Wednesday, January 30, 2008


More on the Vampire Weekend tip. Read the comments to this Stereogum post. They perfectly encapsulate everything I can't stand about the current state of independent/alternative music and how it is consumed.

Stereogum: Vampire Weekend is Out: Now Counting Down to Backlash

I want to write about this more in depth later, but I approach all of this from the perspective of the older brother of someone in a band struggling to make it, and as a frustrated music fan irritated by the groupthink that leads everyone to like the same thing at the same time, and then suddenly reject it because everyone else likes it. This ever diminishing hype cycle is not only bad for fans, it's bad for bands too (arguably worse for them, since now a band like Vampire Weekend will not be able to develop and build a natural fanbase before they are thrust into the spotlight and then rejected as has-beens within months, if not already (and their debut came out just YESTERDAY!)). Jess Harvell wrote about this in Idolator with regard to the Black Kids a few months back and it's worth reading.

There are two obvious solutions to all of this. One is to recognize that the hype (and the anti-hype) (as displayed in the Stereogum comments) is confined to a tiny subset of hipsters who need to feel ahead of the curve and that most listeners are both more discerning and more loyal. The other is to check out of the process entirely-- be incredibly wary of any and all hype, and only buy albums long after the hype cycle has died down to determine if they're really worthwhile. That's what I tend to practice.

But all of this makes me nostalgic for some halcyon time when the "scene" was more organic. How did indie bands that have had varying degrees of longevity make it? I'm thinking of groups like Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices, Pavement, Sleater-Kinney-- the quintessential "indie" bands really. Those bands all had long careers where they steadily built an audience without the blog hype-cycle or a Best New Music rating from Pitchfork. Basically, I think it's fun to get excited about new bands, but the way things are now, it's just such a pain in the ass.


Quinapalus said...

I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment in this area, but isn't the snake-eating-its-own-tail blog hype machine just the latest version of an old pattern? Hasn't MTV, or top 40 radio, or whatever existed before that, always played up the Big New Sound and then rejected it as old news a short time later?

But if a band is worth listening to, they'll do fine anyway. I remember being 12 or 13 and hearing guys on MTV talking about how Nirvana was so played, and how Candlebox was the next big thing (this of course before Kurt became a martyr and MTV started running specials on how Nirvana was the greatest band since the Beatles.) And Wilco survived a Pitchfork 10.0 rating, and the subsequent return to the hate they'd always received from Pitchfork prior to YHF being the Next Big Thing. The same thing happened to Lupe Fiasco, whose partially leaked debut album got hyped up months before it was even released, and then was treated like old news by the blogs when it finally arrived. But he's doing just fine, and I'm sure his music will endure long after Young Jeezy, or whatever rapper Pitchfork decided was more relevant.

Also, I checked out a Vampire Weekend video on youtube just to see what this was all about, and it sounded pleasant enough, even if I did find their rich-guys-in-sweaters-on-a-yacht thing to be kind of annoying.

Eric said...

Everyone's qualified to comment in this area! Though, I wonder if I'm the only one as fascinated by these meta-aspects of things. Either way, you might be right, Q, though even with MTV the cycle was necessarily just longer. Also, true confession-- I didn't like Nirvana that much back in the day. It was too noisy for me. In fact, I was listening exclusively to the Beatles in about 1994, so when they were comparing Kurt to John Lennon I remember thinking it was ridiculous. Now it makes more sense.

Either way, a couple comments:
A band like Wilco, which has its roots in a seminal indie band and had released three or four critically acclaimed albums before their real hype hit, is in a different position than these new bands like Tapes n' Tapes or The Annuals (ie, blog bands).

Also, re: VW. That's just it. They're a damn pleasant sounding band, deserving of neither the huge hype nor the huge hate (although, they do bring some of the hate onto themselves by emphasizing the prepster thing).

Via Chicago said...

I hope I can comment intelligently on this as it's somewhat late and I am giddy from winning $500 on the Super Bowl, but I shall try.

On a whim today I popped in Soul Coughing's last album, which I hadn't heard in ages. What struck me right away was how idiosyncratic that band was. Lots of drum and bass in a very techno-ish way, but also indie sort of guitar licks, along with lyrics about math and weird things like that. All under this very sinister blanket. It really brought to my attention how hard it is for bands to sound truly unique these days. I think this ties in to Eric's point about VW and critical praise/backlash.

I agree with Q that this sort of pattern has long existed, but the proliferation of the internet makes the pattern so rapid that it's hard for a band to find their sounds while flying under the radar. As soon as one person somewhere says a band is great, then people check them out and they are immediately under a microscpe. This is mainly due to technology allowing such things to happen. I remember back when Nevermind came out and I first started reading about this Nirvana band and discovered there existed some album called Bleach, which I worked hard and tracked down over a few months. Such a thing is unheard of these days where I could hear Nevermind, go online, read a review that mentions Bleach, download the entire album, and hear it all within an hour. That kind of instant access can lead to a harder time fostering your artistic growth and development. It's important for bands to have time to mature, but they no longer get that time - due to technology and due to the constant drive to be the first kid on your block to discover the next big thing.

Does that mean we're doomed? No, not at all. There's this fascinating theory out there that I believe in called "Ren Gen" - short for Renaissance Generation. This basically says that we are on the verge of a true artistic renaissance, the likes of which has not been seen since that last Rennaissance that you remember from art history classes. Why? Because the method of creating and distributing art has changed so drastically in the past few years, however the art itself has not been able to keep up. Once artists who grew up using this new technology come of age (soon) they will be able to use the full capabilities at their disposal, and will be able to create truly amazing work. I buy this. So I don't think we're screwed. But I do think we're in a transition period, and it's a painful transition where it's difficult to work in the old model of recording/distribution/etc. New bands that don't radically change their concepts of how to be a band in this day and age are going to have a hard going, which is exactly where this loop of blogger praise followed by anger comes from. So while I miss the idiosyncracies of 80s and 90s "indie" music, and agree that today's music is a bit homogenized, I am optimistic for the future.