The multiracial five-piece band Black Kids, which has an affinity for '80s British rock, is something of a sensation in Europe. There, the band has ascended the charts, packed venues and secured prime TV spots. And in the United States, the critical praise is deafening. Of course, the musicians didn't expect all the buzz.
Music bloggers and hipster circles gush over the group's tongue-in-cheek multicultural image and the irreverent neon pop-rock of its debut CD, Partie Traumatic.
The album has been out for about a month, and the scruffy band from Jacksonville, Fla., is already tired of hearing about itself.
"I think we're dealing with it just fine for the most part," says Black Kids' lead singer and chief songwriter, Reggie Youngblood. He and his bandmates - his sister Ali Youngblood on keyboards, Dawn Watley on keyboards, Owen Holmes on bass and Kevin Snow on drums - headline the Ottobar on Saturday night. "I'd like to bring [the buzz] down a notch or so. But at the same time, you gotta take what you can get. Without this crazy machine, we wouldn't have been able to leave Jacksonville. But is it insane? Does it take its toll? Definitely."
Thanks to the Internet, word about Black Kids quickly spread a year before Partie Traumatic hit the streets. It was based on four freewheeling songs posted on the band's MySpace page. The group's nervy, punky rhythms combined with twee '60s-style melodies drew comparisons to Arcade Fire and The Cure. Youngblood's affected, slightly mewling vocals recall the style of Cure lead singer Robert Young.
Soon, pop publications such as Pitchfork and Vice magazine began talking the band up, hailing the goofy songs "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You" and "Hurricane Jane" as surefire hits. The attention led to an appearance at last year's CMJ Music Marathon in New York, then a management deal and, soon after, a contract with Columbia Records.
Produced by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, Partie Traumatic was recorded between shows in a whirlwind 17 days.
"There weren't a lot of differences between what we were doing as an independent band and what we did on the album," says Youngblood, 28, who last week was on a short break at home in Jacksonville. "It was just Bernard getting the best performance out of us and layering the best tones. He brought a lot of energy."
The 10 cuts on Partie Traumatic are slick and hopelessly upbeat, driven by new-wave beats overlaid with terse guitar lines and decidedly cheesy synths circa 1983. The songs, which generally focus on sex and partying, are charming in an offbeat way. Tracks such as "Listen to Your Body Tonight" and "I'm Making Eyes at You" are far cries from the Christian rock tunes the band played a few years ago.
"Kevin and I met in Sunday school, and when we started making music, it was a question from Kevin whether we were glorifying God," Youngblood says. "So we did the Christian punk thing for a minute. But we got over that and started mixing and matching all different types of styles."
But Youngblood says the band's boisterous, deceptively simple pop style hasn't changed much since Black Kids' days on the Florida Christian rock scene nearly a decade ago.
"Even when we were in faith-based music, our songs were about girls," the singer-guitarist says, chuckling. "It wasn't a stretch. We just took the guilt factor out and changed 'Jesus' to 'baby.' "
With a tweaked direction, Black Kids recorded a four-song EP last year called Wizard of Ahhs. The Columbia debut features reinvigorated takes of those cuts and others Youngblood wrote with the group. Although the music offers virtually no new ideas (Black Kids more or less rehashes just about every new-wave flourish heard between 1982 and 1984), the band still charges its songs with refreshing energy.
"We feel like whatever has been considered pop music for the past 40 years, we're just kind of borrowing from it liberally," Youngblood says.
A sense of humor also enlivens Black Kids' music. Even the group's name is something of a joke.
"With our name, well, I'm not sure if we were trying to make a big statement. I know we weren't, actually," says Youngblood, whose father is black and mother is Filipino. "I grew up surrounded by everybody. The multiracial thing in the group just happened, you know. The white kids are our friends."
He snickers before adding, "We're all black kids."
if you go
See Black Kids at 9 p.m. Saturday at Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. Tickets are $12 ($14 the day of the show) and are available at missiontix.com. The band also performs at 9 tomorrow night at the Black Cat, 1811 14 St. N.W., Washington. Tickets for the Black Cat show are $15 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-7328 or going to ticketmaster.com.