Like what we do? Donate to support Word on the Tree


At some point in the mid-2000s, the sound of American DIY coalesced into something new – something fizzing with inventiveness and charm. On opposite sides of the country — L.A.’s DIY capital The Smell and Baltimore’s expansive warehouse scene — there was a sea change from the dominant post-punk sound that had burst out of New York after the dramatic ascent of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeah and The Strokes. It was a balm to years of self-seriousness. This week, we’ll be exploring it more deeply.

Kicking off with Baltimore godhead Dan Deacon’s ‘The Crystal Cat,’ an irreverent digital storm of yelped meows and largely nonsensical lyrics, the track almost bursts under the weight of broken-sounding synths and a punchy drum line. Ponytail also appears, who much like Deacon, performed riotous live shows that encouraged mass audience participation. This spirit is well-captured in ‘Late For School,’ which shifts from raggedy vocal exercises and almost-spiritual drones into a burst of light at its midpoint, completed by a gnarly guitar breakdown.

L.A.’s The Mae Shi, who released a number of handmade CD-Rs containing their music and played shows for anyone willing to pay them, hit on gold with their final album HLLLYH, a 41-minute-long epic inspired by the Old Testament and anchored by a vintage Buchla synthesizer. ‘Young Marks’ is a brief blast of transcendent autotune and chip-tuned drums. Marie Stern’s musical style took the complicated time signatures of post-hardcore and math rock and stripped them of all pretense. Her track ‘Shea Stadium’ uses a base of mile-a-minute, guitar-tapped harmonies, and she throws jubilant fight-song vocals atop.

The rest of this week’s playlist explores this ecstatic moment in American DIY — perfect music to light up and hug your pals to.

Happy toking!

For more Toking Tunes, follow Word on the Tree on Spotify.

Sign up for Word on the Tree's daily email newsletter