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The wait for the next great indie pop band is over. Chicago’s Pixel Grip release their debut Heavy Handed today, and it’s a true cause for celebration. Not only is the 12-track collection a primer in how to infuse a genre treading water with new energy, the trio also celebrates the queer culture that birthed them.
In a collective statement, the band has said, “As a queer band, our music reflects both the celebrations and struggles of our identity. We love how dance music can bring our community together in an intimate way, so we explore elements of disco, Chicago house and pop. On the flip side, our fringe identity has also brought along hardship and pain; queerness has a tendency to make ourselves as individuals feel isolated and unable to belong. We reclaim ourselves through this adversity while channeling the aggressive feelings from darkwave and techno. No matter the theme of the song, we love wacky, flamboyant and colorful music, just as we love these same qualities within ourselves and our queer community.”
Pixel Grip’s frontperson Rita Lukea is a wacky and wondrous combination of first-class performers: the sweet directness of Metric’s Emily Haines, the soulful angst of Amy Winehouse, the poise and passion of London Grammar’s Hannah Reid. Her range at first seems limited — a basic alto that flutters and squeaks and trills in thrilling amalgamations — but there’s warmth in her lower register and, though cool as a cucumber, she’s fearless when it comes to phrasing.
From the vibrato she employs as a fillip to the end of lines in “Golden Moses” to the heavy-breathing robotics of motorik closer “Right Side” to the M People disco of “Body Like That” (about violence, not sex), she never ceases to surprise. She’s a confidently imaginative singer unafraid to bring seemingly incompatible styles together. During the leisurely stroll of “Plastic Enemies” she revs her breathy vocals into a melisma reminiscent of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and, better yet, in the dub-inflected “Twentyfour” she turns an Ella Fitzgerald scat into the song’s hook. Impressive.
Lukea isn’t the entire show here. Jonathon Freund is responsible for the synth arrangements (and much more) while Tyler Ommen keeps the groove clean and compelling. Currently there are no tour dates outside their native Chicago listed, but this is a band that begs to be seen live, where their dedicated commitment to trance-inducing songs can breathe and soar.
The band itself call this music “Goth-disco,” inspired by Chicago house music, post-punk, darkwave and the work of Air, Little Dragon and many others. I don’t hear them quite the same way. The most Goth song on Heavy Handed is the percolating “Soft Peaks.” But they can call themselves whatever they want; they’re all just labels.
“Indie pop,” “goth-disco,” “queer” — this band is here to transcend them all.
Find Pixel Grip on Instagram. The debut album Heavy Handed is out today.
Photos of PIxel Grip by Alexa Vicius