What’s in a name? The Muslims, Black Lips, Black Kids and a host of other young bands have nabbed headlines by using ethnocentric titles for their indie rock groups. The marketing advantages are self-evident, but there is a sense of cold calculation and shameless opportunism in these bands that, in many ways, undermines the trust of listeners — especially when the music is equally as pandering.
It’s not that “Partie Traumatic” is a bad album — the songs are catchy, well-constructed and tightly performed. Ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler produces, and he crafts a pleasant, synth-laden soundscape for Black Kids bubbling new wave rockers. The problem lies in the group’s blatant genre-aping and garish, desperately cloying lyrics.
Black Kids want you to like them so badly that their unique identity as a band is obliterated by the endless musical and lyrical clichés in which they indulge. “When I first met you/You was livin’ in your Dae Woo/you were wearin’ chit-chat shoes/you were illin’ on voodoo,” shouts Ali Youngblood on the stomping “Listen To Your Body Tonight.” There is an attempt here to tap into the modern urban zeitgeist by using slang terms like ‘illin’ and coyly referencing defunct Korean auto manufacturers. As in most American cities, a tedious relationship between ghetto culture and suburbanite, hipster counter-culture exists on “Partie Tramatic” — but instead of mining the multi-ethnic tensions, lead-songwriter Reggie Youngblood waters down everything into a formulaic brand of wide-eyed romanticism.
Reggie Youngblood also sings in a faux-English accent, high-pitched and aching — much like the Cure’s Robert Smith. In fact, most of the album comes off as a Cure-lite redux with its finest song, the yearning “I’m Making Eyes At You” deriving its entire musical arrangement — snappy back beat, descending keyboard riff and shuffling handclaps — from Smith’s pop masterpiece “Close to Me.”