For artists with a unique backstory, there comes a point when that backstory takes a backseat to the music itself. For Milwaukee’s Negative/Positive, that point is now. Yes, Negative/Positive is the guitar-bass-drums trio that formed at the first annual Girls Rock Milwaukee camp in the summer of 2013. Yes, the members of Negative/Positive—Ava Antonie, Ava Gessner, and Lola Flores—were 8, 9, and 10 years old at the time. Yes, Negative/Positive has been playing out ever since, gracing the stages of Summerfest, Pridefest, and just about every other Milwaukee summer festival known to humankind. But Negative/Positive is also the band that just released the excellent new Kick Me In Both Of My Shins At The Same Time, a six-song blast of twisty and nimble indie-punk that stands with the work of any of the city’s non-teenaged groups. Finally, Negative/Positive’s backstory has become just that.
So, on to the music then. Opener “Dried Spaghetti” has been a staple of the band’s live shows for more than a year, but here, as recorded and mixed by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recording, it truly shines. Antonie, Gessner, and Flores sound musically locked-in as they navigate the song’s stops, starts, and time changes, and Gessner’s vocals and her cutting-beyond-their-years lyrics sound confident and assured. Gessner’s tendency to cram in as many words as possible into each bar—best exemplified on the Sleater-Kinney-esque “I Usually Take Death At Twice”—has transformed from a youthful tic into a full-blown style.
Elsewhere, the unexpectedly lovely “How Does One Walk Briskly Without a Back?” proves that Negative/Positive can score big with a ballad—and a five-minute ballad throwing shade at homophobic teens at that. That downtempo vibe also clicks on “Goodbye Douglas,” a song that contains the killer line “You’re the human manifestation of the color beige.” Finally, “Existential Surf Jam” lopes to life like a long-long Half Japanese track before kicking into a familiar sugar-addled chorus, while the withering “Brandon’s Song” tells the tale of an over-the-hill YouTube star going through a midlife crisis. The latter offers a definitive answer to that old Onion question, “Teens: Are They Laughing At You?”
Kick Me is Negative/Positive’s second release, following in the footsteps of 2016’s Lumanescent. To call it the band’s most accomplished effort would be an understatement: the musicianship, the songwriting, and the overall performances have all advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few years. The youth of the group may be increasingly unimportant, but it does lead to a thrilling realization: this is only the beginning.