Friday, November 18, 2005

Seven Indie Favorites from 2005: Part One

Yes, it’s time for looking back and creating lists. It’s time for bundling up and growing bitter. Please address your scathing and sneering letters to rfceditor@hotmail.com. That’s the only reason people read these things, isn’t it? So they can complain and dissent and form a more correct opinion than the critic and thus feel better about themselves. So consider this a big shiny holiday present to you, my ironic and bourgeois friends. A ten spot to feed your ego. Actually, a seven spot to feed your soul. My seven favorite releases from 2005, year of the cocky Rooster and natural disasters. Notice my wording here. My seven favorites. Not the seven best. I’m going to come right out and say that I’m not an indie music elitist. I’m not going to compile a list based on the consensus of critics who spend their days and nights working out mathematical equations they use to determine an album’s brilliance. Plug in the bpm, multiply by the number of throwbacks to obscure postpunk acts (but subtract for obvious influences by Joy Division, The Fall, or David Bowie), etc. I don’t have that much time on my hands. So instead I’ll reveal my 2005 benchmarks. These are the albums I felt were important for either the artist or the world of indie music at large. They’re albums that reek of style and sensuality. None of them are particularly ground-breaking or intellectual, but they do demonstrate average folks making honest attempts to create memorable music. Most importantly, these are the releases that attached themselves to my psyche over the past twelve months, the tunes I couldn’t get out of my head, the lyrics I turned into email signatures, the music that consistently made me--yikes! Dare I say it? Happy. Apologies to the Queen Mary / Wolf Parade (Sub Pop, September 27) The boys in Wolf Parade are always the first to admit that Wolf Parade sucks. And in the traditional sense, they do. Apologies to the Queen Mary is replete with loose guitar work, missed chords, washed out vocals--all embedded in one giant chunk of disarray. It’s impossible for Wolf Parade to be tight. This band is pragmatically jumbled. Dan Boeckner’s “Same Ghost Every Night” is one of the laziest songs I’ve ever heard. Each line--systematic drums, progressive keys, sketchy guitar--is distinct and detached, held together weakly by Boeckner’s vocals, which are all but drowned by the resultant muck. Additionally the musicianship is horrible. Simple arpeggios and fills, juvenile plucking and pounding that makes me wonder if any of these guys knew how to play before the band came together two years ago. So why the rave? Why was this album more addictive than anything else released this past year? Because while Dan Boeckner’s vocals are barely heard, they’re heard as a buried plea trying desperately to break through madness. Because the music is so shoddy that it’s either miraculous or genius that it is able to be kept together and molded into structured pop tunes. Apologies to the Queen Mary is the “Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte” of indie rock. It’s a whole lot of nothing that adds up to something illogically satisfying. The characteristic Wolf Parade noise is that of this chaotic polyphony, of muddled guitars, pesky electronics, and uplifting keyboards. Another trademark--if a band this young can have any--are the discordant underlying vocals that echo like a sinister chorale throughout the album, serving on tunes such as “We Built Another World” and “Modern World” as a buoy for Boeckner’s droning voice, while on the poppier “Shine A Light” they add a flare that becomes annoying if you pay too much attention. And while we’re on the subject of voices, why is everyone so interested that Krug’s bears a resemblance to Bowie, but no one’s pointing out that Boeckner’s timbre is no shabby semblance of Cobain? Apologies is split between songs constructed by these two primary craftsmen, the latter having tendencies towards a more lo-fi grunge resonance, while Krug likes to be a hyper twit bent on getting as much racket into a song as possible, whether it’s his breathless, tumbling lyrics on “Grounds for Divorce,” or his musical indulgence on the sluggish “Dinner Bells,” in which the vocals end around the four minute mark, but the tune keeps going for another three just so the guys can amuse themselves by making a cold and distant clamor that leads to nowhere. This song probably sums up Wolf Parade better than any; it’s an awkward attempt at a ballad, with its sloppy and laborious guitar, delicate, subtle piano, ethereal electronics and vocal reverb. Juxtaposed with this is a marching drum beat and raucous pick scrapes across distorted electric guitar strings. Even when these guys make an effort to be sweet they end up sabotaging their own attempt at sincerity. But the result is less mockery and more self-conscious, like they’re freshmen punks frightened that anyone will find out they actually are vulnerable, that they actually have hearts. The lyrics on Apologies go in just as many directions. There’s the dejected “Modern World” in which Boeckner sings, “I’m not in love with the modern world/It was a torch to drive the savages back to the trees.” Then there’s the absurdity of “Fancy Claps” with Krug declaring, “We can lie in a homemade canoe/You can put me in your hair/I’ll be happy there.” There’s no poetry here but there is wit and modest poignancy. The tone is of resignation; “Shine a Light” has Boeckner declaring somberly, “You know our hearts beat time out very slowly/They are waiting for something that never arrives.” Krug’s acquiescence is more accepting and on “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” he turns this ache into ammo: “I’ve got a hand/so I’ve got a fist/so I’ve got a plan/It’s the best that I can do.” All this despondency leads the album into the happy little silly love song that is “I’ll Believe in Anything,” which I will boldly declare is the greatest song released this year on any album anywhere. Yes. It is. It begins as an unassuming, simple pop tune with the lyrics, “Give me your eyes/I need sunshine” and the guitar line mimicking the melody. It’s all so ingenuous with the exception of the hooking drum fills that foreshadow the complex upsurge that is to come. Krug’s voice goes into the frantic bridge (“I could take another hit for you/And I could take away the trips from you/And I can take away the salt from your eyes….) and he loses his quirky warble, taking off with a strength not heard elsewhere on the album and leading to an explosion of sound that is potent and chaotic and glorious. There’s a denouement, but then it starts all over again and becomes painfully climactic, scrumptiously excruciating in its inability to stop. A lot of debuts are surrounded in hoopla, and no one knows until years later whether the commotion was merited. Wolf Parade’s quick usher into the limelight was no doubt aided by the buzz surrounding brethren Arcade Fire, and it’s possible that they’re going to bloom prematurely. In fact, I’m fairly certain they will. I don’t see them being around in ten years; maybe not even five years, and it’s a beautiful thing. They’re this bright burst of energy in the modern scene that can’t seem to strike a balance between being pretentiously sober and annoyingly gimmicky. It’s been awhile since a band has been earnest and exuberant in equal measure, as manifest by an unpolished sound that’s charged with static. No one seems to want to make static anymore. No one wants to be anything less than quantum. Wolf Parade takes us back to that base punk sentiment: great music doesn’t have to overreach, great artists don’t have to strive for innovation and perfection. All they have to do is harness whatever capabilities they have, to let loose their personalities and passions and flaws and guts and create a fucking rock song that the kids can dance and pound their fists to.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm listening to this album for the first time, and I am looking up some reviews, in the hope of understanding why people like this band. I still don't like Wolf Parade- the voices... ugh... just not my taste... But I absolutely love what you say at the end.

7/30/2007 04:56:00 PM  

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