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Default Genders - Pain Mop Girl 2020 Music Album Reviews

In the wake of Main Pop Girl 2019, Jaime Brooks delivers a patchwork of dense, often cartoonish reimaginings of those songs, exploring pop’s fluidity with a deft, funny, and heartfelt touch. 

In a 2019 Q&A, Default Genders’ Jaime Brooks likened her artistic practice to fanfiction, and to cumulative video game modding. “Modding communities in gaming are just like fanfiction communities,” she writes. “People pouring tons of time and heart and effort into an IP someone else owns for pure love of the thing. That’s what motivates the best and coolest ideas. That’s how this stuff is supposed to work.” This is the conceit of Pain Mop Girl 2020—both a showcase for Brooks’ bold, fractured songwriting, and a convincing argument for this strain of digital democratic thinking. Restless art invites restless interpretation.
Brooks knows this well: last year’s Main Pop Girl 2019 was a masterclass in conceptual splatter, with reference points as far-reaching as Dylan, jungle, and the indie electronic sounds of the early 2010s. The music is humid, gestural—constantly shifting under its own weight and without a foothold in any particular style or framework. That Brooks’ clubby, nightcore-adjacent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” fits as well as it does is a testament to the record’s perpetual motion: Having to square the Boss with a DIY rave only sucks you further into the relentless flow.

That sense of whiplash makes Main Pop Girl 2019 well-suited to the project of a remix album. And Pain Mop Girl 2020 is that, more or less: a patchwork of dense, often cartoonish reimaginings from similarly-minded internet futurists, as well as two entirely new tracks, “cascadia subduction zone” and “am i gonna die?” On the latter, shuffling percussion and a half-slurred vocal delivery are proxies for self-doubt. “If I survive is it just/Because some paperwork got lost?” Brooks asks, collapsing the distance between the bureaucratic and the existential in a turn of phrase. The aesthetic palette is muted, but the lyrics remain sharp and searching.

And though much of Pain Mop Girl 2020 is similarly attuned to questions of life, death, and material reproduction, there’s no single throughline. Canadian electronic tinkerer Drainpuppet’s take on “pharmacoma” ditches the frenetic drum programming of the original in favor of low-fi alt-rock, serrated pop melodies, and vocal processing that feels of a piece with big-tent EDM. The Tom Waits-referencing “christmas card from a scammer in minneapolis (live)” benefits from the addition of piano and a newly uncluttered ambient backing; the fact that it wasn’t actually recorded live itself points back to Waits, whose faux-live Nighthawks at the Diner is also set in an imagined lounge. It’s a flirtation with a certain kind of computer-controlled humanity that permeates the entire collection.

The album’s most revealing rework is “sophie (wren dove lark edit),” which appears here in its third incarnation. Originally written for Magical Pessimism 2014, the track was transformed on Main Pop Girl 2019 from a fairly straightforward slow-burner into something slick and free, with pitched-up vocals as an anchor for lyrics about grappling with gender identity. The Pain Mop Girl 2020 version is her first under the name Jaime, and with new pronouns; singer-songwriter Wren Dove Lark’s rerecorded vocals, strained and ecstatic, speak to the universality of the writing, and to changeability as a guiding ethos in both content and form. No take is definitive because the music is fundamentally iterative, and nothing is ever finished.

Even on the closer, the second and more inspired of the album’s two “checking in with the old gang” remixes, there’s a hint of continuity. In the hands of Glitchlette, a self-described emo and synthpop musician based out of Washington, the track becomes an ethereal duet. Its central refrain is restructured as call-and-response between two voices: “Do you feel it?/Do these tired old lies feel true?/Well I used to believe them/But I’m not sure I still do.” There’s renewed pathos in the experience of an answered question, but an encroaching wave of guitars keeps a tinge of darkness in the mix.And at the end, just before it all fades out, there’s a crucial bit of barely-audible studio banter: “That was just extra, for fun. OK, let’s do it again.” Brooks and her collaborators suggest that all the fun’s in fluidity—not exactly in recursion, but in homage, references, covers, and antecedents, explicit or otherwise.
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