Identity crisis

Black Kids know who they are, even if you don’t
By BEN WESTHOFF  |  May 6, 2008

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LITMUS TEST If you have a problem with their name, they probably don’t want you around anyway.

Black Kids lead singer Reggie Youngblood is relaxed and focused, articulate and unpretentious, polite with a sharp sense of humor. Forget Hillary — he’s the guy I want to have a shot of Crown Royal with. With his band recently signed to Columbia and their debut LP due this summer, the 27-year-old Youngblood is on the crest of fame, thanks to a terrific four-song EP released last year and a lot (a lot) of love from bloggers.

Most people respond at once to the band’s textured, accessible pop songs, which showcase a mélange of rock, goth, and Motown influences. Others in the ultra-PC indie-rock sociosphere can’t seem to get past the name, especially since of the five band members only Youngblood and his sister, Ali, are black.

“It is sort of a litmus test,” Youngblood explained over the phone from LA, where the band were staying in advance of Coachella. “It’s sort of a way to push people’s buttons. If you’ve got a serious problem with our moniker, if it really bothers you, then we probably don’t really want you around anyway. It’s helpful that way.”

Formed in 2006 in Jacksonville, the group got their break when a horde of bloggers swooned over their 2007 performance at Athens’s Popfest. Buoyed by the requisite Pitchfork rave, the group have become real-life popular very quickly — especially in the UK, where they receive significant BBC airplay and Youngblood sometimes gets recognized on the street.

Their Wizard of Ahhhs EP, available for free on their MySpace page, is noteworthy not just for its vigorous, catchy beats but also for lyrical experimentation, gender blending, and incestuous implications. On “Hurricane Jane,” Ali sings what seems to be the love interest’s response to her older brother’s call. Youngblood contends that his sibling’s voice is “not necessarily” that of the love interest. And even if it is, he adds that “there’s a tradition already in place in pop music for that sort of thing,” citing Prince’s “Sister” and Serge Gainsbourg’s duet with his daughter Charlotte, “Lemon Incest.”

“You are the girl that I’ve been dreaming of ever since I was a little girl” might be the album’s best-known line. Youngblood sings it in his Robert Smith–inspired faux falsetto on “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance with You”; he says he meant to pay homage to the experimentations of David Bowie and Morrissey with gender, and also to avoid cliché. “I like the idea of playing with very basic language. To me, to say ‘Ever since I was a little girl’ is infinitely more interesting than saying ‘Ever since I was a little boy.’ That would be the lamest line of all time.”

“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance with You” is about the dancing-fiend protagonist’s failure with the ladies. Youngblood says it was inspired by his own experiences. But now that he’s signed to a major label and is the toast of the Internet, things have surely changed, right? “You would think so, but my average has stayed about the same. It’s really all a matter of preference. If you want to go out there and do the legwork and be with a different stranger every night, I’m sure it’s possible, but really I’ve just been too lazy. Sometimes I just want to stay home and read Neil Young’s biography.”

Buck up, young man. Even if you exclude smitten male music critics, you’ve still got gobs of rabid fans out there hoping to buy you a drink.

BLACK KIDS + CUT COPY + MOBIUS BAND | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | May 12 | 617.562.8800

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