Kimya Dawson at Northsix
December 3, 2004, Brooklyn
Oh, Kimya. You could make the most emotionally arrested among us run screaming for signposts of adult life. Because you’ve taken the idea of naïve self-presentation to new heights. Shoe-gazers, toy-piano players, unpolished warblers, step aside: Kimya is there in a woolen bunny hat fastened under her chin, the tip of her nose darkened and her body obscured inside a giant black suit. She’s singing songs of pain and sorrow, but they’re hard to follow because she rushes through her lyrics like a shy 10-year-old. Occasionally a line jumps out that hits just right: “And the smell of wet dirt reminds me of home.” But then she tumbles into another torrent of words. Kimya! What in aitch is the hurry? Slow down so we can follow what in tarnation you’re talking about.
You strain to catch her lyrics because she sings story songs, with multiple verses and simple structures. There are no hooks and, now that I think of it, not many choruses. The songs often deal with death and loss, but she plays them in a fast, almost jolly style that contrasts with the subjects. Kimya has a plain but honest voice and executes her simple guitar style quite effectively.
For a while I was intrigued. Kimya Dawson is obviously a sincere person – you can tell she means what she’s singing. And there are some nice moments in her songs when her lyrics are striking or emotionally resonant. But there were also times when I felt like yelling: “You’re not even trying!” Not even trying to play in time, sing in tune, or provide the occasional musical treat like a new chord pattern. At many points the personal honesty and creative imagery were defeated by the artless music.
The packed bar responds warmly to Kimya’s songs. The audience is almost unanimously young and all look like they were the most sensitive person at their high school. And Kimya’s songs seem somehow directed at the wounded high school student in all of us. Everyone around me is closer to that period of their lives than I am, and maybe that’s why I find Kimya and her percussionist, who adorns his long hair with even more extravagant bunny ears than Kimya, more precious than affecting. He also sports a tailored white dress and construction boots. It’s a mystery what these get-ups have to do with the music. The costumes are actually a distracting framework for essentially straightforward songs.
Watching these two gentle spirits perform, it’s hard not to wonder if we’ve come a bit too far from the raunch and posing of hard rock. In an article in Crud Magazine, Kimya’s former band, the Moldy Peaches, are described as unpretentious, but is the aggressively childlike style of performers like Dawson without any calculation? Bunny suits don’t just happen!
The music is what matters, in any case. Dawson has plenty of ideas, but her songs could use some trimming so their essence shines out more clearly. And maybe, down the road, she could think about losing the rabbit ears so she can shine more clearly, too.
MP3s are available at Kimya Dawson’s official site. Her lastest album is Hidden Vagenda and you can find it at Amazon and iTunes. People love the Moldy Peaches, as we found out after they opened up for the Strokes.