Alternative Press, Band of the Week, October 25, 1999
"I read an interview with [director] Hal Hartley,"
recalls Michael Grace Jr., chairman of new-wave pop royalty My
Favorite, "and he said that his films were in dialogue with Godard.
He wasnít trying to remake Godardís films; he was making his own
art, which reinforced what was good about them. I feel like Iím in
dialogue with post-punk music and outsider art in general."
On their debut album, Love At Absolute Zero (Double Agent), My
Favorite harness the synth-sprinkled melodic angst that accompanied
í80s bands like New Order and the Smiths. The Long Island-based
quartetóGrace, Gil Abad, Todbot, Darren Amadio and sublime vocalist
Andrea Vaughnócapture suburban ennui and alienation in a way thatís
familiar but not necessarily nostalgic. If this were 1986, My Favorite
easily could have stolen the limelight from any band featured on the
soundtrack from a John Hughes movie.
"If I ever hear from my post-film-school brother that there was a
Hughes film in production that had anything to do with teenagers,"
says Grace, "Iíd try some sort of guerrilla maneuver to get involved."
Maybe it will be a film featuring Demi Mooreís kids.
Grace laughs. "When Demi Mooreís kids start drinking and hanging out
in unsavory circles, weíll be there to give muse to the experience!"
by Jason Pettigrew
Time Out, New York, August 12, 1999
The biggest surprise about this debut album by Long Island new-wave act My Favorite is that
it's really good in a way that might have seemed hideous 15 years ago. Back then, if the sound wasn't
icy, mechanical, and disaffected (Eurythmics, DAF, Silicon Teens), theatrically desolate (Joy Division,
Bauhaus) or whipped-cream-with-knives ironic (Blondie, Altered Images) then it wasn't worth hearing.
But 'Love At Absolute Zero' is pop in an Aztec Camera/Nick Heyward vein that sounds good now.
Better than most current retro acts, My Favorite delivers the goods--12 hooky, earnest, slightly awkward and endearing songs--
with cheeky wit and charm. And what's not to love about a bunch of overeducated suburbanites who can sing,
"We're all pop stars underneath our raincoats/With our pockets full of suicide notes"?
My Favorite is largely the creation of artist/musician Michael Grace, Jr., whose interest in video, film, and technology
is evident in both the album art and his lyrics. Along with partner/co-vocalist/synthesist Andrea Vaughn
(whose voice soars on 'Love'), Grace sings with a bittersweet yearning for lost times he's never known in
"Working Class Jacket" and "17 Berlin," making even the most prosaic kitchen-sink drama into a Mod dance party.
A highlight of their frenzied live set, "Go Kid Go," couples a Pat Benatar-style power-chord riff with post-teen angst
references to skinheads, insanity and violence; on record this manic quality is sacrificed for clarity and focus,
but even with layers of synths, it is urgent and exhilirating-and oddly uplifting, like many songs on 'Love'.
But don't let this tinge of positivism hold you back: Such gems as "Between Cafes" and the title track have enough
sweet sadness to keep even the most discerning aging gloomsters happily frowning. (The band gets a special award for
nominative shenanigans for its backing vocalist credit: "The Depressed Men's Choir featuring Androgyn Freedom.")
by LD Beghtol
My Favorite's superb debut translates palpable
pre-millennial tension into neon-lit synthesizer drama recalling the
heyday of the New Wave with none of the irony which sinks like-minded
retro-futurists from Romania to the Rentals, Love at Absolute Zero is
the soundtrack to a youth rebellion that never was, vividly conjuring
a teen underworld as romantic as it is claustrophobic. The album is
wonderfully sleek and cinematic songs like "Absolute Beginners Again"
and the remarkable "17 Berlin" unspool like music videos and although
My Favorite bring to mind the chrome-plated aesthetics of the synth-pop
era with uncanny accuracy, their songs capture a passion and immediacy
which the remote robotics of their antecedents lacked. It's quite simply
the best album of 1983, delivered sixteen years after the fact.
The Big Takeover
This Long Island-based quintet, which specializes in (for lack of a better
term) a sort of unironic suburban new wave, has released a couple of 7-inch
singles, but this, its long-playing debut, took more than five years to come
together. Undoubtedly, the lack of urgency in a label releasing this excellent
record had something to do with the fact that there isn't much of an audience
for music as poetic, individualistic, and resolutely out of step with prevailing
fashions as this. In any case, this is one of the best underground pop records to
come along in the last few years. Michael Grace's songs of alienation and redemption
never bog down, thanks mostly to the band's winning sense of melody and knack for
crafting dark, brooding hooks that end up seeming somehow hopeful, too.
Ink 19, June 2000
Although this album came out last year, it was only recently that a
friend turned me onto this band. Undeniably, this is one of the best
albums I've heard in two or three years. Stylistically, the music is
reminiscent of mid to late eighties new wave. At first listen, one
would think this was an obscure British band from ten odd years ago.
But, this doesn't make My Favorite a band intent on recycling the past.
In their hands, the music takes on a vitality and earnestness that is
sorely missing from most American pop music nowadays. With swathes of
synthesizers, a crisp rhythm section and Darren Amadio's guitar playing
that evokes memories of the Smiths, this music is instantly captivating.
Lyrically, the music documents the travails and missteps of love at the
end of a millennium (hence the title). There is also a display of class
consciousness (rare for an American band) and the perils and emptiness
of the endless club hopping scene. Listening to this album reminds me of
the Martin Amis novel, Success, in that both document the cruel and ultimately,
fruitless attempts to obtain some modicum of success in the city. Consider
the lyrics from "The Informers": "And beneath the stars, life is cheap and
easy/ We take ecstasy, in sorrow, today's a party but not tomorrow/ And at
the disco he masters the new technology/ In this country we pay in hard
currency/And I know this is gonna hurt."
With the alternating vocals of Michael Grace and Andrea Vaughn, these songs
are incredible. Finding an album that is this enjoyable and moving is a rare
event nowadays. Go buy this disc.
by Terry Eagan
CMJ New Music Report, July 19, 1999
The members of My Favorite are not British, but the band's music sure as hell
sounds like they'd like to be. One imagines that these Long Islanders spent
their early years fully immersed in the then-futuristic, synthetic wash of new
wave. After taking notes and cribbing ideas from unusual suspects (Alphaville
and Spandau Ballet among them), My Favorite colors its music with post-punk
intellectualism. A reverence for the '80s sputters under the dual vocals of
Andrea Vaughan and the Morrissey-enamored Michael Grace, Jr., and sparkling
Smiths-like guitars meet electronic gurglings that suggest Depeche Mode and
The Cure. Love At Absolute Zero heroically revisits the misfit pop romaticism
of the Reagan years.
by Kelso Jacks
The War Against Silence, May 1999
The Subtle Difference Between Suicide Notes and Love Letters
The days stretch, the air warms, windows open, other sports start,
but I measure the departure of winter, now, by two signal events in
what I'll call My Garden, although this implies that I garden, as a
verb, in it, which I don't. The first is the appearance of some colorful
flowers ("tulips", I'm told, which sounds plausible, but frankly "Irish
Setters" sounds plausible, too) along one edge of my front yard, where
"yard" here comes closer to describing the area's size than its composition.
I didn't plant these flowers there, and since it was July when I bought
this house, I didn't even know of their existence until I'd been here
for nine or ten months. They are pretty, though. This year a couple
red ones also sprouted up in the middle of a small purple-flowered bush
("azalea"? "solar plexus"?) in my more-yard-like back yard, which was
striking. They don't last long, these flowers, a quick blast of color
to announce the entrance of milder weather, gone as soon as they've
made their point. And while I haven't seen them snowed upon, yet, this
is New England, and Spring has a way, like some of the people I work with,
of arriving at a meeting on time, setting a small personal item on the
conference table to assert their attendance, and then wandering off
again on unexplained errands. I reserve judgment on the persistence of
the traditional contours of the Earth's orbit, therefore, until the
second event, which is when the large tree in my back yard finally deigns
to provide a leaf density sufficient to shade my hammock. That happened
over the weekend, so as far as I'm concerned, it's summer now.
Non-horticultural corroboration is provided by the sudden need to start
using coasters again, and that dream I had two nights ago about this girl
on whom I have a pointless crush, most of which she spent explaining how
easily she gets drawn into religious cults and multi-level marketing
schemes, which isn't a quality I find particularly attractive, to be honest,
although later in the dream I did get to see her in her underwear.
I relate to my garden as an advisor, on occasion, but more often as an
observer, frequently stooping over to peer at things but rarely challenging
their right to exist. This attitude is a product of laziness, ignorance and
lack of interest, arguably, but I prefer to cast it as scientific detachment.
If I pull up all those things that look like bad imitation lettuce, I'll never
find out what they turn into later. Maybe they're just about to get good. This
kind of archaic, passive notion of science, simply watching what goes on,
instead of impatiently smashing things into ever-smaller shards, is on my mind
for several reasons, this week. My friend Mike, whose birthday it just was, has
taken up bird-watching, perhaps the ultimate non-interference pastime; I've just
started reading The Song of the Dodo, David Quammen's imposing survey of island
biogeography, which I bought (albeit a long time ago) because Mike's sister,
who does biogeography, recommended it; and, in music, I've finally reached
the point in my Voyage of the Beagle-like expedition into obscure indie pop
music where half of the dozen other bands every new discovery leads me to
are ones I've already come across. It's taken almost five months, and hundreds
of CDs and 45s, to get this far, and as the wobbly piles of things I've only
listened to once or twice testifies, I have a long way to go just to make
lasting sense of everything I've cursorily examined, but at least I no longer
feel, like I did in January and February, as if I'm sitting beside a rupture
in our small universe, watching some other, larger one leak into it.
The precise turning point in my self-education, in fact, is a single album, Love
at Absolute Zero, the full-length debut by the Long Island quintet My Favorite,
which is the first (by some reckoning) new indie record I've purchased not
because a description made me think I'd like it, or because the bass player
owns the label that put out the last record I liked, but because I actually
know the band from singles and compilation appearances, and have been eagerly
awaiting this next step. This is the first one I feel like I've earned.
It's been a long time coming, much longer than I've been waiting myself:
the songs on My Favorite's Swingset single The Last New Wave Record were
recorded in early 1994, the Harriet single The Informers & Us came out
in 1995, and even their split with Mad Planets was back in 1997. Most of
this history, however, is conveniently reprised on the album, whose twelve
tracks include re-recorded versions of The Last New Wave Record's "Go Kid
Go" and "Absolute Beginners Again", The Informers & Us' "The Informers", and
My Favorite's half of the Mad Planets split, "Working Class Jacket". Those
songs suggested, I thought, that My Favorite were trying to reconcile
Simple Minds and the Human League with Heavenly and the Field Mice, reviving
the sweeping scale of pop from before self-consciousness undermined New Wave,
but filtering it through indie pop's deliberate naÔvetÈ. It seems like a
pretty good idea, to me. "Absolute Zero", the first song in my awareness to
extract romantic angst from the upcoming calendar roll-over, is strung over
spindly synthesizers, alternately evasive and propulsive drumming, chirping
guitar and angular vocal harmonies, like the introvert's complement to Duran
Duran's "Girls on Film". "Absolute Beginners Again" is somewhere between
early Modern English and the Primitives. A few bars of fierce guitar introduce
"17 Berlin", but they quickly give way to a glassy blur, like the evolutionary
link between the Orchids and the Rose Chronicles, that refuses to either
glamorize youth or rail against it. The anxious, stranded "The Truth About
Lake Ronkonkoma" could be the indie-pop national anthem, sighing "We're all
pop stars underneath our sweaters". "Let's Stay Alive", with a timeless
arpeggiator riff running under charging guitar and springy bass runs, sounds
to me like New Order waking up to realize that the only thing keeping them
from sounding as irrepressible as Kenickie are their own complexes. The
soaring "Go Kid Go" is even more Kenickie-ish, but a Kenickie that grew up
on Missing Persons and Blue ÷yster Cult as much as on Penetration and the
Jam. "Modulate" opens like a dub Spandau Ballet remix, but crashes into
crisp, Ultravox-like stomp. The suburb dirge "Between Cafes" never sheds its
melancholy composure, but "The Informers" is a gleefully mechanized dance-standard,
like the Smiths with the presence of mind to disguise their grim solemnity
as aplomb. In the wake of Littleton, the threat in "Working Class Jacket"'s
"Rich kids hate the skinheads, / and the skinheads hate the rich kids. / She
gets thrown in with the deal. / ... / She says, 'I'm gonna kill someone'" may
sound less rhetorical than it did when it was written, but the girl in the
song, and its narrator singing to her, and a hundred bands like this spending
five years making one small record if that's what it takes, they all realize,
as the killers and their victims in Littleton both did not, that ostracism
is a gift, and the one that almost all interesting art celebrates.