The terms "alternative" and "punk" as they pertain to popular music can be nebulous ones and get more so all the time. When you see a band like My Flea Circus what fits? "avant garde" perhaps? How about "over the top"? With these people there is NO top so that one does not fit either. At press time I have found myself at something of a loss in pinning them down.
As far as originality goes it is something not every band strives for and quite a few don’t know the proper meaning of the term even if they cared. As for My Flea Circus the term has definite meaning and is paid a certain reverence. Not everything which happens onstage goes off as planned but that which is heard is refreshing as it comes within a sea of pop music sameness. NO band sounds like this one does.
MFC vocalist/guitarist Nee Trauma often sings AGAINST (though not necessarily in conflict with) that which she is playing. Mick Jagger has never sung in tune in his life by my recollection but I do not think I have heard him sing AGAINST the music. Is this what "neo-alternative" is? Is it one of the rules? Nee’s rythym section (Ryan Locke on drums and Sve Baroque on bass) seem effusive.
I had an occasion to meet them and see them perform at the Velvet Underground on December 5th on a bill presented by Turn it Upside Down productions. If you want something that can be defined as "avant garde" listen to the members of this band forthrightly and lucidly articulate to you what their sound is. I have met some colorful characters in my 33 years but upon being introduced to this trio I immediately wondered if it were perhaps time to replace my bong water. Then I remembered I don’t toke up and suddenly nothing I was seeing or hearing made sense. Some beautiful eccentrics are just being themselves and I personally wouldn’t have it any other way especially when it comes to musicians in Toronto.
Think of 1960s chanteuse Nico having displaced Kim Gordon in Sonic Youth, and you might then begin to understand what seeing My Flea Circus is like. Distortion and amp crackle each have a kind of beauty to them particularly when matched with their either mildly sinister or perplexingly arcane lyrical narratives. They put the music first but that hardly means they ignore the words they inject into it or where they inject those words.
When a sweet, soft, yummy butter cookie like Nee sings about someone who has hurt her and the chorus is "let’s you and me get ‘im" it is enough to make one pause. You don’t often hear lyrics these days that sound like they might be presented as evidence in a future court case. In fact, you don’t often hear lyrics these days that are really evidence of anything other than outright redundancies or banalities of a most indescribable quality.
My sense (and sincerest hope…for I am nothing if not a gentle creature) is that these words are musings of the non-biographical variety. The crucible that is one’s life experience yields some of the most fascinating of stories, which are either real, embellished or imagined. Freedom of speech is a right that the bold and most eloquent amongst us can assert in an entertaining manner. In light of their ability in this regard My Flea Circus offers discriminating audiences a sublime change of pace.
For more information on My Flea Circus, check out http://myspace.com/myfleacircus