100 gecs’ new album refuses to shy away from insanity through a sound of ska revival, nu-metal and pop.
10,000 gecs was never going to be good. But keep in mind that it wasn’t really supposed to be either; Laura Les and Dylan Brady are more like surrealist cultural critics with guitars. They’ve won if one song from the album ends up on your playlist and is greeted with embarrassed laughter whenever it comes up on shuffle. Their debut 1,000 gecs was so brilliant because it didn’t care about being good. It instead identified that the pop landscape of 2019 was teetering on a knife edge of madness. For all of that album’s strangeness, nothing it in can’t be found elsewhere in its pop contemporaries. In 30 silly minutes, Les and Brady bring to the fore the absurdities of whatever mainstream pop might consider itself to be, and in doing so they changed modern music ever so slightly. Suddenly, it was acceptable, or even cool, to make something as stupid as Money Machine or 845 sticky, not least because everyone was making jokes about how much it sucked. The last dregs of genre and quality as values in music culture were now dead and buried. You could do anything, so long as you were paying attention to what everyone else was doing. And accordingly, 100 gecs stopped paying attention.
It’s striking quite how suddenly 10,000 gecs runs out of steam. By track 6, it’s indistinguishable from a Limp Bizkit album. Indeed, substitute the nonsense lyrics for observations about American police brutality and it makes for a pretty accurate Toxicity-era System of a Down impression (there’s even a lament about the evils of Hollywood, for those four Daron Malakian megafans listening to 100 gecs). One million dollars is a really funny idea for a track, but that’s where it both starts and stops; now that everyone and their dog has tried reviving everything from ska (a gecs-originated phenomenon) to pop punk to nu-metal, these kinds of self-aware genre mashups feel gratingly stale. This album took 4 years to arrive but most of the songs feel like afterthoughts, which is of course the curse of the gecs project. The exact same was true of their debut, but its overarching philosophy made afterthoughts cool. Now it’s just sad.
That’s not to say that 10,000 gecs is miserable front-to-back. The debut worked because Les and Brady do actually have a pretty great ear for pop hooks; lose that, and the whole critique falls apart. This bears out in a curious way on the opening few tracks here, where you can feel a pull towards fairly straightforward alt-rock tunes. The aggressive autotune and digital distortion that more than anything define the gecs sound make for interesting textural additions to these otherwise simple songs, and now that we are in a post-hyperpop world where this combination almost feels old-fashioned, it’s refreshingly self-contained listening. What’s more, lead single mememe reads much better as the closer in this tracklist; after 20 or so minutes of absolute nonsense, a hook where Laura Les warbles: “you’ll never really know/ anything about me” is somewhat impactful, especially with vocal edits echoing her voice back to her, a mocking electronic Greek chorus.
Long story short, 100 gecs made the most (or only) important album of the last 10 years by realising that what everyone else was doing was stupid, and then doing the fringe excesses of that to such a precise degree that everyone else was forced to change their approaches entirely. It made them brilliant cultural critics, but at the same time they are working musicians, so there has to be a follow-up, another statement, another idea. It is a testament to 100 gecs’ genius that they only needed one, but genius often has a catch.