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JimH

Man, this would make a good book proposal.

Furley

If Grizzly Bear is your idea of DIY/Punk tradition, I feel sad for you.

Michael Azerrad

Furley, Grizzly Bear's success would not have been possible without over 30 years of underground indie bands and labels before them, layin' down the infrastructure. But duly noted, and it's beside my point anyway.

Paul

The sonic implications of DIY have changed in 30 years too. It's now possible to make a fantastic sounding record on very small, very accessible equipment, outside of an expensive studio environment, during the daytime. I remember reading an interview with the band Too Much Joy (I believe) where they were talking about how the indie sound of their early records was really an inadvertent result of their best, naive, primitive attempt to make the kind of polished-sounding records they grew up on.

Ethan Stanislawski

Michael,
I think you are right to say that underground music doesn't have to be particularly aggressive (Pavement?) and that intelligence and serenity in underground music are in contrast to mainstream anger (not just in public, but in music, see: screamo, crabcore).

What I will say, however, is that the smart, serene music you speak of is a last resort that comes from a feeling of complete powerlessness from the generation of Americans currently in their 20s. The greying of America has left an insulting lack of power for those under the age of 30, and while young people voted Obama into office, voting is really the only power they have in current American political culture. I think the intelligence you speak of mainly comes from over-education, which is not a substitute for under-employment that hasn't gotten any better for this demographic. The seeming lack of anger in music is actually covering for some deep generational malaise that has lost its outlet everywhere, including music.

The fact that there's no real infrastructure in the music industry itself to support any band, political or otherwise, certainly doesn't help. But if music allowed kids to express their true emotions toward the outside world (and I thought music was supposed to be more of an emotional than cerebral art form in general), we'd be seeing a lot more violence. Right now it's the Summer of Love before the '68 Convention, in my mind.

Michael Azerrad

Thanks, Ethan, that is really thoughtful and interesting. As far as feeling an insulting lack of power, those under 30 can join the people under 50. It's the damn baby boomers who are still running the show. Obama got elected, and that's an excellent step forward, but we still live in their suffocating shadow. But people under 30 should also get out and vote more; that might help boost their political profile. Note that 44% of people 18-24 voted in the 2008 election vs. 58% for the total voting population. I realize a lot of younger people don't vote because they're discouraged, but if they got involved, that would change.
I really wonder if there ever will be a truly major new band again; it seems like technology has balkanized the rock audience too much for that to happen, even if there were a music industry to support it. Personally, I like niche music -- stadium shows are a drag.

Neal

As much as I'm a fan of the writings of youself and Carrie Brownstein I'm also of the opinion that you're both kinda off on this one. Specifically, in terms of how this debate is being characterized by both of you.

Right now popular music channels some right wing anger in a roundabout way. It feels largely aspirational, reflecting a pandering narrative of characters and real people who succeed from fictional or actual humble beginnings (Taylor Swift, Susan Boyle,Brad Paisley, Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Miley Cyrus, Nick Jonas, Owl City). Sort of a peon to dreams coming true for those clamped in the working class crisis.

The tact indie has taken is that of the white collar American who's doing well in the marketplace of technical prowess or academia. I view it as more of an intellectual revolt against this sort of blue collar grotesque rather than being purposefully soft. Perhaps that aides your perception of sonically lighter fare as being part and parcel with the DIY/Hardcore mentality. Many of those bands were nothing if not open to larger critiques of mass marketed fluff.

But this whole debate is coming off like two generals standing on empty battlefields on different continents. I can't help but feel that both of the aesthetics you are championing have become fat and complacent in recent years. I think John Darnielle said it best when he claimed that the indie music mentality, as it's worst, folds into the popular trends of celebrity culture. That this whole disagreement is about raising up individuals instead of challenging assumptions on listenership and consumerism.

In short what's being asked here? If it's which it's what's the better route towards rocking the maliase of the status quo, I'd have to say neither. Both so-called NPR rock and older DIY are passing and have already passed from the scene. I don't what will come next, but I feel the time for both these styles to retain their relevancy is ending. They've served listeners admirably in the past but are both now firmly in institutions where their message is completely at the mercy of larger and less autonomous mediums. NPR rock and more abrasive punk music rely on the heavily cash influenced spheres of the internet and radio. No one is going anywhere unless there's a larger patronage at work. Whatever comes next will have to find a new medium or subvert an existing one to convey a greater counterculture message.

Jeremy

Sociological theories aside, I applaud Michael for taking Brownstein and others with a similar viewpoint to task for the, yes, "antiquated and hidebound" (not to mention simplistic) idea that music has to be loud and abrasive to be somehow real or authentic or worthy. I had read the "beard rock" post too and it bothered me a lot at the time.

No doubt there are cultural trends at play but I see it ultimately as an inevitable consequence of a maturing art form. To continue to require ear-splitting volume and two-chord "prowess" from musicians in 2010 is kind of like wanting your college student to continue to make mud pies and draw crayon stick figures.

PF

I want to disagree with you, yet you are so unlike people who usually make this kind of argument: you're straightforward, unpretentious, and political only insofar as it relates to a corner of your point. But I disagree with you. To say "indie rock has turned smart as a reaction to a dumb world" is still justifying Opposite Day. My boss wears a suit, so I will cover myself in shit. My dad chased skirts, so I will wear my own sexual dysfunction on my sleeve-- I'll own it! Except that here, because it's "Sarah Palin is so stupid she should not be allowed to exist, ergo I will make cerebral, clever pop music," it's "progress." It's a weird, almost syllogistic way of justifying something, when all it should take is "Listen to how great Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective and Parenthetical Girls are!" The problem is, they're not great. They're entitled, white, overeducated kids making precious, tedious music. I don't mind if they're white or went to college: I just want it to be good. I neither demand abrasiveness from everything I like, nor balk at the idea that bands like Deerhoof or Fiery Furnaces make good music... but it would also never occur to me to think of either of those bands as "NPR bands." Are they?

The problem with the INDIE argument (which seems more to've been birthed by your comments rather than being your main point) is that it's an us-vs.-them formula which, if followed to its logical conclusions, breaks down almost immediately. Surrealism, abstract expressionism, pop art, and plenty of other things as/more interesting than indie rock (well, pop art may be less interesting) were "co-opted by the mainstream" long before it was. Are those things no longer relevant or interesting as a result? I'm not arguing that "indie rock" still deserves reverence; I'm saying, who cares? If someone is angry that Death Cab for Cutie signed to Atlantic, I have two things to say to you: (1) what label they're on has nothing to do with what SHOULD BE the important thing: do you like their music? (2) DCfC was an atrocity from the moment they picked that godawful name-- and yes, I know where the name came from. They didn't "sell out." They "suck"!

I have, I suppose, more or less the same reaction to C. Brownstein. You guys want to generalize about something that is beside the point. Somebody's mad about the folly of politics, so they make angry music, so their music is worthwhile? Somebody's frustrated with the stupidity of politics so they make layered, smart, music, so THAT music is worthwhile?

I like angry music. I like smart music. If it's good! I don't even mind if they don't hate their parents or happen to enjoy their day jobs. I don't even mind if their records are distributed by Warner Brothers. If it's good! I agree with the conclusion of the article you linked above that discusses the death of "indie" culture, minus the need for a 15,000 word explication. If you need an entire "culture" to justify what you listen to I can guarantee this much: there will be plenty of topics for future blogs!

Matt

To be fair, you are distorting Carrie's argument quite a bit here, and you leave out that she has for some time championed almost all of the bands you mention to refute her argument.

In fact, for the past two years, she has written quite frequently and with a great deal of praise for a lot of what could be called "NPR Rock," from Bon Iver and Dirty Projectors to Fleet Foxes and, yes, even Grizzly Bear. In fact, she has even talked about how she sees this music as being equally valid, exciting, sophisticated and powerful as the "snarly, aggressive" stuff. Hell, she and Fred Armison both just starred in a St. Vincent video, so she seems a poor fit for your straw man here.

I get your point, and for the most part agree with it, but you are doing Carrie a disservice.

That said, I too am a little bored of the "collective hug" of modern indie. It's not about being quiet vs. loud, or intricate vs. raw, it's about the feeling that something is at stake, that there is real heart on display, that the music has an energy, whether in feel or sound. A lot of new indie these past couple years has been very, very . . . pleasant, which is why you can't turn on the TV without hearing an indie song in a commercial or walk into a Gap or Banana Republic or see a romantic comedy.

To use an example from another genre, Eric Bachmann once said this about Townes Van Zandt, Springsteen and Kris Kristofferson when he released an ep of their covers, but those guys brought it, they weren't holding any punches. A Townes song can be quiet, pretty, well constructed, inventive and sophisticated, but also full of blood and guts and fear and honesty and beauty and power. To these ears, at least, that's precisely what is lacking in, say, Grizzly Bear, which is why, frankly, no one should be surprised they chose to collaborate with Michael McDonald. It's all surface, little depth, and it just sits there, perfect for background music and soundtracks and ads and retail shopping. Compare this to a band with a similar sound, Lambchop, or even the Beach Boys, who are sophisticated but also rooted in the ground, with a little dirt under their fingernails. There's feel and power and risk there that's just missing from so much indie of late.

So, like Carrie, when I hear the new Quasi record, it does feel like a breath of fresh air, like we are kind of waking up from a period of somewhat lifeless, surface-focused music that sounds nice but doesn't have any real heart to it. And I like the Dirty Projecters. A lot. I'm just ready for a little rock n roll.

Michael Azerrad

Matt, read the Monitor Mix blog post I link to within my post and tell me if you still think I'm distorting Ms. Brownstein's position.

John Wenzel

I never thought I'd find a reason to disagree with Carrie Brownstein but you (Michael) articulated her argument's flaws perfectly.

beaterball

I don't entirely agree with you, but I like your argument overall. Even though this article is over 2 years old, I still think that it holds more now than ever. Personally, I'd like to live in a world where thoughtful, intelligent, and creative music can still either be "snarly,abrasive" as well as within the vein that is "NPR Rock". It can happen!

Michael Azerrad

You're absolutely right, beaterball, they don't have to be mutually exclusive. And there are plenty of examples. The example uppermost in my mind right now is the Psychic Paramount.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77HtN4qyxlQ

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