Archive for the ‘joy division’ tag
First of all, I love indie. I love it like a 15-year-old boy loves Megan Fox, sans anything involving posters on ceilings. So before you get up in my face with loud, defensive, aggravated comments about how great it is — I know, I know. Mellow.
But again like our halter-wearing temptress, there are a lot of seemingly reasonable people who HATE indie. And when you start to talk to these people about their hatred (once they get past the asinine jabs about hipster jeans, beards and technical guitar skills, like those even matter), you start to realize they may actually be on to something. Because even though indie is awesome, it’s only really awesome if it’s done right. And sometimes, you just have to take a loved one by the collar and tell them when they’re not doing something right. Right?
Here are some of the things indie musicians do that piss off people who otherwise have good taste in music. (Subtext: if you hate indie because the only style of music you like is speed metal or radio country, then this list, and my entire blog, will probably mean nothing to you.)
1. Whine a lot more than necessary. Most people understand that songwriting is about expressing emotions, so like-minded listeners can identify when their parents get divorced and they’re shuttled back and forth like a fake ID at a sorority house. But those alleged “genuine” emotions shouldn’t cause stool to run soft in the bowel, and those “genuine” lyrics shouldn’t have to become ironic Facebook status updates. Despite the majority of indie songwriters who express their inner ingénue at an appropriate level, a lot of them tend to dwell on the idea of adult male vulnerability, riding it like the bow of the Titanic until people in the crowd are considering dialing a hotline. The result: indie rock that is backed only by overdramatic 14-year-old girls and moms who are just glad their kid isn’t listening to Insane Clown Posse. And the woe in my heart bleeds like yesterday’s undercooked pot roast.
2. Sing like the deaf. Okay, part of being vulnerable and “real” is not having an overtly superior singing style. No one expects to be empathizing with Bono, or relating on a personal level to Axl Rose. (Yikes.) Still, there are a couple of fundamentals that are just part of singing — like pitch control, and not making the audience laugh out loud. So when the biggest Clap Your Hands Say Yeah single sounds like Joe Assface got up on karaoke night and ran a schoolbus over the solfege scale, it’s tough to hold the contempt in check. It’s even worse when it’s a cover of a song people are already familiar with, like Clem Snide’s abhorrent version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” or Ben Gibbard’s cringe-inducing take on Bjork’s “All is Full of Love.” I don’t care how cute his own songs are, taking on Bjork’s most well-heard single with his northern-accented po-boy whimper is like climbing Mount St. Helens in a T-shirt and Converse low-tops. When the tone that comes across is “this didn’t sound like it did in my head, but oh well,” something is probably lost.
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People can say some pretty stupid things online. Maybe it’s the anonymity, maybe it’s just a spur-of-the-moment thought immortalized forever on a message board. Some of them are understandable, given circumstances. OK, your brain farted and spat out that retarded statement, and now you’re feeling better. Alright.
But sometimes, the things people say can cause great need for release of frustration. Some of them can make you want to steal a car and ram it into a shopping mall, or grab the next person to walk past you and shove his face into a tree trunk. For example, I’ve heard, more than once, someone who is supposedly into rock music say they hate Nirvana, and that Nirvana sucks. This is utterly berserk. Listen up, pinhead.
First of all, the words “hate” and “sucks” are oversimplified ways to express discontent with something. People use them when they don’t know how else to identify or explain what they don’t like about something. And don’t get me wrong, there is much not to like about Nirvana. (Big hint: It’s designed that way.) But to say Nirvana “sucks” and that you “hate” them is entirely missing the point, like saying “man, Casablanca is so damn sappy,” or “why does Van Gogh paint so many sunflowers?” Let me explain.
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On occasion, I will be in some department store or other where I am exposed to the business side of pop culture. This basically means music that serves as background fill, creating a comfortable, mindless soundtrack that makes people more inclined to shop. And usually, what I hear irritates me beyond words (though I tried to express it once, here).
However, a recent event managed to re-open my judgment on commercial pop covers, and I’ve realized something rather interesting: The commercialization of music doesn’t always have to involve the dumbing down of obscure, artistically challenging songs. It can go both ways.
This occurred to me in the sale section of a slightly upscale clothing store, where my discerning eardrums were introduced to a vaguely funky, jazz-style version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” Sounds awful, I know. But hold on.
It was performed by a female vocalist, with some combination of keyboards and horns fleshing out the main chord progression, and a broken-down beat that almost entirely avoided the main beat of the song. The whole thing barely resembled the original at all. In fact, it took a few bars for me to positively identify it. And I would even say … I wasn’t pissed off about it. (Side note: I tried to find it on YouTube to no avail, but here’s a goofy, lamer jazz version of it by Tom Gaebel and Jazzkantine, to give you some idea.)
I’d like to contrast this experience with an earlier one, the example I hinted at earlier. This was the Killers’ hipster-pop version of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay.” Hearing that cover brought my blood to a boil instantly, and here’s why: The original version of “Shadowplay” isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s not meant to be readily absorbed by people who don’t “get” music, or serve as the backdrop to a mindless club atmosphere. It’s meant for the quarter-toting music fiends at The Bar and Jones — and it’s certainly not intended to be the soundtrack to a Forever 21. (I realize this might sound elitist and snobby. It is.)