The fickle state of the hype machine
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  March 5, 2008

Oxford Collapse with Diamond Sharp + 500s | 9 pm March 11 | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St, Portland | $8 | 207.828.5600

Wilderness with Micah Blue Smaldone | 9:30 pm March 12 | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St, Portland | $7 | 207.828.5600
In a self-affirming cover story on “the new speed of hype,” Spin magazine’s March issue profiles Vampire Weekend, the Columbia University-bred indie group that has taken the indie-music world by storm. The band, not even on the subcultural radar thirteen months ago, became the first act to grace Spin’s cover before releasing a proper debut. Hitting newsstands concurrently with the release of VampireWeekend  (XL), the feature didn’t overestimate the popularity a blog band can quickly muster:the album debuted on Billboard’s top 20, a rare feat for even veteran indie acts.

In the story, cultural critics are optimistic that indie culture’s proliferation allows more opportunities for deserving bands to become popular, but there’s an underlying concern that mp3 blogs render bands buzzworthy before they can match the hype they’re allotted.

Buzz can reach a saturation point merely on the basis of one single; amateur critics often ignore full-lengths that don’t meet suddenly unreasonable expectations. They can forsake their own hype-mongering and render a band forgotten with alarming speed, simply by no longer writing about their new singles or tour dates.

This week, two bands that may have fallen prey to that dissipation of hype come to SPACE Gallery. Some listeners may be surprised to have already forgotten them. The Brooklyn trio Oxford Collapse play on March 11. Their confident, humorously jaded attitude first garnered them attention in 2005, on the basis of a few catchy singles in a time when — thanks to the Strokes — just about every garden-variety indie band received a moment in the sun.

The band released strong three albums between 2004 and 2006, with an ebullient mix of sunny guitar licks reminiscent of early R.E.M. and the spastic, nervous energy of Pavement. While certainly a welcome diversion, the band intentionally lack the zeitgeisty pomp of other indie acts that have resonated with audiences (Hold Steady, Arcade Fire).

Oxford Collapse, though, are a singles band, and that’s why they always generate excitement before their solid albums are rendered too inconsequential: “Please Visit Your National Parks,” off of 2006’s Remember the Night Parties (Sub Pop), is anthemic indie rock at its best, four minutes of careening one-upmanship that’s both sentimental (“You should be standing right next to me”) and irreverent (next line: “Instead of two feet in front of me, oh-wee-oh-wee-oh”). Their SPACE show is a one-off gig before they head to Austin’s annual indie-rock clusterfuck, SXSW, to woo bloggers in advance of their next album, BITS, due out June 3 on Sub Pop.

Also “riding coattails,” Baltimore’s Wilderness followed Interpol to the scene in 2005, during indie’s revisionist love affair with jangly, post-punk guitars.

The comparison wasn’t a helpful one for the band, who share Interpol’s early affinity for gloomy atmospherics and creepy vocals, but are much more indebted to challenging instrumental and art rock. Wilderness aren’t single-friendly or even approachable enough to accommodate the massive buzz they received; frontman James Johnson howls almost tunelessly through the band’s intense, dead-serious songs, as though he’s alone atop a crumbling iceberg.

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Related: The Big Hurt: The year in not really giving a shit, Review: Vampire Weekend and Black Kids live, Vampire Weekend | Contra, More more >
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