By virtue of name alone, the musical genre known as "anti-folk" sets itself up for misinterpretation. The term could be used to describe death metal, indie rock, or barbershop quartets. Because "folk music" is so often applied to acoustic singer-songwriter types rather than to its originally intended purpose, which was "music made by folks," attaching "anti-" to the term can create aural images of just about anything.
Ironically, anti-folk is primarily associated with music made by one acoustic guitar and one songwriter. The name was coined in the mid-'80s, in the U.K. or New York City (depending on who you ask), and used to signify acoustic-based singer-songwriters who adopted an experimental approach and lyrical content of an irreverent nature. That said, a wild variety of artists exists within the genre, including Ani DiFranco, early Beck, Regina Spektor, Michelle Shocked, Kimya Dawson (as well as Dawson's former duo with Adam Green, Moldy Peaches), and the torchbearer of the movement's current incarnation, Jeffrey Lewis.
Since 1997, Lewis has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the more prolific anti-folk artists. He does indeed utilize an acoustic guitar as his instrument of choice and embraces the ease with which his chosen style allows one to record and release lots of music. Currently hovering at close to 20 albums and EPs, Lewis' discography is heavy with self-releases, but he has enjoyed the support of the Rough Trade imprint, starting with the 2003 album It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through. Lewis' anti-folk is immediately identifiable by a pop-cultural literacy and acute self-referentiality, evident by album and song titles such as Indie Rock Fortune Cookie, The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane, "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror," Tapes From the Crypt, "The History of the Fall," The Only Time I Feel Right Is When I'm Drawing Comic Books, and 12 Crass Songs.
The last title on that list, from 2007, is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of covers spanning the work of Britain's most infamous political-punk, commune-dwelling, diehard group of idealistic anarchists. The album followed the critically acclaimed Jeffrey & Jack Lewis: City & Eastern Songs, which garnered praise from every nook and cranny of the music press and was recorded by Kramer, onetime proprietor of the legendary Shimmy Disc label.
The album The Only Time I Feel Right Is When I'm Drawing Comic Books is not false advertising. Lewis has generated a respectable output within the comic-book medium, one that's dominated by his Guff/Fuff series. Just this year, Lewis provided the comic-book press kit for the Mountain Goats' Heretic Pride album, and it could be said that Jeffrey Lewis is a name as recognizable among the indie-rock elite as it is in the Lower East Side anti-folk scene. Lewis, along with his brother Jack, supported Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks on a 2008 tour. And Lewis (solo or with his brother) has played with indie-rock heavyweights as diverse as Frank Black, Black Dice, Thurston Moore, the Fiery Furnaces, and Cornershop.
Lewis has also contributed writings for The New York Times' "Measure for Measure" Op-Ed section, where he's kept company with Suzanne Vega and Rosanne Cash. Often playing with a full band, Lewis exemplifies the anti-folk trend of transcending the genre's apparent sonic limits, something suggested by Lewis' description of mixing "'60s acoustic psychedelia" with "the experimental art-punk of the Fall and the urban lyricism of Lou Reed, sounding a bit like if Woody Guthrie fronted Sonic Youth."
Lewis demonstrates that sound this week with a show at the Black Lodge Microdome (located above the Cooper-Young video/DVD emporium) with local anti-folk representatives, Scandaliz Vandalistz.
With Scandaliz Vandalistz
Black Lodge Video
Sunday, November 2nd
Showtime is 9 p.m., admission $7