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The Down and Outs

The Down & Outs Take An Experimental Leap on new single "Cntrl Group"

A control group [is] a comparison group in a study whose members receive either no intervention at all or some established intervention. The responses of those in the control group are compared with the responses of participants in one or more experimental groups that are given the new treatment being evaluated.” — APA Dictionary of Psychology

Engineered by @connorpriest — Mixed by @corner_soul — Mastered by @robin.schmidt.mastering — Photo by @juliatarantino

In 1961 psychologist Albert Bandura conducted the first of his famous “Bobo Doll” experiments with kids in experimental Group 1 witnessing an adult beating the sh*t out of a punching-bag style inflatable clown doll without repercussion, whereas kids in Group 2 saw adults playing nice with the doll and a third “control group” not being predisposed in any way…

…and when kids from all 3 groups were set loose on a Bobo doll, the first group not only imitated the aggro behavior but ran with it—employing a toy gun for instance—whereas the other kids treated the doll more gently, thus proving that clown-beating isn’t genetically ingrained even when the clown is a creepy bowling-pin shaped doll that springs back up after being struck ready to be hit again

…but it ain’t easy finding a nice neutral control group these days seeing as we’re all bombarded by digital streams of behavior-modifying reinforcement online already including constant monitoring of others’ likes and shares, laudatory comments and aggro-style flaming and trolling not to mention good ol’ fashioned passive-aggressive ignoring of the perceived dweebs, all projected into the giant echo chamber of the Internet…

…so no wonder The Down & Outs new single “Cntrl Group” sees vocalist/bassist Ray Young repeating “I wish you were my control group” in mantra-like fashion with steady building frenzy over a pounding, echo-chamber-laden dub-inflected, spaced-out, techno-on-guitars beat to the point where if “Cntrl Group” were played in an empty room with a clown doll nearby it’d probably start off as a nice fun groovy dance party but by the song’s end you’ll likely be slam dancing up against good ol' Bobo…

…none of which is meant to say the song is “about” osocial learning theory—we honestly don’t know what the lyrics are supposedly to mean—but a recent convo with Ray the other day (see below!) did focus some on these topics, not to mention The D&O’s control-group like tendency to strip all unnecessary variables from their music…

…in order to make it as stripped down and streamlined as possible as ably assisted by the lean, mean, trancey-hard-techno-played-in-a-rock-band-format-machine-tooled playing of guitarist Benji Watson (Struck Me Like A Chord, Abstract Voicings) and drummer Tom O’Donnell (Corner Soul, Couch Prints)…

…with one major takeaway being how tough it is today to remain authentic in the face of a music industry reliant on automation and algorithms, streaming stats & social media impressions which in part inspired The D&O’s to scrap (for now) several tracks recorded with a name producer that depleted their finances more than igniting their passions even if they’ll later make for solid album tracks, eading to a renewed resolution to work organically within their means and to stay engaged by disengaging…

…so don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe! (Jason Lee)


Edited excerpts from a conversation with RAY YOUNG on June 21, 2023:

The Down & Outs haven’t put out new music since late 2021. The band went into the studio last year. I thought if I just worked with a good, known producer they’d hear something I didn’t hear. But it ended up ruining us financially—me and my roommate are broke for the foreseeable future. The lesson learned was to work within your means and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Or it’ll lead to a lot of bad stuff.

We went back to the drawing board, working with some new people and learning how to get it done quickly. And on “Cntrl Group” it happened. It felt like the song we’ve been threatening to write for a while. We wanted to make this song painfully honest. It’s more of a techno song with guitar than a post-punk song with a dance beat. It’s the sound of us growing as a band, and me as a songwriter. We felt we needed to clear new ground, make it pay off and really be worth it.

To be clear, all those songs we left on the shelf are going to come out. They have their merits. The one we really like will probably be the next single, coming out next month. The other two songs will be released when we’re putting together a larger project later this year, or next year. They just weren’t singles, more album cuts. One of them is totally different than anything we’ve ever done before.

The ethos of the band—I wanna see how little I can do and still make a song work. Like writing what’s essentially a single-note, four-on-the-floor song. We tried other variations but this is the one that clicked. The song came out of a jam , playing together in real time and not out of the box. When you’re a band band you have to have that chemistry, the ability to communicate, that’s what a real band does.

This is the first recording our drummer Tom plays on. He’s been doing our mixing and our artistic production for a while. He mixes off headphones and a Bluetooth Bose speaker, and this shit definitely sound better than what a lot of people do with more typical studio gear.

Connor helped us with some of the production and cleaned it up. We kept the whole process “in house” as much as possible. I don’t need someone to tell me “this is how it should be.” And if we can keep it more insular and work with the right people, and do it with some of our friends, with the “scene” which is basically you and your friends who do some of the same artistic tasks, it means it’s all coming from the same ethos…


We all known New York City is ripe as fuck right now for a new scene to break through. All eyes are on us as a musical community and we are 100% looking looking to exist at the epicenter as part of it. But not as one of the faux-rock bands ‘cause a lot of them aren’t even real bands. They just want to straight up play TikTok music that sounds like something you’d hear an orthodontic office—like a standard four-piece of white boys who get hyped and signed to a label but don’t know what they’re doing.

We’re into crossing Manhattan rock with the techno/electro scene in Brooklyn. I wanna make something that a journalist has to come up with a new name for. Indie sleaze is a good example. It’s kinda cool and gets people good press and helps legitimate artists, but it doesn’t have anything to do with anything. It’s not even really a musical style. But still that “Girls” song by The Dare fucking rocks and helps continue on a certain legacy. I only wish them all the best of success.

Today “indie rock” is more a state of mind than anything, more about fashion than a certain sound. But if “sleaze” is really part of the equation you shouldn't be drinking White Claws at a party more like tallboys. Debauchery and hedonism are sleazy if we’re gonna use this word. I think a better, more descriptive label would be the NYC Lorem scene or Pollen scene, since it’s all intertwined with digital culture anyway. That to me is more descriptive, while indie sleaze is more harkening back to the past.

And speaking of digital culture I also like how some people now are making music that’s “unreferential” to the past, like hyperpop, totally divorced from precedence. But still I’d like to see The Down & Outs be part of a new “NYC sound” or scene that’s inspired by the past, but not derivative or limited by it.

Whatever style you’re part of, when it comes down to it, nothing is sicker than having under 1000 listeners on Spotify or whatever other social media. What could be a more legitimizing project than to continue making music in a vacuum? That to me is cool. You have 17 listeners but yet you persevere and keep going. Low stakes means that you can exist in complete freedom. You really can make whatever you want. And then if it goes viral, it’s better if it just happens out of nowhere.

Fcukers are a good example. They have two songs out [one being a Beck cover] no videos and no press. But they sold out Baby’s All Right. The music is enough, but a lot of artists don’t think that way. The question is whether you want to have a legacy, something you can stand by on your deathbed, or did you just follow the standard industry game.


Hot tracks/Hot takes: The Down & Outs

HOT TRACKS/HOT TAKES: The Down & Outs released three singles in 2021, a triptych that pretty well summed up the experience of living through 2021 or they did for me at least (see "Free Assocation" section below). These three songs, self-described as the beginning, middle, and end of D&O Chapter Two, mark a transitional, exploratory phase for the post-punky power trio—and who doesn’t identify with the whole “transitional phase” thing these days ammirite?—a triptych which taken together makes for an attractive mantelpiece display or stocking stuffer for Grandma!

FREE ASSOCIATION: The sound of pent-up energy released. Then pent-up again. Then dissected and stitched back together Ed Gein style. Then revivified via electrical-current Bride of Frankenstein style. (“She’s alive! She’s alive!”) White knuckle fight-or-flight response. Frantic. Volcanic. A danceable panic attack. Built up by deconstruction. Minimalist maximalism. Intimacy from a distance. A remote Zoom call broadcast from the inside of someone’s skull to the inside of your skull. (see Brainstorm trailer below)

SONG ONE: “Last Party On Duke Street”
Release date: 16 April 2021
Duration: 2:58
Lead-in: the sound of muted guitar string scraping like someone trying to dig out of a Turkish prison cell
Groove: mid-tempo strut
Freak out begins at: 0:41
Breakdown and/or breakthrough section begins at: 1:57
Lyrical daily affirmation: “You’re so cool and everybody loves you / loves the way you make the feel”

SONG TWO: “Jealous//Unreal”
Release date: 10 September 2021
Duration: 5:57
Lead-in: the sound of New Order’s drum machine after a rough night out
Groove: looping loping Krautrock
Freak out begins at: 0:39
Breakdown and/or breakthrough section begins at: 1:54
Lyrical daily affirmation: “If you love me so / why don’t you show it?”

SONG THREE: “White Hot Heat”
Release date: 12 November 2021
Duration: 2:43
Lead-in: Jimi Hendrix joins Death Grips
Groove: Jah Wobble circa PiL
Freak out begins at: 0:01
Breakdown and/or breakthrough section begins at: 1:34
Lyrical daily affirmation: “No thoughts, no pain, no dreams in here”

FiNAL PRESCRIPTION: Take two (or all three!) songs on an empty stomach, washed down with a shot or two of ouzo, and don’t call me in the morning. Because you’ll be out cold for most of the day, most likely dreaming about Christopher Walken crawing inside of your mind, which is really just exactly what you need innit? (Jason Lee)

The Down & Outs new single may just make you jealous

Jealousy is what happens when “good” emotions get turned inside-out and then collided against a bunch of other emotions, and I was a psych major so I should know. (suck it, Dr. Phil!) As opposed to envy (wanting something you don’t have) jealousy is the act of dreading, or lamenting, the loss of something you do have. Which means that jealousy actually derives from a state of happiness, or at least contentment, until some other party appears poised to take one’s happiness-generating special someone or something away (or does take them away) which causes that happiness to get turned inside-out into something more like anger or fury. Add in some disgust, fear, and surprise (“I didn’t see it coming!”) and you got your most pungent form of jealousy. 

And guess what, I’ve just listed each one of the six most basic forms of human emotion as defined by noted actual psychologist and “emotions expert” (yes, this exists) Paul Ekman, meaning that jealousy is basically all the emotions at once and no wonder it’s such an irrational and erratic state of being and probably delusional about half the time too.

Like it’s nominal subject, “Jealous//Unreal” begins in a fairly positive state of mind with a tightly-coiled come-hither vibe that’s basically desire personified--an in-the-pocket head-nodding bassline set against a tight dance-punk beat and washed of ambient guitar chords that’s projects steady confidence no matter how much the fragmentary lyrical content may be casting shadows of doubt. But soon something like obsessive fixation creeps into the picture with a single four-word phrase repeating that includes both the words in the song’s title. And while “Jealous//Unreal” soon breaks away from the repeated phrase and goes back to another verse, it’s like you’ve just heard the moment that a jealous seed is planted, like foreshadowing for the more total slide into irrational fixation. 

It’s not until after the song appears to end for a moment at 1:50 with a quick fadeout that it proceeds to turn itself inside-out. The once unrelenting, syncopated bassline is reduced to short two-note bursts utilizing an even heavier more fuzzed out sound with only the stripped-down drums filling the gaps. And in the vocals the intrusive thought from earlier completely takes over, progressing gradually from a whisper to a scream and repeated to the point of absurdity, turned into a mantra with the vocals and music gradually building in intensity and speed until it sounds like a runaway train about to jump the tracks (peep those two parallel lines in the song’s title hmmm..) before an emergency brake gets pulled at the last minute and you wonder if the whole cycle is about to begin again (this is six-minute long song that feels like it’s maybe four minutes long that’s how immersive it gets to be).

Anyway, it’s one of the best aural representations of jealousy taking hold and then taking over I’ve heard in quite some time with a seductive groove hijacked by OCD repetition and growing sonic chaos (two sides of the same coin?) but without ever losing its animating drive (the sense of desire, the foundational groove). But however ambitious this may sound rest assured The Down & Outs don’t make soggy jam band epics for noodle dancing, or pretentious prog rock epics about how to balance your chakras, because “Jealous//Unreal” stays rooted in a no-fat-on-the-bones post-punk-ish tension and concision with strong funk and dub underpinnings throughout (and if that’s not the most stereotypically music-criticy sentence I’ve ever written then I owe you two dollars but still it’s all quite true) or at least that’s my read.

So maybe there needs to be more songs written about jealousy. Just like the world could use more movies like Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, one of the best movies ever about jealousy and I could watch Joan Crawford and Bette Davis drag each other down the stars all day in full-on psycho-biddy/hagsploitation mode all day. In my opinion a better point of comparison for the two most recent Down & Outs singles (the previous one being “Last Party On Duke Street”) would be Public Image Ltd. given that band’s groundbreaking sound in their early years with often fronted by deep-groove bass and death disco beats locked into robotic repetition with Keith Levene’s guitar parts spiraling overhead—vacillating between atmospheric swells and slashing attacks all immersed in a distinctively dub reggae production style. But who knows maybe I’m making all this up.

Luckily, I got to have a lovely conversation with Down & Outs’ bassist/vocalist/co-songwriter Ray recently (we’re on a first name basis now) when he called up The Deli HQ mistakely one day trying to order a chopped cheese and agreed to submit to a few question instead. And he seemed pretty ok with the PiL comparison while also presenting his own list of musical influences that I could hardly keep up with in my notes but I did catch Death from Above 1979, Channel Tres, Thin Lizzy, Daniel Avery, AC/DC, and I Hate Models among others and already that’s we’re talking such an intriguing grab bag of hard rock, vibey EBM-inflected rap music, techno and garage (the latter in both in the rock and electronic sense) that it’s no wonder they’re so good at depicting the collision of conflicting impulses and emotions of a jealous mind.

As it turns out, the structure of “Jealous//Unreal” grew out of the Great Lockdown during which Ray and band guitarist/co-songwriter) Benji started trading ideas back and forth in Garageband--and no doubt Tom the Drummer too, who replaced previous drummer Varun the Drummer--building these last two singles (and the next one, you heard it here first!) from the scrapheap of assembled ideas, choosing one of these scraps as the through line for an entire song and then adding/subtracting layers and applying other sonic manipulations as they traded the tracks back and forth--a dialectic technique that would make Aristotle proud and that was simpatico with their previously existing flipsides-of-the-same-coin creative dynamic.

Ray compares this working method to 1) a rock band making their version of a techno song, simulating electronic music without the actual electronics; and 2) a rock band in the vein of the Stooges, making rock songs out of minimalist pounding riffs repeated ad infinitum as a wide-open canvas for an Iggy-like shamanistic lead singer to entrance listeners with verbal incantations and acts of self-mutilation (I’m paraphrasing here) and he therefore concludes that 3) the Stooges invented techno, which truly, is just the sort of audacious thinking we encourage here at the Deli because like they say go big or go home.

This led the two of us down a much more wide-ranging but inspiring conversational rabbit hole about wanting to break the mold of the entrenched conservatism that mainstream rock music had settled into during the 21st century (case in point, Gen X “dad rock” bands like Foo Fighters are still having number one albums over 20 years after they formed and hey we love ya Dave but must you appear in every single rock doc that gets made today (!)  but still The Colour and the Shape remains unimpeachable forever) leading some of your more adventurous contemporary bands to twist themselves into “guitar-based music” pretzels just to shun the “rock” label and its current associations. 

But Ray instead advocates expanding the palette of rock’s sources of inspiration and desire for experimentation. And really when you think about it this is consistent with rock tradition already and “iconic” icon-smashing bands like the Clash (“No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones in 1977 they promised) riffing on dub, funk, ska, and Americana instead like a kid let loose in a musical candy store, or a band like Blondie being influenced by a plethora of music including uptown artists like Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash back before your average honky on the street ever heard the words “hip” and “hop” placed back to back even among many New Yorkers (clubs like the Roxy, the Mudd Club, and Paradise Garage were crucial to these uptown/downtown encounters with their eclectic punky funky bills back in the day).

So in this sense the latest music by The Down & Outs could be considered both progressive and retro (but in the most expansive and least reactive sense) proving that rock music in New York City isn’t down and out for the count yet; of course if you’re a regular reader of the Deli you know that already! So why not wish these boys luck in their efforts to twist familiar genres inside-out (which again makes me think of dub reggae innovations as critical to this equation, after all it’s also been called “X-Ray Music”) setting them on a collision course to see what’s born out of the wreckage. And if that sounds grandiose then blame me not the down-and-outers because they seem like pretty modest guys. And hey if the band’s ambition makes you a little jealous, well, such is the price of letting emotion take hold. (Jason Lee)



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