveness. The album starts with Lucasfilm’s iconic THX sound effect—a kind of welcome to the strange universe that Les and Brady have been constructing in their sonic bunker. Three gunshot sounds later, we are introduced to a hard, distorted, nu-metal guitar riff that reminds me of Coheed and Cambria’s “Welcome Home” and that becomes the key element to the album’s first song, “Dumbest Girl Alive.” It is, as they say, heavy. The riff is backed up by a gigantic kick and topped with electronic cruft and crispy synths.

While “Dumbest Girl Alive” is a two-minute-long musical statement of intent, it’s the lyrics that really grabbed me. Amid the sonic pyrotechnics, Les captures the manic depressiveness of life:

If you think I’m stupid now, you should see me when I’m high
And I’m smarter than I look, I’m the dumbest girl alive
I took ten Advils today, I’ve got bruises on my thighs
Plus I gave away my brain, I’m the dumbest girl alive
I’ve got lightning in my veins, walk around like Frankenstein
I did science on my face, I’m the dumbest girl alive.

The refrain is hypnotic, ironic, and playful and gives the music an added layer of beauty. It is, in its way, also a document of what it feels like to be alive and young today, when we’re all caught in a hyperactive swing between feeling good and feeling insane. It is also a document of how she copes.

The manic spirit of “Dumbest Girl Alive” also sets up the songs that follow. Each one is typical gecs, full of voice mods and insouciant lyrics about partying, and yet out of the playful also comes something new and audacious. In the album’s third track, “Hollywood Baby,” the gecs give us a rock song about the pressures of living in LA, featuring power chords and 4/4-time drums that sound like the kind of music you’d hear on a satellite radio from the late aughts. Then comes the entirely unpredictable “Frog on the Floor,” which sounds like a ska song fed through the Teletubbies and yet somehow works. It’s about a frog who’s at a party: “Frog on the floor / Where’d he come from? / Nobody knows / Where he’ll go,” Brady sings. It is played almost totally straight, and that, more than anything, feels genius.

The fact that, in this context, “Frog on the Floor” doesn’t sound like nonsense is a testament to just how much Brady and Les can get away with. But it’s also emblematic of the band’s omnivorous tendencies and the way that they metabolize different genres of music—hyperpop, ska, alt rock—and then remake them into their own sound. If in their debut EP, 100 gecs, we got the outlines of a sound and an aesthetic, in 10,000 gecs we get to see a more mature band staking out their position in the musical landscape. And it’s thrilling to watch.

It takes quite a bit of trust to put out a song like “Frog on the Floor” on a major label. But then again, 100 gecs aren’t really all that normal. From that self-titled 2016 EP, which announced their peculiar style—blasts of noise, distorted voices singing macabre lyrics, gorgeous peals of harmony—to their debut album, 1,000 gecs, which produced their first genuine hit, “Money Machine,” it’s clear that 100 gecs have always been more interested in furthering their sound than anything else.

And while their stylistic tics have filtered out into the wider musical landscape, where their influence is unavoidable, every 100 gecs release manages to do something entirely new. Whether that’s bringing in screamo and video-game-style sound effects on 1,000 gecs, or the ska and butt rock influences in 10,000 gecs, Les and Brady always seem to be trying to see just how much their sound can do. It’s unmistakable that the pair have an amazing time making music together. And I think that’s partially why their music can be so infectious.

But 10,000 gecs is not only a good-ass time; the pacing is immaculate. It builds and builds, exploring musical ideas in what feels like logical sequence. In the second half of 10,000 gecs, for example, we move from the poppy sing-along “Doritos and Fritos” into “Billy Knows Jamie,” a straight-up nu-metal song—guitars and rap—that develops into a much heavier murder ballad by the end of its 2:43 run time. Which feels like a speed run of the pop charts of the early 2000s.

One of the album’s best and arguably also strangest songs comes near the end. “One Million Dollars” is a song that’s just a computerized voice saying “One million dollars” while the music cycles through various genres: nu-metal, quasi-trance, and funk, plus all of the glitched-out spaces in between. It’s transfixing; the first time I heard it, I thought I had accidentally skipped a track somewhere. Which I didn’t realize I wanted. It’s out there enough, in other words, that even though 100 gecs are now releasing albums on Atlantic Records, they can seem at times like a much more subcultural group.

10,000 gecs is an absurd album, with songs about frogs and murder ballads, but it is also tremendously satisfying—one of those exceedingly rare sophomore albums that doesn’t disappoint. (As a rule, it is very difficult to follow up a success.) 10,000 gecs sounds better than anything else the gecs have put out; despite the distorted textures that litter the track list, it’s not annoying (or exhausting) to listen to.

That might be because the album clocks in at a svelte 26 minutes long. But it also might just be because in 10,000 gecs, Les and Brady find a way to voice the senselessness of their own music—and arguably also of contemporary American life. Listening to the album can sometimes feel like staring at another 1990s oddity: Magic Eye. Whether you’re seeing anything in there or not isn’t entirely the point. Just unfocus your eyes and ride the vibes.

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