I have recently returned from the Midwest, where I spent Christmas with my family and my wife. It was great to see old friends and how my home town has changed in the years that I have been away. My favorite bar has been by some accounts blacklisted by those who disapprove of new ownership, the intrusion of a malformed elevator shaft into the stage space, and a shift in demographics. Hip kids perceive the fraternity types to be taking over and thus have moved elsewhere. This xenophobia has been transliterated onto the music scene itself. I visited a new venue in Nebraska called Box Awesome. Immediately upon entering, I knew that this joint had collected the cool juice that had spilled over from downtown’s once great music venues. Everything from the art on the wall to the position and quality of the stage and the people circulating the room left the impression that Box Awesome was attached to a scene. It was a happening place that I could easily imagine running into on the Lower East Side or in Williamsburg.
To some the energy that is derived from such a venue is coveted. The covetous nature of what I saw that night is a microcosm of what seems to be happening in independent music. When I entered Box Awesome a band called UUVVWWZ was slated to play. I had recognized Jim, the main guitar player and writer from Mr. 1986, and was expecting a great show. As the band completed their sound check, the lead singer Teal began to hum and moan into the mic. What ensued captivated the audience and had the house moving. The music was nicely awkward with solid riffs punctuated by the jammy interplay between the bass and guitar. But I could not help but scoff at the shrieks of Teal Gardner. UUVVWWZ sounded as if Veruca Salt bitched and screamed until her father bought her a band. They incorporated some of the more vocal forward elements of Sleater Kinney and the more mundane aspects of Deer Hoof. She mostly failed to utilized her words or proffer her utterances as anything other than the whiny shenanigans of a preschooler. When Ms. Gardner sang with a more tender tone it was evident that the band had promise. Even when she screamed there was a raw vociferousness that was pleasurable. But the fact remains that most of the time, she just sounded like a girl whose shtick was to sing by singing badly. UUVVWWZ then came off as noise. This describes a major trend in independent music that has culminated in 2007.
The quest to become the oddest of the odd is not one taken by fools alone. There have been many great and glorious records to come out of such attempts. Others however fail with attention too often placed on what is possible, or what can be done, rather than any consideration of what effect or aesthetic the music might have when it is listened to. Importantly, a premium has been placed on what is disconnected. Caché is derived from the anti-structured expletives that valiantly discourage mainstream attention. The Fiery Furnaces had their try and stumble with Widow City in 2007, while Battles succeeded with Mirrored to produce interesting rhythmic weirdness. Perhaps Battles did well because of the lack of worded vocals. Either way, the critics of 2007 loved any attempt to reformulate the way we listen to music, giving praise to records that if critiqued at another time would be recognized as trite and be doomed to be forgotten. Noise can only be new a few times.
Animal Collective rose to the occasion and released a record with intense creativity when times were fertile for their brand of music. They were not lazy just because it would have been easy to crank out a crap record and still have gotten recognition because of their “pioneer” status. They took it upon themselves to step it up when more people would be looking, although Animal Collective member Panda Bear released what some have erroneously called the best record of 2007. This record was possibly the least important release of the year, but alas, he cloned The Beach Boys in a way that Band of Horses did not. Kudos for that, but I’ll probably never intentionally listen to Panda Bear’s Person Pinch again. This year has been a year in which the discombobulated has thrived and the straightforward has succumbed to the rise of distracted glitchy antitheses.
In 2007 Wilco played us simple songs uncovered and bare of what otherwise might have been expected from a band that pushes their songs to the textural limit of pop. Bright Eyes recorded Cassadaga, leaving Lincoln Nebraska’s former recording landmark Presto Studios for the wider scope of pan-America. Similarly Bright Eyes’ music ranged from intimate to epic, teeming with themes of isolation, alienation, and the large scope of the American experience. Beirut has given 2007 an expanded and improved collection of tracks that out perform much of their previous catalog, proving to us that Zach Condon will be around for a very long time.
This year has acquainted me with bands such as Pela who have written and recorded one of the most undervalued American rock albums of this decade. Other bands like The National and The Twilight Sad have altered indie rock’s accumulated stigma as poorly recorded cock rock. Groups molded into the archetypal formulas of Jet and The Strokes are getting less and less attention. On the unsigned front, Yes, I Attempt (now named Boys Dance, Girls Die) from Montréal have recorded a few tracks that should be getting noticed any time now. Once they book shows, I know it will only be a matter of time. Immovable Objects and The Depreciation Guild have put together two very beautiful and encouraging records. They are delicate, tender, and dense. I am very curious to read what other critics make of these acts as they achieve greater prominence.
This year I have sat in disbelief at critical reactions to many albums. I have a place reserved in my heart for Rilo Kiley, but another release like Under the Blacklight will most certainly jeopardize the charge of my opinion. I almost mistook Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga for an Oasis record…and that is a bad thing. Stars have been noted for their retro nuanced pop, but they come off sounding like pretentious hacks, who are too self infatuated that they have over looked the fact that they are perhapes the most derivitive band I have heard in a while (Sorry Amy Millan, I’ll always love you). Another much loved artist to make new songs from dated styles is Jens Lekman, who is touted as the ultra euro-romantic. While he is by no means awful, Lekman’s mannerisms never quite have the pop appeal of Belle and Sebastian or the sassy nature of Morrissey, yet he tries to fuse the two into a seamless product. When I listen to him, I am reminded of what he is not, rather than what he has to offer. I know…too bad for me.
The internet has seen a few antics this year. The identity of The Tuss has fueled more controversy with people who usually wouldn’t care. Radiohead released an amazing record and distributed it themselves via the internet for a price to be named by the buyer. They caused a false scandal when it was discovered that In Rainbows would be initially downloadable at only160kbs. Idiots finally found Radiohead’s flaw… they are money grubbing leaches… hmmm. Au Revoir Simone has risen from a relatively little known band to an internet sensation. Based on the amount of internet buzz I expect these ladies to do well in the coming year. While I did not give them the most stellar review, after listening to Under the Blacklight, I am convinced that The Bird of Music has done more musically in 2007 than Rilo Kiley ever dreamed of or cared to try. In fact Rilo Kiley loaned everything cool about themselves to the Brooklyn trio.
After much consideration I have decided to include a Frederick Foxtrott Top 10. It is flawed and conflicted but it covers a good portion of what 2007 had to offer.
Top 10 of 2007
1 Iron & Wine- The Shepherd’s Dog
2 Radiohead- In Rainbows
3 Múm- Go Go Spread the Poison Ivy
4 Pela- Anytown Graffiti
5 Bright Eyes- Cassadaga
6 The National- Boxer
7 Band of Horses- Cease to Begin
8 Wilco- Sky, Blue Sky
9 Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
10 The Tuss- Rushup Edge
I am looking forward to 2008. It will be the year that Eagle Seagull tours across the nation with their new record, finding their name on many a critic’s top 10 list. Head of Femur will take this year to watch their hard work pay off with their new release Great Plains. Born Ruffians and Stardeath and White Dwarfs will release their debut LPs to audiences eagerly awaiting full lengths. Born Ruffians will be one of the best bands to hit the shelves in 2008 and if Stardeath’s shows are any indication of their abilities in the studio then I am afraid to hear how good they’ll sound next year. As Paper Garden increases its roster of notable artists, both past and present, they continue to impress me with their sensibilities and nose for great music. Peasant will no doubt have huge success in the coming year. Thanks for reading Frederick Foxtrott and we hope to make next year’s reviews more abundant and informative. While from my perspective 2007 was not a great year for independent music, I predict that 2008 will be an exceptional year, serving to define a most crucial time for the independent industry.
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Au Revoir Simone
Band of Horses
The Depreciation Guild
The Fiery Furnaces
Head of Femur
Stardeath and White Dwarfs
The Twilight Sad
Boys Dance, Girls Die (Formerly Yes, I Attempt) Read the rest of this entry ?