Every generation has its take on the sound of teenage angst, all of which seem to produce both the cringiest and the most classic music of the era. I’m a great lover of many of these movements – early 2000s pop-rock, first wave punk, even today’s emo-pop – but I’ve always found the 90s brand of teenage rebellion to be the most endearingly over-the-top. There’s just so much dripping histrionics in all the leather jackets and eyeliner, so much genuine feeling in the melodrama of early alt-rock. Doolittle era Pixies, The Bends Radiohead, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – for me, no sound has better captured the heart-full drama of 16 year olds drinking dad’s liquor, sure they know the world’s hurts better than anyone ever has.
LA based MIHI NIHIL seems to agree. They describe their sound as “Up late watching MTV’s 120 Minutes reruns, smoking clove cigarettes and drinking all your parents old liqueur, while ear-binging on post-modern sounds with poetic lyrics and the ache of layered guitars to remind you all is not lost or is it…” This is remarkably spot on. Their debut self-titled album, which came out a couple weeks ago, touches on a whole host of deliciously angsty 90s subgenres – street-poet post-punk, shoe-gazing art rock, even a genuine first-wave punk slapper in “I Eat You,” accompanied by a skating-dedicated music video featuring material from none other than Tony Hawk Inc. They’re a heavy dose of early Sonic Youth, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and, maybe most of all, The Pixies.
The album’s penultimate track, “Who Do You Think You Are?” is one of its sweeter cuts. It finds the band at their most Mazzy Star – laid back alt-country with twinkly guitar leads and an undeniable vocal performance from lead singer Mihi Vox. Vox is a former New York City opera singer, and her chops are no joke. She slides over and around the song’s groove, all soft confidence and beautiful tone. At other spots on the album she’s absolutely teeth gnashing, but here she’s soft, heart-wrenching, radio-ready sugar. The track, like the whole album, is produced by veteran engineer Adam Lasus (Yo La Tengo, Dean Ween, Amy Ray, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), who brings some really sweet syrup to the band’s sound. The guitar tones are lovely twang, the drums are subtle snappy rimshots, the bass all round warmth, and Vox’s vocals ring through sweetest of all.
The strangest thing about the song is its bridge. The band introduces these freaky, overdriven panned vocals, and a totally punked-out tom drum groove. It’s a really dark, rumbling passage, totally distinct from the swaying alt-country that came before it. This new groove starts to build, like a beast crawling upwards towards the light. Then, quite suddenly, the drums stop, and we’re left in this weird, stripped back moment of ringing distortion and spaced out vocals. There’s a ton of emotionally-charged tension in this beat of relative quiet, like the band is taking a deep breath before the plunge. When the song jumps back in for its last chorus, Vox’s vocals are “Fake Plastic Trees” level catharsis. It’s totally undeniable – brimming with all the heart aching power of my favorite 90s alt rock.