WINTER’S BLOOM Bands started triangulating among the overearnest butt rock of grunge, the little-boy tantrum punk of emo, and the ironic indifference of indie. Somehow, they came up with the authenticity response. This was around the time of the Decemberists’ first release.
If you're a regular reader of the Phoenix's music section, you'll have noticed a decided uptick in the space devoted to electronic music here lately: electro, laptop lo-fi, chillwave, superstar DJs, and whatever other bullshit genre we're about to hype next week. There's a reason for that: all the writers here (myself especially) have horrible taste. But it also has something to do with the dearth of good indie rock being produced these days. Who's responsible for that? Hard to say for sure, but I'm going to go out on a limb and blame the Decemberists, who play two sold-out shows at the House of Blues tomorrow and Saturday.
The conventional wisdom says that indie rock was a movement in the '80s and '90s whereby bands defied the corporate music system and insisted on going down their own path. Or to put that another way: at some point, everyone in the world declared that he or she was too special to have to work a real job and decided to start a band. In England, of course, it helped that being on the dole was really easy. Allegiance to indie became a convenient way for depressed, even suicidal teenagers to share hairspray tips with each other through coded messages in fan magazines. Here in America, our lazy teenagers also wanted to be in a band, but they didn't want to try that hard, so you got outfits like REM, who couldn't be bothered to write lyrics, or Pavement, who were more about being a "band" than being a band. Indie rock, then, was never about defiance — it was about indifference, and this was a good thing. Because, to be honest, music is a pretty stupid thing to spend so much time thinking about. No offense to people like myself who've made a career out of it.
But these musical trends tend to go in self-contradicting cycles. Around the turn of the millennium, bands started to triangulate among the overearnest butt rock of grunge, the little-boy tantrum punk of emo, and the ironic indifference of indie. Somehow, they came up with the authenticity response. This was around the time of the Decemberists' first release, Castaways and Cutouts, an album notable for its elegiac approach to gently strummed indie folk and literary pretensions.
You know what they used to say about the Velvet Underground, how not many people heard them but everyone who did went on to start a band? Same thing with this record, except that it inspired everyone to apply to an MFA program, grow a beard, put on one of those old-timey hats, and pick up a mandolin. White people decided to keep it real, you might say. All of a sudden, indie became less about rocking out, fucking around, and having fun and more about caring about shit. There's nothing less rock and roll than caring about something — just look at the past 20 years of U2.