There’s an episode of South Park, now over a decade old, where all the kids in town start listening to tweenwave, a new genre of music that mostly consists of loud diarrheal fart noises. The kids love it, but the adults complain that it sounds like shit. All except Randy Marsh, who stubbornly insists that he enjoys tweenwave. “It doesn’t sound like crap! I think it’s awesome!” he yells, headphones rattling as he struggles to snap his fingers to staccato Hershey squirts. Being a 100 gecs fan as a grown adult feels uncomfortably close to Randy’s affectatious love of tweenwave. On more than one occasion while listening to their new album, I had to pause and wonder, “Do I actually like this?”
One could argue that if I have to ask myself this question then the answer is no. There’s no shame in not liking whatever this week’s special new band is, especially when you’re 36 and the band in question is one of the more abrasive examples of hyperpop. In fact, it’s less an opinion than an objective fact that their music is obnoxious. 10,000 gecs sounds like a bunch of genres that I never liked much in the first place—pop punk, rainbow rock, nu-metal, rap rock, and most disconcerting of all, ska—shuffled together and then fed through a paper shredder. But for better or worse, the product—glittered confetti of disparate styles and subcultures, the soundtrack for our post-ironic/post-sincere/post-everything society of online spectacle—might be the future of pop music.
The allusion to tweenwave may be slightly unfair. For one, 10,000 gecs does sound better than literal shit (they’re welcome to quote me on that in any promotional materials for the album). Also, unlike tweenwave, the gecs’ brand of hyperpop has obvious musical antecedents, like Dan Deacon, Brokencyde, and PC Music. If nothing else, Dylan Brady and Laura Les are historians of pop, and they leave no stone unturned in their excavation. If 10,000 gecs isn’t ten times as good as their last record (any album with “Money Machine,” “Stupid Horse,” and “Ringtone” is tough to best), it at least contains about 10 times the number of influences, with a little something for every taste. The same way there’s a porn video out there for every possible fetish, every second of 10,000 gecs’ 26-minute runtime is a second that some freak out there will appreciate, if not enjoy.
10,000 gecs starts off with Lucasfilms’ iconic THX deep note—which alludes to the turn-of-the-century period from which the record culls most of its influences and conveys that this will be a major blockbuster event—before breaking into glitchy rap rock jam “Dumbest Girl Alive.” In heavy auto-tune, Les drops self-deprecating gems like “I’m picking up the pace, I’m so happy I could die/Put emojis on my grave, I’m the dumbest girl alive” over nu-metal guitar riffs. It’s Papa Johns by way of Papa Roach: the summer of ‘99 tumbling into our unending winter of discontent.
The gecs’ newfound emphasis on nu-metal and rap rock is what most distinguishes 10,000 gecs from its predecessor. However, if there’s a guiding principle to 100 gecs, it might be the absence of aesthetic continuity. “Dumbest Girl Alive” is followed by glitch pop (“757”), pop punk (“Hollywood Baby”), a male/female ska duet à la Reel Big Fish’s “She Has a Girlfriend Now” or Sublime’s “Saw Red” (“Frog on the Floor”), and bass-driven product placement rock (“Doritos and Fritos”) before returning to rap rock on “Billy Knows Jamie,” which sounds like it could’ve been a scrapped song from the Judgment Night soundtrack.
If that soundtrack was premised around the once-novel idea of merging genres together, 100 gecs inhabit a world in which that kind of synthesis is now the default. Yet the above labels and descriptors somewhat belie the stylistic nuances on display in 10,000 gecs. For example, the album’s most successful experiment in aesthetic discontinuity, “Doritos and Fritos” is a catchy Frankenstein monster of Claypoolesque bass, ska, and 2011-era Britney that, against all odds, works. The same goes for “I Got My Tooth Removed,” a ballad of oral neglect that alternates between mournful auto-tune slow jam and goofy third wave ska (complete with a horn section). Even listeners who don’t necessarily enjoy ska or nu-metal can appreciate the playfulness (not to mention the songwriting) that Brady and Les employ in their synthesis.
Like me, Brady and Les grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, the dead center of the country culturally (if not geographically), allowing them to absorb the American musical tradition from every conceivable angle. With that in mind, it’s easy to forgive the gecs for painting with too many colors. It’s in their nature. To paraphrase another great St. Louisan, they’re from the Show Me State—show them seven, they’ll show you 10,000.