Just on Facebook earlier I saw some story about a radio DJ voicing various complaints about hip-hop and hypothesizing that the genre would reach a “downfall” in the next 10 years. And I made a comment on the post inquiring as to whether the FCC would completely abolish the genre altogether. What would cause people to completely stop listening to and creating rap music? The idea is absolutely absurd. Today, the form is bigger than it’s ever been, with people listening to it who were born pretty much anywhere from 1970 to 2005. I still see debates online about the old ’80s and ’90s emcees and J. Cole is one of the most popular musicians of all time, for his work just last decade.
I’d like to administer the same sort of inquiry to that article Paste ran in 2010 titled “Is Indie Dead?” This article was published approximately one month after the year-end list from Pitchfork, which featured an album by Dirty Projectors that had David Byrne beaming in the press, an album by Phoenix which sent a song to MLB The Show 2012 and an album by Animal Collective which sent a song to the movie Gigantic which starred Zooey Deschanel. Two of these three bands are classified to this day as “indie” on Wikipedia, despite the fact that they each have corporate distribution (which theoretically takes no part in the creative process, as the music will confirm), and the other, Animal Collective, produced an album in 2009 in Merriweather Post Pavilion which took an adamant vendetta against radio format. In fact, their performance at Lollapalooza that year consisted of only three songs or so, with the rest of the time being shaped into pure noise jamming and dissonance.
And, I mean, the notion of indie rock being dead, or ever having the ability to die, is just absurd, on a fundamental level, as well. What this would mean would be that nowhere, anywhere, were there any rock and roll performed that weren’t supervised, curated and sold by the corporate dollar. What this would mean that every band which picked up instruments were already signed by a major label, which obviously isn’t the case. Today, typically, when bands hit it big, they form their own label, such as Wilco’s dBpm Records. So even though the band began their career with the unassuming folk-rock jaunt A.M. as housed on the major-owned Sire, they’ve come full circle now back to freedom from conglomerate interests in their creative process, a shining boon for indie rock as a general whole. In addition, along with Blur and Oasis which, as many people probably don’t know, have been technically “indie” all along (things are done quite differently in the U.K., clearly), 4AD still exists across the pond as a completely independently owned imprint furnishing The Breeders, Deerhunter and The National as their current artists — two juggernauts of indie’s 2000s resurgence and one transplant from the early ’90s alt-rock boom (none of which I count as “indie,” just in case there were any confusion).
Hopefully I’ve illustrated in these above paragraphs how as long as rock and roll still exists, the complete extinction of “indie” is absolutely impossible. No genre of music is going to die, people. Except polka.
Anyway, for the purpose of this post, I’ve compiled five brief anecdotes which kind of earmark my affinity for indie rock — little episodes or experiences which typify the phenomenon (and no I don’t think it’s a “genre” and no I don’t think it’s a stratagem of cultural branding, or whatever self-defeating claims Paste were trying to make in that article) and solifidy its significance, for me as a rock and roll listener.
My recent reconnection with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut.
This album, from 2005, was about as indie as it gets, issued on the artist’s own self-made label (to then be re-released by Wichita six months later) and full of squirrel-ly, dorky vocals that make Isaac Brock sound like Clay Aiken. Lots of people trash the accordion-heavy opening title track but I always found it amusing and pleasant enough and it’s followed by an endless bevy of classic, hummable rock songs, puncutated in my opinion by the infectious funk of “Gimme Some Salt” and the invincible bassline to “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” which is sure to set up permanent residence in your head once you hear it.
This one day canvassing when I couldn’t get The New Pornographers’ “Sing Me Spanish Techno” out of my head.
I can already hear the culture vultures descending on me claiming that I’m only pretending to like this music, or that it’s too pu**y, or whatever, so I’ll just preface this little blip by reminding everyone that “The Bleeding Heart Show”; which likewise came from the album Twin Cinema (2005), made a University of Phoenix commercial, which tends to dole out Everclear-like monetary figures to its artists, particularly if they’re on Matador. This LP is absolutely loaded with brilliance, like the chord progression to “These Are the Fables” and “Falling through Your Clothes”; a celestial pop song on which the only percussion is maraca, but “Sing me Spanish Techno” hoists its nerdy little head, thrusts back its shoulders and struts at the pace of life, combining some biting metaphor (“In a town / Where I lost all the shirts on the fence”) with some straight-up, boisterously tongue-in-cheek humor for the chorus (“The hourglass fills its sands / If only to punish you / For listening too long to one song / sing me Spanish techno”).
The night on the bus in Colorado when I counted all 116 bars of the percussion outro to Califone’s “Sawtooth Sung a Cheater’s Song.”
This is pretty much just what it sounds like — anyway “bars” is another word of “measures” and has been applied to hip-hop to mean just that (like a verse that’s sustained for perhaps a longer period of time than songwriting wisdom might have offered) but basically means the shortest section of a song from which its meter can be defined. Ok, I’m opening up a music theory can of worms here. Anyway, Heron King Blues (2004) was always a trippy album to listen to on these nighttime bus rides, with a majestic combination of sharp acoustic rock and this weird, percussion-heavy Chicago funk the band would get into sometimes.
Driving around during my lunch break in fall to Deerhunter’s surreal album Halcyon Digest.
I actually mean “surreal” in a kind of unorthodox sense here — the knack that an album would have for progressing without the listener noticing it, for all the songs to phenomenologically blend together as one, in the listener’s head, and for the thing to kind of go by like a dream. It helps for the whole album to adhere to roughly the same musical style, which is by and large the case here, as with Lower Dens’ Nootropics and The Dodos’ Carrier, two more LP’s which are great for autumn. Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox even mentions “October” in the song “Memory Boy” and the whole collection of tunes possesses this undeniably placid sense of completion and purpose which seems tailor-made to the cooling down and the falling of leaves, when the pace of living typically tends to slow a bit, along with it.
Driving back up to move home rocking out to Abe Vigoda’s Skeleton.
Skeleton is truly a unique experience in indie rock. It was concocted in a din of urban mania by LA’s Abe Vigoda, whom I’ve gotten to see twice in concert (in Denver both times) and who put on a great show, and, while tailoring great, solid electric guitar and drum sounds, seems to never rest on a single conventional rhythm or musical ploy. The whole thing is composed of these angular, restless riffs and runs, all the while overseeing vocals by Michael Vidal which sound very much, and refreshingly, like a band that was operating on an insufficient studio budget. Album highlights include “Bear Face”; “Animal Ghosts” and “The Garden.”
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