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A friend once remarked that she couldn’t think of Bruce Springsteen without laughing, perfectly describing my problem with rock and roll. Mind you, I’ve had my moments of abandon, but I’d sum it up this way: I can occasionally plug into the demonic amperage of a Jimmy Page but have always detested the glam posturing of a Robert Plant, indeed, the whole medium of exchange of the rock concert—the waiting, the worship. As for typical alternative rock, which affects to be more grassroots, most of the moody casualness can be plain false—sometimes self-consciously so, which is twice as torturous. Alt/indie lyrics, when parsable, seem to be simultaneously too obvious and too arbitrary; the textures and cadences of the accompanying guitar riffs suffer from a lethargy of musical self-satisfaction.
Black Lake enacts a new paradigm that I can get into. The duo triangulates the rock gig with the presentational detachment of a poetry reading and the DIY-trickiness of an art installation, thereby circumventing the attitudinal idiocies that can inbreed within all three genres of contemporary hipsterism. Slink Moss sing-spiels with an assured, rubbery, cowboy-street-preacher delivery, while Abba-cool Susan Jennings provides backup and engineers layered projections that claim the space around the performance by means of shadows and lush refractions amplifying through dangling, twirling remnant plastics. The posture—equilaterally askew from the performance space, the club, and the pop-up gallery—is all about backing the audience off just far enough to create incantatory elbow room for Black Lake’s precisely strummed Mack-Truck ragas.
Working two rhythm guitars across pairs of glorious, euphonious chords, as in the flamenco-inflected “Beware,” Moss and Jennings configure a compelling pulse of sound from an accessible minimalism. This version of garage primality shares DNA with the band’s efficient light-show projections; and equally with its lyrical opportunism, in which strings of free association (“Beware of the coming frost / Beware of the poison moss”) assert a satisfying rhetorical arrogance by being set onto synesthetic ledges in the wall of rhythm. With such unmonumental glitter, cannily austere Black Lake proves that one needn’t hock the soul to rock out.
—David Brody is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn.
Check out an interview with Moss and Jennings on BOMBlog.