Paris Suit Yourself - "Craig Machinsky" (My Main Shitstain)
The press release for Paris Suit Yourself’s debut album My Main Shitstain namechecks Keith Levene, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Fela Kuti and Ari Up as points of reference for the Berlin-based band, and certainly there are moments of each in there. It’s interesting how in the name of marketing or branding or even simply self-mythologizing these kind of touchstones are brought up, always trying to put a band in context. And yeah, Paris Suit Yourself sits at the same kind of intersection as say The Slits, a combination of African and Western styles, though to be really honest, listening to the band without reading the press release, my first grasp was to think about early Dischord, but more than that, Alternative Tentacles and Touch and Go, labels I listened to a lot when I was younger. I think there was something about some of the bands on these labels — again less so Dischord which often flowed too far into Serious — that combined a goofy sensibility with a heavy sound, something which Paris Suit Yourself, at their best, does extremely well.
It’s a coincidence that I started reading the Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington faux-script “Bicycle Built for Two” — a supposed Mike Myers/Dana Carvey reunion pic about turn-of-the-century baseball and farting — at the same time I put Shitstain on to listen to for the first time, but they were surprisingly appropriate companions. Both Heidecker and Turkington have cultivated an extremely goofy style that masks a fairly scathing critique of popular culture, the entertainment industry, public relations, and ugly Americans, and it’s the way they balance the two that makes their separate acts — Tim and Eric and Neil Hamburger, respectively — stand out from mere internet humor on one end and blatant cultural critique on the other. (I am not sure what spectrum has those as each end.)
In this same way, Paris Suit Yourself is most interesting when it balances the goofiness with good song-writing, with neither the songcraft overpowering the weirdness, nor the silly singing or free-association overpowering the hooks. And for most of Shitstain, this works quite well. The “artier” parts keeping the songs from being just generic rock/post-rock/whatever and the guitar hooks keeping the rest from floating off into art-school inconsequentiality. As with Heidecker, if you want people to listen to your message, it helps to deliver it in an engaging way.
I’ve said before that bands that are able to do a good balancing act between genres or styles or ideas are the ones that people often find to be the canonical or most memorable ones because that balancing act is a true act of novelty. That said, Paris Suit Yourself is at its weakest is when this balancing act goes awry, when the goofiness overwhelms the songcraft. These songs are often the ones that hold down a simple rhythm or melody and set the scene for vocalist Luvinsky Atche to free-associate over it. The problem isn’t that these songs are inferior or bad or that this is a critique of the band, but that the effect the songs have on the listener is minimized when this happens. My attention, at least, began to wander, and I stopped concentrating on the songs and on what Atche was saying (when he sang in English).
Though I can see things from the side of the band, too. There’s something to be said for this style, for rock minimalism, that when you reduce a song to basic constituents, you force the listener to concentrate, to really focus on the parts, and in that way, because there is so little, what little there is becomes even more meaningful. I’m not particularly enthralled by that idea; rock minimalism often is rather aesthetically empty. While faulting the band for taking that route doesn’t feel right, it does make the album a rather uneven, if still interesting, affair.