It’s hard to think of We Be Xuxa as a “sophomore album,” since Mika Miko have been sharing their music on 7” and cassette since the days when George W. Bush could still get reelected—everybody and their dad has seen Mika Miko play the Smell a billion times and probably stumbled into one of their sets at a college campus, warehouse, or SXSW showcase. Though at first they kinda filled the ecological niche abandoned by the Sharp Ease, Mika Miko’s fame and goodwill has shot far past that—and past anything we expected. They’ve proven to be unstoppable juggernauts of three-chord joy equally at home on a stage with metal hardcore punkers, noise bands, electro hip-hop brats, pop bands, smoke machines and smoky barbecues bursting with Tofurky beer brats.
And what I’d like to do with We Be Xuxa is sculpt a little narrative about musical arcs, and where this album fits into Mika Miko’s happy lifespan, and how it shows a progression or should be showing a progression or has too many extras or not enough. But Mika Miko stands gleefully outside of the spotlight of conventional criticism, as they continue to bang out the most fun-rockin’ sounds of these Smell-y times. They think of themselves as a live band, with recordings being more documentary than sound-crafting, so who am I to even judge? I wouldn’t want to immortalize myself poo-pooing a band whose t-shirts will still be worn thirty years from now by kids in Austin and Greece, but if I write a praise-piece, I may be stroking this generation’s Leaving Trains. (Never head of ‘em? Just ask an Angeleno aged 40-46 and prepare for some teary-eyed adulation).
So fuck history and fuck the scene. This album is really really fun to listen to, and never gives me dry mouth the way, say, bands like No Age sometimes do. (There, I said it!) Whereas so many acts who have “broken out” of the Smell excel at noisy dissonance and minimalist sound, Mika Miko remains minimal in the tried-and-true ways of their forefathers/mothers—three chords, screams and shouts, and short songs that sound nothing like Sonic Youth funneling Steve Reich and so much the better for it. On the surface, We Be Xuxa almost seems like a retread of old school American punk, but actually it evokes without constant copying—it’s fresh-faced punk, yet my heart hears Born Innocent-era Redd Kross in their sisterly choruses, and early early Black Flag or even Ramones in their strumming (minus Greg Ginn’s noodling) and Wipers downturns on the chords, and a Darby Crash-like insistence on writing lyrics too self-referential and profound to sing straight into the microphone. And there’s even a Urinals cover!?! And there’s a Beach Blvd-esque melodicism to Jessie Clavin’s bass lines, one that perfectly matches their Descendants-like love of making up pragmatic gerunds such as “Totion.”
A lot of reviewers have said these gals (et dude) sound like X-Ray Spex, but that is a lazy lie! Jenna Thornhill only seriously plays sax on one song, “Sex Jazz,” and that’s more of a death disco stomp—like Public Image Limited’s “Annalisa” as covered by Suburban Lawns. If I were to compare her to a punker dead, I would say that when Thornhill really sings, and has room to stretch out a bit past the Kipper Kid mongoloid voice she affects, she strongly evokes Mia Zapata’s womanly growl from the old Gits albums. She’s got some seriously untapped talent playing hide and seek with Jennifer Clavin on dueling phone-vocals. But when you hear the chemistry on call-and-response cryptic craziness like “Turkey Sandwich,” you can’t blame them for not exploring new skills when the old ones still work so well.
And the best part of the album is something that I have to admit I have NOT heard yet! Though L.A. RECORD always promises me free vinyl, the most I’ve gotten so far is a Halloween Swim Team single I could have scammed anyway. Ergo, I’ve only heard We Be Xuxa in its digital format, so haven’t been able to replicate the sweet secret I’ve been told exists on the end of the album—namely, that the final groove of the final song never terminates, and that your record player will just keep spinning it over and over again in a sonic loop-de-loop of delight. If that’s true, that puts We Be Xuxa on the par with vintage vinyl such as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and another PiL song, “The Cowboy Song.” Perhaps this attention to detail, plus the piano plinks on punk-perfect “Beat the Rush” and the bomb drops on “On the Rise,” prove that Mika Miko care more about crafting studio albums than they care to admit. No matter—Mika Miko is a band enjoying a well-deserved rocket ride to fame and good cheer, and We Be Xuxa is a perfect transmission back to home base that will still sound good thirty years from now, even if I’m just blasting it on my way to the latest hip all-ages venue in Culver City.