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Justin Moyer’s latest band, E.D. Sedgwick, is essentially the refinement of a digression from another digression, but that’s probably the only way the always-thinking D.C. music-maker was going to get anywhere. The first digression was Edie Sedgwick, the celebrity-fried, electro-diva persona Moyer cooked up more than a decade ago while playing art punk in El Guapo. Moyer eventually reassigned the Sedgwick name to a four-piece band, which made a debut of sorts on 2011’s satisfying Love Gets Lovelier Every Day. The follow-up, We Wear White, locks down those aesthetics and answers a lot of questions.
First, Moyer appears committed to Sedgwick’s existence as a band and not just an identity. Second, he’s obviously been suppressing or subverting some serious rock tendencies during his time as a Dischord Records guy. And third, beneath all the vocal snottiness and onstage schtick that he’s deployed over the years, there are a few themes that truly matter to him: sexual psychology (“Mina,” “Hex of Sex,” “He’s the One”), urban socioeconomics (“Rockin’ the Boat,” which knocks D.C. flag tattoos), the weight of nostalgia (“DNA”), and the perks of religion (“We Wear White”).
The best part about We Wear White, though, is how emphatic E.D. Sedgwick sounds. The rhythm section of drummer Jess Matthews and bassist Kristina Buddenhagen continues to tighten; Moyer’s guitar playing—now ballsier and bluesier—crackles with life; and the band’s other vocalist, JosaFeen Wells, fully grows into her role as the soulful counterpoint to Moyer’s smarty-pants, joke-inclined, and hip-hop-damaged presence (he’s not above a Wu-Tang reference). The production—recorded and mastered by T.J. Lipple at Arlington’s Inner Ear and mixed by Phil Manley (Trans Am) in San Francisco—is bright, too.
“Dirty” opens the album with a sneer (“Y’all ain’t shit to me/I got positivity”), and 32 minutes later “Weatherman” closes it with a bang (more on that later). Halfway through, Moyer busts out a ballad—the title track—that masterfully combines half-baked “born again” posturing with Pixies-flavored weirdness. Overall, the rock factor on We Wear White puts a lot of things in context: Moyer’s big, tricky essay in Washington City Paper this summer about the “Brooklynization” of indie culture now looks less like a thoughtful-but-cranky takedown and more like self-liberation from an era in which everybody, including some of Moyer’s own bands, seemed to be playing catch-up to New York.
In particular, “Weatherman”—with its high-energy guitar, bass, and drums by Bob Doto of SPRCSS, a group that Moyer helped revive in 2007—handles the topic with more humor than Moyer’s City Paper essay. “We need some new shit/To kill this old shit,” Moyer cries in the chorus, but the verses are where he really skewers the endless, placeless, confounding, Internet-fueled remixing of content: “And fuck your shitty techno/And fuck your OK techno…And fuck your bad pornography/But I like your good pornography,” he sings tensely, as the women in the band reply, “It smells like shit to me!”
Moyer doesn’t have enough hubris to prescribe precise solutions, but We Wear White is a sufficient show of strength, for now. Although it might not be able to carry an entire city or a subculture on its back, it’s much more than just a tangent, an experiment, or a lark.
E.D. Sedgwick plays Nov. 17 at La Casa, 3177 Mount Pleasant St. NW.