I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled onto Pretty Girls Make Graves. None of my main musical influences (Jay Babcock, Rob Lord, etc) liked them (and still don’t). I think somehow I picked them out of the lot on KXLU. I don’t listen to KXLU so much, but they kept getting played while I was tuned in and through some casual listening I accidentally got in my head that they might be good. I don’t even remember hearing a specific song and doing the “Woah who was that!” + anxious call to the radio station. Mostly I just heard the name, knew the Smiths song of the same name, and maybe just in the way the KXLU girl pronounced “Pretty Girls Make Graves” with such reverence, I mentally noted that they deserved an explore.
So I fired up ye ole AllMusic.com and Audiogalaxy (those were the days) and pulled down a record which at the time seemed to be called “Is It Broken Doctor?” but now I realize is their Lookout! record (produced by Phil Ek) “Good Health”. I dug the energy and listened to it a couple times while staring at the computer and doing whatever it is I get paid to do. Still, I was withholding an opinion, my experience tells me that the KXLU bands (bad term, I know) often have a turd-colored lining — some initial sonic novelty followed by some realization that the band is two-dimensional at best.
Finally I made a CD of “Good Health” to listen to in the car. I gave it an honest go, listening a few times driving around with my then 12 (now 13) year old daughter, Zoe. The first song on the album is about loving music, “Do you remember when you couldn’t put it away / Do you remember what the music meant / To you / To me”. Every song is a serious anthem with freight train momentum. The drummer absolutely rules. These were my first impressions. Still, it wasn’t something that I was willing to recommend to people. No point: my old skateboard/music critic friends arent looking to identify with the naivety and my singer/songwriter-listening friends aren’t going to be able to absorb the intensity (anymore). But something unexpected had happened during our listens. The toughest critic I know, Zoe, had started requesting that we play it over and over.
Zoe’s musical taste has been like a mushroom growing under a large, shady tree. The poor thing, her dad (me) is a music-eating monster who hasn’t watched TV since she was born, his music appetite so severe. She’s known all the words to “Passing Me By” and “You Gots To Chill” since she was 5 (or younger?) but her personal tastes had gone from Jewel to Sarah McLaughlin to MC Luscious to more recently the Coppola “I got a record deal for my birthday!” disaster Rooney. She heads straight for the “Soundtracks” section at Amoeba. Weve tolerated each other’s tastes for years but they were yet to intersect in any meaningful way.
But “Good Health” had taken her over. Within a few listens she was singing along. We didn’t have the CD or the lyric sheet but she’d figured out most of the words. I hadn’t. During the song about loving music (mentioned above) she’s singing along and I finally ask, “Wait, what is she saying?” Zoe looks at me with sympathy for not being able to understand and clues me in: “Nothing else matters when I turn it up loud.” WOAH. I realized that not only is this one of the greatest songs I’ve experienced in a long long time but Zoe had been bit. I got chills. Still get em now just thinking about it.
The record hasn’t left the disc changer in the nearly one year since. Zoe and I have had endless cross-town sing-alongs, cruising at 75 down the 101 or 15 down the 405, screaming the lyrics to Sad Girls Por Vida (without question their finest work, a roller coaster where Andrea is screaming SAD! GIRLS! FOR! LIFE while Derek is screaming something else entirely with a final refrain/breakdown thats like the energy of the song just spilling over and preventing a sooner ending). Finally, PGMG came to town. I took Zoe to the show. She couldnt get close enough to the stage. I was two people behind her, which is way closer than Id have been without her, Im not as interested in swaying back and forth with the drunk 19 year old lesbians trying to knock my glasses off anymore. She was sheltered from the sway by a skin-headed kid and stared at the stage feeling the whole thing. Allow me to paint the scene she was staring at a twenty-something girl with long bangs, far from super-model thin but in control of the crowd who is absolutely in love with her (during a song where the lyrics are youre all that matters I swear half the crowd was singing the lines to her), a nappy headed black man with indie rock glasses making guitar noise to her right, a tall Thurston Moore kinda looking gent (formerly in Murder City Devils unless Ive got it wrong) playing bass to her immediate right, a baby-faced kid destroying on a Rickenbacker to his left, and a thin drummer absolutely owning a small drum kit in the back. Ive heard multiple people run the I heard they suck live line before, and maybe its just me seeing the whole thing through Zoes eyes (and knowing the records inside and out probably doesnt hurt), but it was one of the most powerful shows Id seen in a long time. Genuinely moving.
The whole thing just reminded me of why I liked Minor Threat when I was fifteen an incredible balance of soul, energy, power, creativity, musicality, and idealism. When Andrea is singing about all the people with nothing in their eyes shes acknowledging something that any considerate kid knows instinctively: most people arent thinking or feeling much of anything. It stakes out the same perfectly inconclusive idealism that Ian McKaye voiced in “Another State of Mind”, (paraphrasing) I didnt know what it was I wanted to be, but I knew I didnt want to be like that. Zoe felt it. I felt it. I dont think youre supposed to identify so closely with your thirteen year old. Doesnt that violate some rules of parenting somewhere?
Enough already, I know. Bottom line: Pretty Girls Make Graves are the real deal.
A Young Persons Guide to Pretty Girls Make Graves:
PGMG have three releases: A self-titled EP on Dim Mak, an LP on Lookout! called Good Health, and a recent LP on Matador called The New Romance. Check em out in this order:
Good Health Absolutely amazing beginning to end. I dont think Ive ever heard as solid an album of immediate anthems. This is the one that we starteed with, and it still gets weekly listens.
Pretty Girls Make Graves EP Four good tracks which sound best once youve already worn out Good Health. The last track where Andrea is mad as hell is a favorite.
“The New Romance” Good to great, but has a couple of dull moments, which the other two do not. It also lacks the weve got something to prove vibe of the other two which always makes for better albums, IMHO. I think I had my hopes up too high after Good Health. I was expecting the album of the decade. You can buy this one in the Apple Music Store if yer so inclined.
Buy. Listen. Enjoy. Music is the best.