Saturday, September 19, 2009

Indie Rock: a shameful chapter in the history of rock 'n roll

I just finished watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. The principle thing I learned from it is that a work of art will fail if the characters depicted are unlikable. Nick was boring, Norah was cute . . . but Clarissa was a big, whiny three-year old and Tess (or Tiss, or whoever she was), was a skanky ass hoe. So there you go. I couldn't care less about the characters and therefore could care less about what happened to them. Cut that tie and then the whole movie goes down the drain, along with the soundtrack, and, more to the point, indie rock.

What's wrong with indie rock? Well, to sum it up, it sounds bad. But why? I know you're dying to know just why it sounds so gosh-awful. And you're probably scratching your head, like me, and wondering how we ever went from Led Zeppelin to Modest Mouse, (really, who would name their band that?), from the Stones to Yo-La-Tango. (?)

Well my friends, the answer is that indie rockers misapplied the great, time-honored truth: every great movement is in reaction to something. Rock 'n roll happened in reaction to big-band swing; punk rock happened in reaction to classic rock, alternative rock happened in reaction to the last vestiges of classic rock and the MTV era, indie rock happened in reaction to alternative rock, and well, anything that sounded good. You know the problem with indie rock? They exist in reaction to everything about rock that's great. They tampered with the very ingredients of the formula that make rock sound good, heck that make any kind of music sound good. Let's examine this point by point.

1) Great band names became beyond lame band names. I've already cited a few examples above. When I heard about MuteMath's latest release, I didn't even wince.

2) The blues went down the toilet. 'Nuff said. None of the indie bands know how to play the blues. You take the blues out rock, you take the rock out of rock.

3) Cool lyrics about love, sex, and rebellion became lyrics about autumns sweaters and never-ending math equations. (Thanks Yo-La-Tango and Modest Mouse!)

4) Bass-driven grooves became . . . oops! The bass is either absent or it's playing a drone.

5) Rich, beautifully phrased guitar melodies became short, choppy, staccato ostinatos (repeated melodic fragments inspired by avante-garde classical music a-la Phillip Glass). You kinda have to know that last bit for those tinny sounding ostinatos to have a fighting chance at sounding cool. Don't forget to take your opera glasses with you to the Nothing Rhymes With Orange concert.

6) R&B inspired belting became nerdy whining. Really, I don't know what else to call it. Is it just me, or do lots of indie singers sound like they, well, don't know how to sing? The women often adopt an affected Billie Holiday-ish pout and the guys make a style out of straining for high notes and warping the vowels to suit their English-major poetic recitation fantasies? It's unforgivable.

Alright, I'll cut the ranting but indie rock sets my panties in a twist. I just think it sounds so bad. Does anyone really, really like it? It just isn't cool. Doesn't look cool, doesn't sound cool.


Swingers: favorite lines

Mike approaches a girl at a party and her initial response?

"What car do you drive?"

Vince Vaughan's put down: "She's business class . . . big but, can't fly coach."

What the guys all said, time and time again, about some lonely bar before hopping over to the next lonely bar:
"This place is dead."

Vince Vaughan to Mike: "You're so money and you don't even know it."

Swingers: it was fun to see it from a guy's perspective . . .

The whole single, dating, romance thing . . . sucks, doesn't it? If you're in a great relationship, well, good for you. But for the rest of us, whether you're trying to meet someone, trying to avoid having someone meet you, trying to forget someone . . . it just sucks from every angle. The great thing about Swingers is that it attests to that in a very honest way but wraps up with a happy ending. It's like a chick flick without the sappiness along the way. Oh yeah, did I mention that it examines the whole dating thing from a guy's perspective? That was really fun. Because what I learned is that we're all in the same boat, guys are girls: it's awkward and painful for all of us, in the same ways, and for the same reasons.

The message of the movie, "be yourself," was time-worn, but it was given a refreshingly complex treatment. Mike is hurting over the break-up of a six year relationship and struggles to meet someone new. His friend Trent, a ladies man, tries to teach Mike a thing or two about meeting women. When Mike follows Trent's script, things don't work out, of course. However, the movie isn't so simplistic that Mike hits it off with someone as soon as he lets his guard down. He has to fumble around. And Trent's influence isn't completely bad: thanks to Trent, who drags Mike out of his lonely apartment, Mike meets the Heather Graham character.

The point of it all? You have to be yourself, but being who you are won't work with everyone and a combination of approaches--Mike's down-home honesty and Trent's go get 'em energy--work best. You have to be patient and stick it out. Things will eventually click if you hang in there. And never forget that everyone's in the same, sinking boat. At the end of the day, cocky Trent and shy Mike were haunting the same bars and parties with the same results. (Just because Trent got girls to sleep with him didn't mean he found true love. It is fair to say, however, that Trent minded his loneliness less, free spirit that he was.) It doesn't matter who you are: true love is a matter of luck, timing, and patience.

And, by the way, perhaps the truest part of the movie was this: you won't forget that special someone from your past until you meet someone new. So get to it, don't sit around, and dramatically lower your expectations until finally, to your utter disbelief, Mr. or Mrs. Right appears.