"Fucked up/with my best friend." Has there ever been a more immediately auspicious beginning to a rock song? It trumps meeting a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis, which locates you leisurely and ostentatiously by comparison. The lyrics to MINKS’ "Drunk Punks" that follow that haikuperfect first line are unintelligible, present just to trigger the reverb and mixed low against the instruments: thin but driving snare-and-high-hat, flanged bass, corny wistful synths and a howling wash of Lou Barlow guitar noise. But who cares? Like a magical incantation, those six words stick a brown-bagged bottle in your hand, fill it with fortified wine, pump aimless hope in your heart and stick an old bestie by your side on a Chinatown bus to Philly on a rainy Saturday. Or a flask/Jameson/your first roommate/someone’s unattended backyard swimming pool, but you get the drift: hope and magic and a person around whom your universe once revolved are constants.
MINKS’ ascendancy has been similarly rapid. Sonny Kilfoyle, the writer, producer and only permanent member of the band, shrugs and hesitates in his basement studio off the Lorimer stop on the L train when I ask him how the band got started, as he does before answering almost every question. "It started as just a couple of songs in the basement," he says. He played about 90 percent of the parts with his brother and other folks "not necessarily in the band"—one of whom is Euro songstress/actress/Chanel model Amalie Bruun, who appears to only differ from The Velvet Underground’s Nico in that she can actually sing. Kilfoyle had heard some of the first songs by Wild Nothings on local label Captured Tracks and liked them enough to write and share some songs with the label. The same day, he was asked by Captured Tracks to put out a record and got a nod from The Fader. "So it was a funny little thing that happened," he said, as if that confluence of support, hype and it-girl friend didn’t make the next six months for MINKS. That first 7-inch came out before the band played its inaugural show, a sold-out gig at Mercury Lounge. Now, MINKS is about to head out for a month-long national tour with Dum Dum Girls in February and has a European tour slated for April—not bad for a band less than a year old with maybe 12 shows under its belt.
Those first singles are strong:melodramatic but knowingly so. The songs are quietly noisy bedroom symphonies, unobtrusive enough that you allow them into your head and they lure you away on some nostalgic reverie. "Drunk Punks" and "Funeral Song" sound like the offhand brilliance your idle stoner roommate might record with your four track in your living room one weekend when you were out of town. But how would those frozen moments, regardless of how perfect they might be, translate to a living, moving band for the buzzbanddowsing rod that is Captured Tracks?
Mike Sniper is such an enthusiastic, affable fan of music it seems impossible for him to work in the music industry, let alone run a label that has emerged as a reliable indie tastemaker. Wasn’t he concerned about releasing a 7-inch by a band that wasn’t yet a band? "Eh, maybe a little, but at that first show," he says, grinning, "man, they were just on from the first note." Still, after their early promise, MINKS seems to unravel quickly, with only a little prodding.
The new record, By The Hedge, out Jan. 21, has three compelling new songs, three of the four previously released tunes and six songs that don’t do much of anything. Only one, "Indian Ocean," is truly egregious—one of the advantages of having more than one person in the band is that there is someone who will tell you to leave the tap-water-tame instrumental off the record. Taken as whole, By The Hedge sounds like a mixtape you made for a girl in the coffee shop in 1998 but never gave to her. There’s the unison bedroom coo and slinky syncopation of Yo La Tengo, Belle and Sebastian’s upbeat twee jangle, Sebadoh’s mumble-and-drone, The Swirlies downer euphoria. Granted, these are all classic or at least mix-worthy bands, but it’s such a thorough and astute survey of the canon that you’re forced to suspect that it wasn’t arrived at organically, but by grim, deft calculation.
At Brooklyn Bowl late last year, the band seemed uncomfortable and bored on stage, less concerned with performance or at least having fun than with moping appropriately. At another show at Glasslands, ensconced under the fedora he’s never seen without, Sonny played through a tinny speck of a Gorilla practice amp, then badgered the soundperson again and again to turn him up in the monitors. And Sonny’s name is not Sonny but Sean, or Shaun, as it is carefully misspelled on MINKS’ page on the Captured Tracks website, an obvious nod to Nirvana, a band that he acknowledges as an early inspiration. He cites his favorite album as Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas; he professes not to know where his father works; after repeated nudging, he shared lyrics to only one song which were as oblique as a freshman poem; he works "doing things that need to be done"—which he finally clarified was not selling drugs—yet he maintains a decent basement studio and a separate apartment around the corner; he is ambivalent about his band’s success to date, its upcoming tour and its future. He was even coy about his age when I asked him, responding with "How old do you think I am?" as if it were last call at Union Pool. I want to root for MINKS like I root for every other Brooklyn basement band, but Kilfoyle’s relentless currying of mystery makes it hard not to understand him as heaping apathetic affectation upon affectation, playing Michael Pitt playing Kurt Cobain.
But so what? Mick and Keith were college kids ripping off their idols when only the landed gentry went to college. Keith was in fucking art school for God’s sake, and he’s still scared up a little street cred and even wrote a couple of decent songs. It’s the songs that matter and only the songs. What you carry away from the good MINKS songs—which are great, haunting and hooky and urgent—is the sense of loss. A friend, a lover, innocence, something of dire importance has been lost to time, overlooked or undervalued then misplaced, its absence only detected when it was irretrievable. And whoever Kilfoyle is, he’s got a full count. It’s up to him now whether MINKS endures or is devoured by a scene that conceives, celebrates and cannibalizes its progeny with high speed. "I feel like the music would happen with or without an audience," he said. Well, here we are now: entertain us.
Glasslands, 289 Kent Ave. (betw. S. 1st & S. 2nd Sts.)