Friday, October 19, 2007

Zoilus on the problem with indie rock

Carl Wilson (Zoilus) has an article in Slate in response to SF/J's much debated article in the New Yorker, and I for one think he nails the issue of indie rock's retreat into, eh, "whiteness" better than SFJ did. (Note: there are two pages). Key points:

  • the excision of blues-rock from "underground" rock goes back to the '70s with the demise of top 40 radio, and '80s origins of American punk and especially hardcore (though, there are exceptions here too, of course)
  • SFJ cherry-picks exceptions selectively, overlooking several important ones
  • "if gangsta rap marked a break, it was because hip-hop became coded to reflect the retrenchment of the "Two Americas""
  • the "trouble with indie rock" may have far more to do with the widening gap between rich and poor than black-white
  • while it may be a cliche, "the particular kind of indie rock Frere-Jones complains about is more blatantly upper-middle class and liberal-arts-college-based, and less self-aware or politicized about it"
  • their music is bookish and nerdy rather than body-centered, and "shows off" "its chops via its range of allusions and high concepts with the kind of fluency both postmodern pop culture and higher education teach its listeners to admire"(side note: don't mistake bookish and nerdy for smart and intelligent, and also note that it does not necessarily have to be one or the other. Both rap/soul and indie artists have shown admirable "chops" in both body and mind at the same time.)
  • "this university demographic often includes a sojourn in extended adolescence" where the "musical consequences might include an open but less urgent expression of sexuality, or else a leaning to the twee, sexless, childhood nostalgia that many older critics (...) find puzzling and irritating."
But go read the whole thing. It holds together much better than I could ever hope to summarize in bullet points.

Update: a few quick things before I lay this topic to rest, at least for now:

a). although like SFJ, I tend to prefer music with "swing, some empty space and palpable bass frequencies" i.e. the American tradition, I don't necessarily see that as absolute necessities, and like Carl Wilson, I like some of the bands SFJ points his finger to.

b). I'm no apologist for indie. There's plenty of bad music out there, and not just indie. But I also think the reason why is not solely down to a lack of "miscegenation".

c). I agree that indie has a problem - culturally first and sonically second, perhaps - but as you may have figured out, I think some of SFJ's examples are off the mark and also that Wilson did a better job of figuring out what the problem is.

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