Elite Gymnastics is going to bring ska back. This might be sort of surprising if you've ever heard an Elite Gymnastics song: the stock in trade of the Minneapolis band (James Brooks, 27, and Josh Clancy, 24) is a kind of heavily compressed rave revivalism — shoegaze with breakbeats, maybe. But if you ask the band, they've already started.
"'Omamori' [from Ruin]," Brooks says, "that to me was a ska song — it samples Prince Buster and it has an '80s hip-hop type drum pattern in it. I tell people, like, that's a ska song, and they're like, 'No, it's not,' and I'm like, 'I'll show you.'"
You can listen to Omamori here and see if you're convinced — I'm not sure I am, but I like that Brooks and Clancy want to argue for it. "I'll show you" is, in some ways, one of Elite Gymnastics' animating precepts. "When I see something like ska or Asian pop, or video games or whatever, that people are dismissive of just because it's not cool," Brooks says, "I'm like, I'm going to fight to show you how cool it is."
And so, playing shows in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side a few weeks ago, the pair insisted on attempting to do their sets as a karaoke show, complete with a title screen done in the style of the Japanese role-playing video-game series Final Fantasy (sample stage banter: "That song was about the male gaze. This song is about how people who smoke cigarettes are fucking retarded"), and last year, they released a mix called "ALL WE FUCKING CARE ABOUT IS K-POP, WHITEHOUSE AND OUR CATS."
Brooks and Clancy were admittedly uncool in high school, and even now they retain the wary fascination with coolness that smart outcasts tend to develop as teenagers. "Minneapolis Belongs to You," their ode to the self-involvement of their hometown scene, veers between a cutting, hilarious sneer — "When you're dead, they will toast your life/at your friends' shitty DJ nights./No one will hear their speeches clearly/they'll all just think it's someone's birthday" — and a resentful, bitter broadside — "When you're dead, you will be survived/by a total absence of surprise/by the wistful sighs and dejected shrugging/of all the losers you were fucking." The Recycle Culture cover, which we're premiering here (off of Elite Gymnastics Ruin 4), spreads another layer of irony over the song, coating its acidity in sparkling, ecstatic stadium-house arpeggios that are decidedly uncool.
Or maybe they're not. Even when biting and embittered, Brooks and Clancy and their collaborators can't help but stay open to the idea that things you dismiss are maybe pretty cool. This is the other animating precept of Elite Gymnastic: everything is worth considering. Their creative process is about opening up new possibilities and considerations — maybes. "Carly Rae Jepsen is totally along with our worldview on that one, you know," Brooks says. "'Call Me... Maybe?'"
Trax Read is a semi-regular feature in which I write about and recommend cool new music and talk to cool musicians. I'm going to try not to overthink it.