Off Topic: Why Indie Rock Sucks

 

I was perusing online music reviews because that's just the sort of guy I am, when I came across this review of the Thermals new album:

"At the Bottom of the Sea" is a restrained, moody ballad that shows a possible way forward for the band. Ditch the forced rock & roll and get melancholy and quiet. It may scare off some of their fan base, but making another album as formulaic and uninspired as Now We Can See will likely leave them with no fan base at all.

Please God, no. 

I'm a ridiculous music snob.  I've been in arguments over who is better, Teeneage Fanclub or Big Star (clearly Big Star).  I own every Pavement album.  I own four albums by Sonic Youth... and I don't even LIKE Sonic Youth.  Hell, I own the Minutemen documentary, We Jam Econo.  So it pains me to say this, but here it goes:

Indie rock fucking sucks right now.

I don't mean, there's no band as good as Pavement.  I don't mean that I'm mildly disappointed in this year's releases.  I mean it flat out sucks.  It is humorless.  It is musical tinkling.  It is, above all else, boring.  

Just to single them out, I bought Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion.  It has earned rave after rave, and the album is named after the concert venue from my hometown.  So I enthusiastically slapped down 12 bucks for the CD (yes, I still buy CD's).  And it bored the ever living shit out of me.  It just didn't go anywhere and it was so wrapped up in its arty pretention of being an important musical statement that the band completely forgot to write a damn hook for any of their songs.  My girlfriend, who is a classically trained musician, gave it a listen because maybe I was missing out on the musicality of it or some such nonsense.  She thought it sucked more than I did.  So it failed to impress the actual music snob and it failed as a pop record.  I just don't understand why it is so praised and so popular.

But it's not just them.  Seemingly every critically acclaimed indie rock record of the pasty five years is a cure for insomnia.  Have you ever sat down and actually tried to listen to an entire Deerhoof record?  It's brutal. 

I went to ACL this spring.  At one show, the opening act was the Obits, and they blew the room away despite the fact it was still 11 AM.  It was so good, total strangers were still walking up to me about five hours later ("Did you SEE that first band? They were AWESOME!").  After getting us to a fevered pitch, the American Analog Set came out and did a show so mind-numbingly boring and droning that nearly half the crowd left.  Like flat out left.  The Thermals and the Hold Steady then came on and saved the day.  And the review of the show I read ripped the Obits as boring and talked about how moving and beautiful AAS was.  Now, we can disagree over taste, but it was like we were at a different show.  And let's review: total strangers telling me the Obits were awesome and people leaving in droves during AAS.  Yet AAS got a rave, the Obits got ripped, and the author of the review LEFT before the headlining Hold Steady, probably because they are too mainstream.  Despite the fact THS is not exactly selling millions of copies (though they should - they rock, people).

What ever happened to hooks?  What ever happened to smiling?  What ever happened to turning the amps up and rocking out?  I blame this all on Radiohead for having commercial success with an album as terrible as Kid A (yeah, I said it).  Pavement might have had its ridiculously arty and pretentious moments, but they also could craft a terrific song.  "Summer Babe" isn't great because of the lo-fi approach to recording or the ironic lyrics or its odd construction (though all do help).  It's great because, at the end of the day, it's a fun song to listen to.  Hell, even if it's not fun, a good mopey song can be great.

To use the Thermals as an example, I think their best song is "Test Pattern," which probably is no one's idea of a fun song.  But part of the reason it works is because it stands in contrast to the up tempo numbers.  Jesus, not every song has to be a dirge.  Not every band has to spend its time trying to change our conception of what music is or some such nonsense.  Don't reinvent the wheel.  The wheel is great invention. 

Besides, I dare you to watch this and not have this song stuck in your head for the next 24 hours...

 

All Music is entitled to rip the album.  Hell, I agree it is not the band's best.  But please God, the last thing the world needs is another quiet and melancholy indie rock band.  THAT is the formula right now, and it is killing me. 

Can't we have some more bitter sarcasm and a perverse sense of fun?  Or are the Hold Steady, Drive by Truckers, and the Thermals the only good rock bands left in the world?

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