Well, color me surprised! In 2008, I listened to more new music than would normally be expected from a rock writer in his mid-30s (none of us actually seeks out new music on our own accord, as the dynamic changes drastically when new music is forced upon us for the purpose of adding another byline to the portfolio), especially from one who’s been missing that perfect combination of “asshole,” “smartass” and “heart” in the same column for almost six years now. Wow, what the hell was that last sentence? The framed mantra in the think-tank room at Apatow Productions? Yes, I genuinely obsessed over a lot of 2008 releases: Fucked Up, Geisha, Neil Hamburger, the beginning of the Oneida trilogy/triptych, Disfear, Destroyer and Crystal Stilts, to name a few. But the year was predictably marred by albums and movements that genuinely irked me. I suppose it would be a mild head-fuck to populate this column with albums I love, but it wouldn’t pack the soft, short-sighted punch of what’s written below.
Not to give readers a stroke or anything, but let it be known that I’m a white guy. If I were to assemble a four-piece band of white guys (not unheard of) and name that band the Black Dudes, I’d be a white, racist guy in the eyes of some. Like where-are-they-now psych-poppers the Negro Problem, Black Kids do have at least one African-American member. They’re also responsible for an additional comment heard on college/satellite radio (OK, only on Sirius’ Left Of Center) between-song banter: “Next up, we have the new dance-tastic gem by Black Kids. And hey, it’s cool, there’s black people in the band.” Everyone needs to stop acting like this band invented sexuality in “underground” music. Come on, people. Partie Traumatic is as forgettable as most of the electroclash no one cares about anymore, and its similar theme of “partying + fucking + shakin’ that ass” is about as refreshing as nu-metal bands translating “the pain of a broken family/tough upbringing” to redneck alternative radio.
Jason Pierce was a 32-year-old man when he decided it was a novel idea to present a limited number of 1997’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space CDs in fake prescription-pill packaging. An 11th-grader blasted on Lortabs for the first time doesn’t have ideas like this; he has better ones. A near-death run-in with pneumonia almost led Pierce to scrap 2008’s Songs In A&E (which, despite the PR, was mostly finished before the illness struck); he was encouraged to finish the album after striking up a friendship with filmmaker/charlatan extraordinaire Harmony Korine. It’s a bro-down made in scam-artist heaven. Like Korine, Pierce has made a career of grossly overrated creative endeavors, fooling zombie-like tongue-waggers with the obscenely pea-brained Spacemen 3 as well as A&E’s hackneyed bullshit threesome (“Death Take Your Fiddle,” “I Gotta Fire” and “Soul On Fire”). For some reason, telling the ugly truth about this aggressively mediocre outfit is the music-criticism equivalent of telling dead-baby jokes in a Planned Parenthood waiting room.
If Napoleon Dynamite was a widescreen culmination of everything that’s wrong with the 18–35 demographic, Baltimore’s Wham City collective is a smaller-scale update focused on the historical ignorance and herd mentality of art-school sheep in their early-to-mid-20s. Wham City was more or less spearheaded by irritant-savant Dan Deacon, a calculatedly precocious doughboy with a trickle-down brainwashing program spreading the ever-so-tired geek-chic look (Kitty Kat sweatshirts, big lensless eyeglasses, purposely mismatched colors that only bees can see) and poor man’s noise/improv meets plagiarized ’80s themes/sounds that everyone was going apeshit over 10 years ago. This scene includes bands such as Ponytail, Club Lyfestile (maddeningly described as “a spandex-tabulous dance squad doing a disco ballet about wizards” in Blender magazine), Videohippos and Leprechaun Catering. Future anthropologists will look back on Wham City and mark it as the death rattle of rock ‘n’ roll inspiration, a bottom-trolling feast of late-’90s Olympia/K Records, electroclash without the pop-hook aptitude and transparent thrift-store bric-a-brac worship. Therein lies the main problem: Most of it means nothing. Idealistically, around mid-2010, as the economy bounces back and the U.S. regains its grace, pride and dignity with Barack Obama at the helm, I sincerely hope that all of this coincides with a musical housecleaning courtesy of a movement with guts and real ideas that aren’t a warmed-over retelling of mainstream pop culture from 20 years ago.
Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s
Every time I try to avoid the sticky trap of jaded cynicism that comes with the territory of music journalism, I’m forced to read about a band that proves my instincts are correct. Thankfully, my preventative maintenance radar would never allow these ears to consume a band with a name like Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s. I’m not simply harping on a superficial aspect. Before any strain of this group’s meandering, masculinity-removing, too-precious, over-over-overindulgent claptrap entered my earholes, I knew exactly what it would sound like: big (fucking yawn) pop jams created by a band consisting of nine or more disciples following one guy who’s fancied a “misunderstood genius” by the press and himself.
Kranky Records, through no fault of its own, won the lottery when Deerhunter went from an unknown band carefully pantomiming mediocre, decades-old shoegazer groups to a much buzzed-about band carefully pantomiming mediocre, decades-old shoegazer groups. Add the golden ticket of “eccentric, difficult, insanely spoiled and health-challenged frontman,” and the combo would be good for two albums before: a) an implosion, b) people stopped giving a shit, c) people caught on, d) an irreparable number of bridges are burned, e) it releases a universally reviled album, or f) all of the above. Whether or not the name is derived from the movie, some parallels are notable: The Deer Hunter is a film that everyone believes they’re supposed to like. In truth, it’s a really tedious movie during which nothing really happens. Deerhunter is a band that everyone believes they’re supposed to like. In truth, it makes really tedious music devoid of anything better than a lot of overused hooks and plodding ambience. And no, nothing really happens. I propose Deerhunter saddles up to a little honesty and change its name to Heaven’s Gate.
My Morning Jacket/Fleet Foxes/Bon Iver
I have little faith in rock music’s current ability to move forward, but this is just laughable. Are we still dealing with a bunch of pretty boys who rock the ’70s hitchhiker-chic/Peckinpah-extra look while dragging the lifeless corpse of indie rock further into the bottomless void of mass-consumed Bonnaroo/jam-band/neo-hippie culture? With computer-generated hooks that unadventurous minds hear as real hooks, these bands belong where they’re gunning for: background music in Bank Of America and Pontiac commercials. Speaking of Pontiac, this phenomenon is the General Motors of the music world: progress-allergic product coasting along on the promise that large numbers of people will deal with it until the bottom falls out. And the bottom will fall out, it’s just taking way to long to do so.
As long as there are millions of morons who’ve never heard just how bad the Style Council was and find guys dressing like the villains in John Hughes movies attractive, we’ll forever be weathering the temporary omnipresence of bands like this. Vampire Weekend will be around next year; it just won’t be called “Vampire Weekend.”
I was fooled by the catchiness of a Vivian Girls b-side and incorrectly assumed that the Brooklyn trio’s self-titled full-length held similar charms. Rather than dislike them, I feel sorry for them. In November, mtv.com ran a terrifyingly bad news piece that sums up the problem surrounding a lot of what’s now considered “underground” or “indie” music. Following a painfully clueless profile of “lo-fi” rock (“a new rock revolution” or something similar), old-school VJ John Norris returned to make a total ass of himself by spending eight minutes kissing up to the Vivian Girls. When a “journalist” (his writing resembles the worst college-student Pitchfork-intern drivel imaginable) who was lapping at Hollywood superstar heels within the past three years suddenly turns his fanboy energy to a scenester-fueled genre, it’s troubling that no one seems to understand we’re in the midst of a new version of the grunge explosion, the late-’90s underground hip-hop explosion, the Brooklyn/Williamsburg rock resurgence of the early ’00s and other vapid, mindless movements that everyone likes to sit around laugh about today. Trust me, many smirks will be had at the Vivian Girls’ expense come 2015. The Shaggs crossed with My Bloody Valentine is not endearing or cute. The amateurism is not endearing or cute. It’s grating. The Vivian Girls are the Staind of 2008.