“These stupid kids, they like their old-time rhythms. They’ve got their bag of tricks,” sang Adam Moerder to the packed-in, sold-out crowd at Glasslands in Brooklyn on Friday night. These two lines come from the title track of the band Mr. Dream’s pulverizing debut album, aptly titled Trash Hit. The album is a wonderful cacophony of abrasive post-punk and post-hardcore tics: Big Black’s mordant wit, Naked Raygun’s assaulting guitar work, Jesus Lizard’s throbbing bass and the Pixies’ command of song dynamics. All Albini everything, one might say, but closer listening reveals traces of the Wren’s multi-part harmonies and Archers of Loaf’s deceptively casual melodies. It’s a bag of tricks, sure, but it’s a deep and varied bag, and the group put all of these tricks on display as it celebrated the release of its album by orchestrating a short, precise set of sardonic chaos.
As you can see, the band inspires obsessive, referential list-making, probably because the Mr. Dream was born out of this type of critical thinking. Both guitarist/singer Moerder and drummer Nick Sylvester have written extensively about music in the past for publications like Pitchfork and the Village Voice, so it’s tempting to read the band’s songs as treatises on the modern state of indie rock, not just killer riff delivery systems. Who are the “stupid kids” to whom the band refers? As I stood in the crowd, withstanding the pounding, confrontational buzz of the trio—which included Pitchfork scribe and former Get Him Eat Him frontman, Matt LeMay, on guitar—I couldn’t help but wonder if I were one of “these stupid kids.” The crowd was engaged, nodding along to Sylvester’s no-nonsense drumming, but there was a sense of unease at times, despite the band’s humor and slap-happy demeanor. As it’s been noted in almost every review of the band’s debut, this is prescriptive music, seeking to push against the “chill,” day-glo, hippie-dippy, altered-zone aesthetic that has been so fiendishly cultivated across indie music in the last few years, a type of music that has both bloomed and festered in venues like Glasslands. As the band blasted away at its instruments, tossing off stinging and sarcastic lyrics, it was hard not to feel guilty at times. Have we failed Mr. Dream?
Dressed in unassuming t-shirts and jeans, the group members downplayed the record’s smart-ass tendencies by being both affable and unassuming. They cracked jokes and drank beers. At one point they shouted out the current Amazon ranking of their record. (It was somewhere in the thousands, I think.) The blistering punk fury of “Crimes” showed their hit-making abilities. They have the ability to distill the harsh, dissonant qualities of their influences into giddy, downright poppy fuzz-attacks. It’s not surprising that the band has been tapped to open for fellow genre-splicer Sleigh Bells on its upcoming American tour. Both bands have a knack for twisting the difficult tonalities of noise rock into the comforting structures of pop music. And, though they can get loud and feedback-heavy, they rarely do, preferring efficiency over expansiveness.
The set ended with “Unfinished Business,” an anthemic In Utero-style banger, and the band descended into the crowd to mingle with friends. Certainly there will be accusations of knee-jerk indie-rockism thrown Mr. Dream’s way at some point. People will ask things like, “Are they just a simulacrum of ’80s rock relics?” It’s possible to view this music as too conceptual or overtly academic in its reference points, as if thinking about music is somehow a bad thing. Some might argue that the band’s music lacks an emotional spine, but guess what? As I walked outside into the cold chill of the night I saw two kids making out against the side of the brick wall of the building. Maybe these stupid kids get it after all.