When he was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, salty British explorer George Mallory famously responded: “Because it was there.” That was, more or less, the same reason I decided to go to three shows in two boroughs on a Wednesday night. That’s not entirely true: two of the bands I genuinely love and have tried to see on multiple occasions and failed. But there was something about the possibility of it that I couldn’t shake — it wasn’t a stunt, because what a dumb stunt that would be, and it wasn’t some kind of imagined competition. If anything, it was because, as I’ve been aging, I’ve become acutely aware — maybe even a little obsessed — with the ticking clock attached to my body; and I love going to shows, and the timing of the sets was right, and ultimately it came down to the fact that this was a possible thing that could be done — it existed in my universe as a thing for doing. In other words: because it was there.
And it’s appropriate after all that existential hand-wringing to talk about Jerry Paper, whose songs are also filled with a fair amount of existentialist neuroses. Over the course of five records and two years, Paper (real name Lucas Nathan) has refined his sound from the murky synth abstractions of his 2012 debut MAINFRAMES to the sad-android-bachelor aesthetic of 2013′s International Man of Misery and this year’s Feels Emotions (both excellent). Paper took the stage in a flowered, red silk kimono and white tube socks and proceeded to croon his way through a winning string of martini bar soft rock. Live, the songs were crisper and more deliberate than they are on any of his tapes, and the melodies had more swoop and scope. They were the kind of songs Scott Walker might have written in the ’60s if he only had a cheap keyboard on hand. They’re perfectly suited to Paper’s persona as some kind of dork Casanova, the kind of guy who would bring a woman back to his apartment and then ask if she wanted to play Atari. At one point I wrote in my notebook, “Every generation gets the Momus they deserve,” but that isn’t being fair to Paper. There’s nothing arch about his music. His songs fizz like bubbles in a pink martini, and Paper is the sad bastard stuck washing the glass.
It was a short distance geographically from Jerry Paper’s show at the Bed-Stuy venue Palisades to Charly Bliss at Bushwick’s Shea Stadium but the emotional distance between the two was enormous. Charly Bliss exploded from note number one; the band has only a handful of songs to their name, but the force and joy and reckless enthusiasm with which they tore through every one of them was stunning. Frontwoman Eva Hendricks leapt and spun and shrieked and smiled as the band blasted through songs that whooshed and careened like cartoon racecars. There were a million little shards of other bands in their songs, most of them from the ’90s — Veruca Salt, Belly — or maybe Tanya Donnelly fronting Archers of Loaf — but there was an wallop and a power to them and an instant infectiousness to Hendricks’s loop-de-loop vocal melodies that made them feel both here-and-now and utterly unstoppable. I wrote something in my notebook about Charly Bliss, too: “This band is going to be HUGE.”
From there it was back into the gloom. Every Wednesday, the Manhattan venue Home Sweet Home hosts a night called Nothing Changes, which consists mostly of industrial, darkwave and goth and performances by bands whose disposition makes Jerry Paper look like Jerry Seinfeld. Needless to say, it is routinely excellent. On Wednesday night — Thursday morning, technically — it featured a showcase by the label Dark Entries, with performances by Redredred, Bezeir and Max + Mara (Mara also records woozy, spectral and altogether riveting records under the name Group Rhoda for the label Not Not Fun.) In the interest of full disclosure, I only made it through one of these sets, Bezeir’s, before my body started to give. What I heard was the perfect bookend to the way my night had begun: melancholy synth-based music, but on a grand scale — crashing sheets of sound, big, purplish notes and icy arpeggios that crashed down suddenly, like chandeliers in a haunted ballroom. It was the perfect way to end the evening, wrapped in shadow and cold as a coffin. If I needed further reminding of the inevitability of the grave, this was it.