Archive for the ‘indie rock’ tag
Speedy Ortiz keeps it coming with the angsty, just barely post-teenage mini anthems that it seems like Major Arcana will be mostly composed of. Sadie Dupuis has a strange knack for making the most contrived and Avril Lavigneian lyrics sound vital and knife-twisting, and “No Below” proves that she’s willing to turn that knife on herself. Dupuis’ vocals follow a hook-ridden guitar line along a sparse and wintered rhythm section. I have no doubt that I’ll be muttering the song’s “better of as being dead” vocal refrain for the next few weeks, though it won’t be as chillingly forthright as when performed by Speedy Ortiz.
Surf City’s “It’s A Common Life” lives up to the quartet’s moniker without sounding too common. There’s a glistening, buzzing shimmer to the guitars, which soar around like seagulls over a surfer’s paradise. This is summery bluster that’s still appropriate for an overlong winter – bright and friendly but just dark enough to surprise.
Proverbial “haters” are always going to hate when it comes to Vampire Weekend. They come off as a pretty lame, “surface level” band to be into, and their preppy aesthetic is proof to many of the ivy league nepotism that has invaded indie music. Part of Vampire Weekend’s initial charm was based on their status as Columbia grads (which, to a state university sophomore made them annoying and their popularity unfair), and on their appropriation of afrobeat music (a troubling matter in its own right). That they have remained so relevant post-2008 is a testament perhaps to their unyielding aesthetic, perhaps to their publicists – perhaps even to their music. The first and last have hardly ever been more succinctly played off one another by any band than on Modern Vampires of the City. And if we are to judged and review an album based on the extent to which it achieves what it is attempting to accomplish, and also on the extent to which what has been attempted s is novel and rich, then Modern Vampires of the City is a stunning achievement.
Opening duo “Obvious Bicycle” and the very fleshed out 2012 preview “Unbelievers” set the table politely for Modern Vampires’ belabored aesthetic; they are almost overwhelmingly warm and chamber-inclined, without going overboard and becoming too musically insistent. These songs are a technical achievement in that such gossamer tones are evoked without relying on the hissy comfort of dated-sounding analog recordings. With “Unbelievers” Ezra Koenig establishes a lyrical precedent as well, giving us direct evocations of religious imagery that are still ambiguous enough to be musings on a romance or a poor mark in a class. The ambiguity is maintained throughout Modern Vampires (does “Everlasting Arms” refer to an unyielding love or to a literal eternity?), but a more directly theosophical bent takes shape on later tracks (“Ya Hey” especially). Koenig seems to mostly be interested not in losing of faith (an over-plowed field for lyricists), but in the literal, cultural constraints that religion seems to put on people (see: an orthodox girl falls in love with a falafel shop employee on “Finger Back”) and also in the way a society saturated with religion has warped our view of death. References to death crop up on just about every song, but the religious imagery invoked is a warm, friendly mix of library-locked classicism and slivers of modern conservative Judaism.
But when Koenig sings “Hudson died in Hudson bay, the water took its victim’s name” – the lyrics that kicks off the chamber and dub-indebted “Hudson” – we get the feeling that even our most powerful and ancient testaments to god’s might can be discarded and dissolved as easily as a human body can. And the amped delivery of “Don’t Lie” disguises a chilly metaphors about one-way exits from youth as a cheerful anthem for the 20-something set, complete with a Dirty Projectors-referencing guitar outro. But then removed from all of this we have Modern Vampires’ most legitimate centerpiece, “Hannah Hunt”; a meditation on longings for itinerancy, with the image of a New York Times being torn into kindling existing as a sort of tearaway from the reality we supposedly must inhabit if we’re listening to this album.
With the help of (relative) recording vet Ariel Rechtshaid, producer and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij defenestrated much of the production aesthetic of both Vampire Weekend and the slightly insufferable Contra. Because of their work, I suspect that Modern Vampires is an album that will come into its full aesthetic significance in the middle of next winter; it is almost the opposite of Vampire Weekend’s very “summer in the Hamptons” vibe. Modern Vampires is far more urban, but urban in the sense of remaining confined to a candelabra-lit room in the Columbia library. Sure, we’re up in Harlem, but there’s a huge and increasingly obvious divide between the neoclassical confines of Morningside Heights and east 125th street. On Modern Vampires, Vampire Weekend (Koenig in particular) seem to confront this, though it is with a kind of grim, “well what do you expect from me?” ambivalence that makes the record all the more sharp.
What Modern Vampires of the City doesn’t manage to do is to top the musical ingenuity cultivated on Vampire Weekend; Ezra Koenig’s sharp, tropical punk guitar playing is sorely missed. Modern Vampires feels like a less original songwriting effort on Koenig’s and Batmanglij’s part, thought perhaps a more inspired one; much of the album’s startling power is derived from fairly on-the-nose reference points, rather than tricky amalgamations. Modern Vampires does succeed to present a more complete aesthetic than Vampire Weekend, and it is definitely a more straightforward pop album. The lyrical aesthetic, too, has evolved from fairly petty – if clever – Salingerized observations about class to the aforementioned dialectic between ambiguous feelings about religion and very clear ones about death. Has the word “Babylon” ever been uttered so many times on an album? Only Leonard Cohen could come close; unlike Cohen, though, Koenig would treat George Michael and Modest Mouse with as much sly reverence as he would Nebuchadnezzar.
Vampire Weekend have made and continue to make the kind of music that I try to revolt against with my criticism, because it is not appropriated by listeners in a way that expands their musical dialogue. No one is doing Vampire Weekend any favors by justifying their album through terms usually reserved for the more experimental set. This is not a band that has “come into their own”, nor have they defied the expectations associated with major pop acts. Musically, there is nothing particularly eclectic or subversive about Modern Vampires of the City, and the fact that it is so lyrically pointed just speaks to the sorry state of lyricists in modern indie. Vampire Weekend will continue to receive a lot of backlash because of their boat shoe aesthetic, and because of the privilege they bring with them to their music. And their music may not seem to speak for anyone other than other children of privilege with the luxury of post-college blues, but at least it does so in a way that doesn’t talk down to its listeners; rather than obfuscate its borders with niceties, Vampire Weekend give their perspective and they can’t be faulted for that. This isn’t a musical revolution by any means; Modern Vampires of the City is still less musically interesting than even the most reviled Animal Collective albums. But this is a great pop album and, even in its moments of weakness, it manages to keep you fully engaged and fully entranced by the haughty theatrics.
Vampire Weekend – “Don’t Lie”
Vampire Weekend – “Hudson”
Fresh off of releasing their Ka-prow/Hexxy 7-inch a few weeks ago, Northhampton MA snack-rockers Speedy Ortiz share yet another track, this time from their upcoming full length, Major Arcana, out July 9th on Carpark. Sadie Dupuis’ vocal melody writhes around the peculiar chord changes in a way that they sound self-conscious, trying to escape their own skin while she “laugh[s] out of habit” and sings “my face is unable to convey how very awfully i’m doin’”. The thick lyrical malaise from Sadie’s vocals mix with the sludge from the guitars all the while the drums are being torn “limb from every limb…”
It’s hard to say that The Love Language are “back,” because unless you were paying close attention in 2008, you might not have even noticed Raleigh, North Carolina-based Stuart McLamb’s project had ever arrived. “Calm Down” should help even the most oblivious music listeners take notice of the startlingly underappreciated group; the song combines the wild and bombastic psych-drivers of Deerhunter’s Microcastle with The Love Language’s own patented brand of jangly indie rock. There’s a lot more power in “Calm Down” than The Love Language is used to weilding – but there’s no going back now.
The beauty behind The Orwells isn’t just their youth, their relative inexperience, or the surprisingly mature (yet thoroughly immature) music they make. It’s a glorious combination of all these things. Nobody makes rock ‘n’ roll sound so sweet, or so simple, which (unfortunately) seems a rare combination these days. The fact that dizzying new summer party jam “Other Voices” features lines like “take a drink, then let’s make out,” only makes it that much sweeter.
You’d be wise to expect bigger and better things from The Orwells, though; TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek produced their upcoming EP, Other Voices, out June 25.
There’s always a moment for fervent music followers and artists where they begin to tire of certain genres and scenes. They believe all complex possibilities have been explored and that nothing new can be created. That word new is a tricky thing. Music is not created in a vacuum and people’s enjoyment of it depends greatly on certain expectations that have been pre-conditioned in them. So, the struggle of an artist to be new and remain grounded in a tradition while not being outright derivative begins. This struggle leads to identity crisis within artists and sometimes intense cynicism from critics about the future of certain kinds of music. After reaching a certain level of convoluted trickiness to squeeze out whatever new statement they can, it is sometimes easy for a band to fall into the belief that everything that can be done, has been done. Every once in awhile though, a band comes around with something so radically simple that, in the atmosphere of the elaborate contrivances of their contemporaries, seems so bold.
When Vampire Weekend released their self-titled debut in 2008 it was shockingly refreshing. Their innovative West-African infused indie-rock was the kind of music that tore away the cynical guard of critics and made a thousand bands say, why didn’t I think of that? Unfortunately, their tricks, became commonplace rather quickly as bands sought to imitate their style. The novelty quickly wore off and became a sort of second-rate trend. In 2010 they followed up with Contra and blew everyone away again. They escaped the pattern set for them by maintaining their distinct sound, which had been subject to copy and paste bands all over the country, and improving upon it, adding electronic elements and strengthening their already poignant songwriting.
Here we are, three years after Contra, some of us maybe expecting Vampire Weekend’s luck to run out, but with “Ya Hey”, their second single from their upcoming album Modern Vampires of the City, they assure us, that it is not luck. Ezra Koenig’s melodies are just as good as ever and their baroque-pop leanings are still present, but the odd pitch shifted vocals add a startling freshness to their signature sound. They squeeze so many clever innovations into this one track, you think maybe they shouldn’t use all their tricks at once, but they’ve assured us several times before that when you think all their tricks are spent, they’re still able to advance their sound and create something that sounds, dare I say, new.
Vampire Weekend – “Ya Hey”
Wales! Your propensity to churn out gleefully outre pop acts knows no bounds. Perhaps I am making a wild generalization (in fact I definitely am) but some Welsh bands really do seem to have an affinity for blending psychedelic nostalgia with idiosyncratic sonic mysticism. The latest Welsh act in the vein of psychedelic wizards like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals are relative newcomers Islet. Their latest, a song that is of course called “Triangulation Station,” vacillates between Os Mutantes and an outer space psych raga not so far removed from the likes of CocoRosie.
The production quality of “Triangulation Station” keeps the song in a swampy hollow at the end of the 1960s, but a danceable bass freakout near the end of the track plants it firmly in the 21st century. For once I can honestly say that I am hopeful for the state of British indie.