Falling in Lovergurl, and into Records With Merritt

The four members of Lovergurl got together just six months ago, hardly long enough for most groups to write a few songs and acquire some semblance of timing. But in Blind Tiger’s dim basement earlier this month, the young band announced itself as one of the city’s most inventive — and most bracingly political.

Lovergurl takes aim at institutions, social structures and music scenes built by and seemingly for those who undeservedly wield power and privilege — men, rich people, white folks. It’s not rare subject matter; songs laser-focused on real-world issues are commonplace in hip-hop and punk. What’s unusual here is that Lovergurl leans on a sound that borders on straight-ahead pop. “Colorado Springs” couches its call for women’s safety, in the wake of the Planned Parenthood shootings in that city, within moody synths and a crooning vocal line. Another song, the yet-to-be-recorded “Prospect,” points out the irony in the name of the thoroughfare that runs through KC’s marginalized East Side, doing so with ease rather than by brute force.

Lovergurl’s songs are not all synth-pop, but the ones that are show the the influence of singer and keyboardist Stephanie Bankston. She moved back to the Kansas City area last November, after spending years in Seoul, Korea, where she played in another mostly femme band called BaekMa. That’s Korean for “white horse” — a term some Korean men use to describe white, Western women (ride a white horse, the “joke” goes), which the three women in the band decided to wield as a mirror, to reflect the culture’s misogyny back at itself.

Also in Lovergurl are bassist Adam Speer, guitarist Heather Andrews, who brings a surf-rock vibe, and Brook Worlledge, a dynamic drummer who injects punk sounds and venomous songwriting. Together, their sound is a hodgepodge, with each member writing and each reflecting different tastes and backgrounds. In another six months, their union might be more cohesive, though that’s hardly the point, Bankston says.

“I know we just want it to be fun, and also important,” she says. “The unifying thing is the message, it’s our attitude. I don’t know if we belong in the punk scene. We like to scream. We like to confront people. But I don’t know if we belong in that scene. I don’t know if we belong anywhere.”

Records With Merritt is unique among the upward-trending number of Kansas City record stores. The Westport shop, co-owned by Marion Merritt and her partner, Ann Stewart, traffics only in new albums; missing are the troves of used vinyl and CDs that populate Mills Records, a few blocks away, or Josey Records in the Crossroads.

The shop is something of a shoebox, tucked into a strip of small-ish storefronts near State Line Road. Deeper stock might not fit here anyway, though Merritt and Stewart could probably put together a good selection if they felt so inclined. After all, despite limited square footage, Records With Merritt has hosted live music essentially since it opened its doors a year ago this month. Smaller, quieter acts have made up the majority of the bills, but every couple of weeks the store packs in a handful of noisy, sometimes raucous bands and dozens of bouncing concertgoers. Usually booked by local DIY organizer Jacob Garver, these are often can’t-miss events.

Last Thursday’s was no exception. Even with the heat index in the city bubbling around 100 degrees, people filled Records With Merritt, wall to wall, front to back, to see Philadelphia emo-punk act Jank and others deliver angular, powerful pop. It was the best show I’ve seen all year, in Kansas City or elsewhere, and it had everything to do with the kind of live music environment the store provides.

What makes Records With Merritt such a great space also makes it potentially problematic: It’s a functioning record store whose walls are lined with LPs. But Merritt says the crowds have never been an issue, even at the most rambunctious shows. She and Stewart have attached wheels to all of the record racks — an idea they swiped from a record store in the UK — so they can move everything out of the way before the music starts. The posters that line the walls, the table upon which copies of The Pitch typically rest — it all comes down so the kids can get down, Merritt says.

“When you get those kinds of bands, like Jank and Fling [who also played the show], you’re going to get a lot of kids in here,” she tells me. “When it’s that kind of group, it’s always going to be packed like that.”

Next month, a monster gig with Dowsing, Slingshot Dakota and others will again test Records With Merritt’s capacity. I can hardly wait. In the meantime:

Thursday 8.18

If you’re up for a trip to LFK on a weeknight, the Granada has Japanese noise-metal band Boris performing the entirety of its essential album Pink. Reissued last month on the 10th anniversary of its U.S. release, the record, which catapulted Boris from underground metal legend to indie rebel hero, remains a churning blast of sound. It rightly vanquished the band’s tepid, milquetoast contemporaries.

Closer to home, you can stop by Charlotte Street’s La Esquina gallery to see New York musician and composer Catherine McRae team with KC visual artist Gillian Tobin and curator Marte Danielsen Jølbo as they perform The Re-remember Study.

Friday 8.19

Shuttlecock Music Magazine, the hyper-local and sometimes controversial music blog, is hosting what will likely be the best local hip-hop showcase of the summer. The free gig at Mills Record Co. serves as a farewell to KC rapper Samurai before he departs for Atlanta, with a bill that includes sometime-collaborators J-Tone and Izzy, both of whom are preposterously talented. Plu$ and Antonio round out the gig.

Across the state line, all-ages arts space FOKL Collective has the Rebel, the solo project of borderline-legend and lightning rod Ben Wallers. The Scottish firebrand has spent a lifetime, both solo and with his band Country Teasers, crafting lyrics that are art to some, offensive to others, as he mines the dark depths of racial and sexual language. He plays alongside Austin, Texas, art-punk act Spray Paint.

Saturday 8.20

Fans of all things lo-fi should pack into Records With Merritt as the garage rockers in Man vs Animals and the Feel Bad Hit celebrate the release of their split EP. The show is also a release party of sorts for Sweatpantsdaze, which put out its excellent long-player, Tusks, last week on Shit Stack Records. The album exists only on Bandcamp so far, but the band says it will have a very limited run of tapes available at the gig.

Monday 8.22

Never seen a Canadian alt-country band before? Here’s your chance: Toronto’s Sadies play alongside Heidi Lynne Gluck at the Riot Room. The music is old-school, a little boozy, full of swagger. Go have a time — the last we checked, the Riot Room still sells whiskey. Tuesday morning will be fine, I promise.

Tuesday, August 23

Sorry about your hangover!