Genders hail from Detroit, but sound nothing like any musicians currently dwelling in that decaying metropolis. The duo—Teas and Jeans—are young, smart, and out of step with what their peers think is cool. Nor do they care about Detroit's fertile musical history. And that's partly why Genders sound so distinctive.
Two years old, Genders have issued two releases in 2005: the vinyl-only Tenderswarm EP on Ypsilanti Records and the new There's Something in the Treats EP on Tigerbeat6. Tenderswarm recalls the sparse, oblique stabs at dub some early-'80s post-punk outfits (PiL, Scritti Politti, Pop Group) used to unshackle themselves from punk's constrictions. Genders' needling guitars approximate the copper-toned abrasiveness of the Banshees' John McGeoch and PiL's Keith Levene. Tenderswarm is marrow chilling: If it were a cinematic figure, it would be Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle—all sublimated rage, suppressed libido, and obsessive fixation on a few ideas—in Genders' case, finding the most hypnotic bass lines and eeriest wails possible.
Treats boasts clearer production, but doesn't veer far from Tenderswarm's template. Dub again dominates, but strange mutations of surf-rock guitar and deadpan techno thuds intrude. Free-floating anxiety and anomie permeate Genders' music. The twosome leave much space in their tracks for their ominous bass lines and twentysomething angst to infiltrate your mind.
"We both just learned playing guitar from our fathers," says Jeans about Genders' formative experiences. "Teas's father played in bands with and grew up with members of Grand Funk Railroad and left a lot of motivation for musical endeavors. We both got into punk and hardcore and dabbled with sounds and concepts. It wasn't long before we wanted to keep expanding our ideas and trying different things. It's an ever-changing process."
Genders' lyrics are elliptical and opaque, conveying feelings of distress and general discomfort with their surroundings. It's hard to discern if they're sincere or ironic.
"They are definitely sincere," Jeans stresses, "even if we sometimes use irony as the means, but in more of a sarcastic way. Different lyrics have different situations and meanings. We wouldn't say that all of them are out of distress. We feel good and bad about our surroundings. Lyrics are usually secondary to the music, but we feel strongly about the end result."
Genders reject assertions that they've immersed themselves in England's initial post-rock scene. "Most of those bands you listed we haven't really [checked out] yet," Jeans claims. "We come from the same spirit as things that you think we are referencing to compose our sounds. Don't get us wrong, we can't help being influenced, but we aren't sure where it all comes from. There are great old and new bands to be inspired by."
Wherever they're drawing inspiration, Genders smelt it into some of the most unnervingly trenchant music going. DAVE SEGAL
Genders play Wed Nov 16 with Adult. and Numbers at Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, 8 pm, $10 adv, all ages.