On To Know You’re Screwed, the Dangerbird debut EP from queer West LA rock duo Mediocre, Piper Torrison (She/They) and Keely Martin (She/Her) immediately get to twisting the lyrical knife. With the opening line, we find out, “To Know You’re Screwed is to Know a Lot,” an indisputable statement, before even getting to the punchline: “and I’m a motherfucking genius.” She’s got a head full of ways it could all go wrong–but there’s an out! “Don’t worry babe, it’s all self-taught/ could be all wrong anyway.” It’s a once-in-a-generation sentiment, from Socrates on down to Operation Ivy: all I know is I know nothing. Here, Mediocre hints, all I know is I am nothing. It’s when the chorus hits that you realize the song is a mantra of abstaining from such anxiety: “Push it away, I push it away/ and I save it for the next day.” A blistering opening statement of elemental, edge-of-your-seat rock ‘n’ roll at its most honest.
When you call your project Mediocre, you’re not exactly setting yourself up for success. But the duo of Martin and Torrison take their huge talents in stride, using self-deprecation to deflect from the anxiety of the spotlight. It’s a theme that runs through the band’s cinema-grade videos, all directed by Martin, who runs the production company Bowie Nix. The well-received, in-house visuals are just one facet of a rich multidisciplinary practice the young duo has already cultivated. Without even an LP to their name, the band has received immense acclaim from all manner of music press–from Stereogum Band to Watch, to video premiers on The Big Takeover, to interviews with Ghetto Blaster, among many other highlights–and their new EP continues stepping up the game. What started as kids in Mom’s garage has evolved into two accomplished young creators with a deft ear for massive hooks straining at the edges of arenas.
As explained in a fawning Audiofemme feature, Mediocre hooked up with Dangerbird for the label’s incubator singles series, Microdose, which led to the recording of To Know You’re Screwed. It’s a thoughtful record packed to the gills with enough good ideas to make it great. The eponymous track is the overture to what the band describes as “modes of screwedness,” each of the five songs reflecting a different internal/external relationship to the precarity of the information-saturated and impossibly futile 2020s. “We just wanted to tap into the idea of knowing you’re screwed, and leaning into that existential doom, this inevitable doom,” Piper says. “It’s individual to each person, but that also feels universal in some way.”
“Pop Song Baby” climbs out of the ashes of the first track and somehow carries on the reckoning, kicking the corpse of indie rock’s disgraced expectations: “Now that it pays, to put the boys to shame/ you’ll play the woman in the worst way, baby,” the band sings the hook, with a resigned sarcasm and a ‘90s alt-rock sadness. In the video, co-directed by Naomi Ash, that melancholy turn out of the first chorus coincides with an on-set tension. The video shoot is the narrative of the video, where the demands of performance conflict with the unshakeable negative affect of being used. Keely explains: “Given how the lyrics are pretty evident, the visuals needed to be a little more subdued to make it more subtle and represent how easily this conversation can be dismissed and ignored. We wanted to make a macro perspective of being female in the music industry.” The different camera styles give an unsettling feeling that you can’t pinpoint until it’s already upon you. It’s the characteristic genius of the band balancing the superficial with the profound.
“Wash the Paint” slows down just enough to catch your breath, opening with yet another devastating couplet: “I thought that you were a daydream/ something that would exist between my walls.” The heartbreak of capricious youth contrasts with the desperation of forgiveness: “I’m in a haze/ so many ways to say that I’m sorry.” It’s hard to ignore the booming Kim Deal basslines, the squealing J. Mascis turnarounds, the Razorblade Suitcase angst. Piper on guitar and Keely on bass–along with Jake Pavlica of the band Street Play on drums–recorded the EP in May, 2022 over five days in Silverlake, Los Angeles. Joe Reinhart of Hop Along and Algernon Cadwallader, produced, engineered, and mixed at the Dangerbird Studio, “using the oldest things that were in the studio,” recalls the band. The result is a punchy, catchy, pure record that would have been at home on the shelf of Empire Records. Piper and Keely, fresh out of university (psychology and film, respectively) began their musical relationship when their school scenes blended across Los Angeles neighborhoods. The magic of such a persistent relationship is clear in the ease with which Mediocre produce impossibly huge, rock-star hooks.
“Tiny Toad” turns from a little ditty about a possibly lost pet, to a slow-burn breakdown of mythological proportions, molded into an almost Jane’s Addiction-style pocket. The song gives sympathy to a being outside the norms of traditional fables, asking in conclusion: “Tiny toad, are you alone?” “Together Together” makes the comedown easy, as the band stretches out for a textured production of percussion, little keyboards, Weezer-inflected party samples, layered vocals, and acoustic guitars. The looming shadow of the information age–“I looked up how to make friends on the internet/ but there’s nothing I can remember”–gives way to thoughts of the apocalypse–“We only got so much time until the waters rise/ so let’s spend some time together.” The record ends on a note of tenderness: “I want to be/ together, together.” It’s a kind of thesis for the band, and a reminder of the miracle of friendship. There’s nothing mediocre about it.