(Deathbomb Arc, 2013)
I have conflicting thoughts about discussing I.E., because I don’t know how equipped I am to deal with the serious issues Margot Padilla brings up in her music. I was gonna start this review with a discussion about how I didn’t know I needed more party music, but that seems a little too flippant now. There are real problems that decorate the urban tween/teen world that Padilla simultaneously glorifies and reviles, a disgusting street-level existence where young girls who don’t know any better drink and do drugs and have sex because of their familial circumstances. It doesn’t matter that this is glossed up in hi-NRG synths and 808s – sure it’s glitz and glamour, but it’s projected on a fucking ugly pig. Maybe I’m too close to it at the moment – I’m currently editing a book about the sex trafficking of minors in the United States, and all the red flags are present in Most Importantly that would suggest the girls in the songs are gonna spiral downward until they can’t get themselves out. It’s a hellish path for anyone.
Jeez, that’s really heavy. I promise, I am NOT gonna totally bring you down with this one, so keep on reading. It’s also clear that Padilla, who may have come from these exact circumstances in Los Angeles (I don’t personally know), isn’t making music, or Most Importantly specifically, with the glorification of these circumstances in mind. I’ve had to distance myself from seriousness in a way, and realize that I.E. is more interested in the exploitation of this life as an artistic expression, not to hold it up as a standard, but to pinpoint its ridiculousness as an acceptable form of living. Like Quentin Tarantino exploits violence to ludicrous levels in his films, Margot Padilla sends up the wretched junior high years everyone goes through, giving the garbage a glossy veneer in the process. When set to a club beat and blasted through speakers, Padilla’s mall-punk snootiness becomes a highly usable form of ravesploitation. Put pipe to lips; smoke.
And holy crap, is this record good, and fun! (I declare, without the slightest hint of irony.) Commence original trajectory of review:
I thought I had all the insane party music I’d ever need with the Captain Ahab discography, also released on Deathbomb Arc (and whose own Jonthan Snipes expertly produced Most Importantly), but apparently I was actually quite lacking. It’s amazing when you didn’t know you needed something, and then all of a sudden there it is, and you’re left with the sense that your life is wildly fuller and more interesting because of it. See, Captain Ahab does the same sort of ravesploitation thing, which, to be honest, was initially off-putting to me, but given time (the amount of time needed per listener is relative), I came to appreciate it. In fact, it grew on me to the point where I loved it to a freakish degree. (And, if you want a sneak preview of our upcoming Critical Masses Podcast, we’re discussing the Captain’s The End of Irony album alongside the film adaptation of The Watchmen. I’ll give you a hint as to the connection: Dr. Manhattan.)
That’s how I feel about I.E. I’d heard a couple of her releases (she’s been around for a decade), but nothing really stuck out. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready to tackle the style. Now, with Snipes’s work as a frame of reference, I’ve found that Most Importantly is so much easier on the ears than I ever would have anticipated. In fact, it’s so easy on the ears that I’m going to stop caring and simply love the thing. Deep reads be damned, there are some great tunes here.
“Party in the 909” perfectly encapsulates Padilla’s world, as it follows two junior high girls in urban L.A. as they banter about boys, beer, and sex (all guys are good for is buying booze, according to one; “Yeah, and driving me to the mall!” exclaims the other). They’re prepping for a party, likely a more regular occurance than is healthy. But the banter and lyrics, while hinting at the reality of that existence, are too funny and over-the-top to take too seriously, and the music, a maelstrom of glitter, synths, ecstacy, sweat, and drum machines, is too exciting and danceable to make a difference. So I end up giggling to myself at the opening lines, “Junior high, and we’re lovin’ it, lovin’ it / we’re from the ghetto so we’re thuggin’ it, thuggin’ it,” clear posturing on the protagonists’ part. And even the hints of dissatisfaction and outright revulsion that pop up in the song are so cartoonish that the outlook is hard to properly consider as the references to this life fly past at blinding speed. Enthusiastically: “Our moms are divorced, promiscuous … or dead!” And: “I can’t wait to get fucked up / and against my will get felt up.” But immediately, there’s a yearning for escape: “I’m gonna party my way out of this town,” because, what else?
These sentiments are disturbing and disgusting, but entertaining in a deeply dark way. Have you ever seen the movie Alpha Dog? I think of that when I think of low points. I hated the movie, because it made me sick to my stomach. It was this alien version of L.A. that I didn’t understand and Padilla’s girls are from it. (Maybe not the privileged parts, but again, I’m not from there.) But then Padilla goes national on “Good Ole American,” and in sending up everyone, again to a killer beat and hook, she leaves me laughing again. “Well I’m American and I don’t give a fuck / I wanna party all night in this motherfuckin’ club” – this is the American dream, right? Yep. For sixteen-year-olds. Hilarious. I’m specifically reminded of Captain Ahab’s “Rich as Fuck” from the Snakes on the Brain EP. Both are brilliant songs.
There’s a mid-album transition, represented by serious instrumental track “Zenith,” but not before the best song I’ve ever heard. OK, that’s hyperbole – but I feel that way whenever I hear it. “You Ain’t Shit” is certainly the best low-key chiptune ever. The lyrics, repeated over and over, are phenomenal, and the cadence is perfect: “You ain’t shit, you ain’t shit, you ain’t shit bitch / Click – you’re off my Myspace list, go back to Friendster bitch.” I’m going to embed it here. You have to listen to it. It’s like Section Z on cocaine. Angry cocaine.
I’m already at 1,000 words on this sucker, so I’m not gonna overstay my welcome here much longer. But “Big City Life” and “You Think You’re Cool” come across in a much different way than earlier tracks, where the characters portrayed were “in the know,” as it were. Here they’re on the outside looking in – they don’t live in the good parts of town, they don’t have the right clothes, they’re flawed in some way that excludes them. And the real tragedy is that these kids have such a misguided understanding of what to aspire to that they’ll stoop to dumb actions to get there, because they have nobody to tell them otherwise. Or at least nobody they trust enough to listen to. No real parental interaction, no real friends, no social guidance.
I’m getting depressing again. These songs are so upbeat and so good! I did NOT feel this while listening, I had a great time, and so will you. I just had some tangents to work through, and I hope you’ve made it this far. Have you listened to the songs? Don’t listen to me, listen to them. This is an insanely good album, weird, wild, and timely. Please check it out.
PS: Guys – do NOT take advantage of girls, in any way. It’s the worst thing you can do. Or anybody for that matter.
RIYL: Captain Ahab, Peaches, Saskrotch, Mortal Kombat