The Nth Wave
The New Noise RockWay back in the 20th Century, the '70's and '80's to be precise, the hippest new Indy Rock bands were targeted by club buzz, followed by a then-nascent Rock Press and a handful of DJ's. Locale played a huge role: New York and London in the '70's; Athens, Minneapolis and Boston in the '80's. In the early '90's only Seattle followed this pattern.
By Jim Rader
Now Cyberspace rules; a band's recording debut is more often an MP3 rather a single or CD. Now in my fifties, this development fosters ambivalence: on one hand, I miss the Good Old Days when a community, however loose, determined taste or consensus; on the other hand I don't go out nights like I used to and the 'net comes in handy for checking out new bands.
In recent years, I've mostly encountered young Indy bands who display professionalism and style but lack "magic," "the X factor," the "IT". I'll take the high road here and not name names but several years ago, I found myself selling six-month old CD's by the aforementioned units because their music didn't stick or resonate. Discouraged by what I interpreted as a dry spell, perhaps even The End, my interest switched to other genres, especially obscure electronic/ambient "sound artists" like George Steinbruchel or Taylor Dupree.
Nothing wrong with digging other sounds but Rock n' Roll was/is my first love and it was a drag searching for and not finding any bands that, well, ripped the top of my head off. No Television s, Feelies, R.E.M.'s, Jesus & Mary Chains--this distressing syndrome reminded me of a strange ancient radio ad for the third Velvets album intoned by mellow DJ Rosko: "You don't know how you feel ...you haven't heard the new Velvet Underground yet."
This past summer I checked out many recent indy bands on the net and stumbled across several truly cool ones, via my unknown pals at Last.fm. I tout these particular bands because, despite differences in style, they all share the best qualities of Indy Rock: wit, fresh textures, personality and emotional forthrightness. I call them "The Nth Wave" because at a point when it looked to me like Indy Rock had nothing new to offer, these bands suggest infinite possibilities for rock n'roll's survival.
Paradoxically, even the greatest classic rock n' roll, on close bloodless examination, appears to have nothing new to offer. The early Beatles combined the guitar/bass/drums combo (Ventures, Shadows) with Everly Brothers harmonies and Girl Group soul shouting and dressed it up in soupbowl hairdos and collarless jackets. The Stones and the Velvets essentially did the same thing, only using different sources (and clothes). On the surface, this stealing or rehashing looks crass and lazy but actually it indicates a form of sophistication that separates rock from other genres. Also, it is courageous: the above bands derived from whatever they liked, with astonishing results, while risking controversy.
It is of course impossible for any post-'60s band to replicate the curious fusion of art and commerce of these 1960s pioneers (R.E.M. are one exception); a first-rate Indy band should at least deliver in the area of art, searching earnestly for new sensations.
Back in the day, what first drew me to Television was their name: caustic, flip, yet provocative. I spotted the band name "Women" on the 'net (all guys, of course) and my spider-sense began to tingle.
A Calgary CN-spawned unit, most of their CD was available for my listening discernment. I liked it enough to buy it (I resent the advent of iTunes and still like visiting record stores, a more sociable endeavor). I also still like eye-catching cover art and store display. Women's covered displayed '70's color photos of mass public calisthenics in Maoist China--definitely worth $13.99!
Then there is the music, an arresting stew of diverse influences ranging from the Beach Boys to Steve Reich. Women's signature song "Black Rice" boasts a catchy plaintive melody accented by enigmatic lyrics and geometrically structured instrumental breaks that elude the Prog Rock tag through sheer rawness: blunt effects-free Fender guitars, funky upfront bass, junkyard drums, sheets of tape-noise.
A really good band makes you ask questions: just who are these "Women"? Why Calgary, Canada? Their page photo pictures four typical alternative young guys in jeans and cropped hair- judging from appearance alone they could be misjudged as mundane.
In contrast I linked up with the more image-conscious Wavves, really a one-man overdub band created by twenty-two year old Nathan Williams, who looks like a teenaged Maureen Tucker. Saluting with a smirk, his photo drew me more than the tacky bar band name. I clicked on Wavves' "hit" "I'm So Bored" and my headphones almost disintegrated from the deliberately overloaded crude sound. The abrasive--but fresh and original ---noise threw me as I'd expected less from the hackneyed punk title, culled from The Clash and Iggy. However, Nathan makes it new with his unique lo-fi know-how and singular pubescent whine that bleeds love and anomie simultaneously.
Other titles archly explore the dope/rock/vampire youth culture of Nathan's SoCal locale. His jagged chord changes and friendly/menacing persona eerily evoke the late Kurt Cobain; like Cobain, Nathan suggests "crossover" potential, though this development is far less likely in today's ultra-reactionary above-ground rock biz. Billy Joe, he ain't. Unlike Cobain, Williams can shift gears to a plaintive, near-folkie mode that recalls Beck's early work.
Times New Viking
Dada lives on in my next link, the remotely tagged Times New Viking, so named for an imaginary font. TNV share Wavves' fascination with pop culture, in their case more focused on Indy Rock in-jokes via titles like "Devo and Wine" or the raunchy instrumental "Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo." A bass-less three piece (organ, guitar and drums) who met in art school in artistic Columbus, OH, TNV's extremely distorted sound has been predictably compared to Jad Fair but there is other stuff happening. Winking, sometimes puzzling, allusions to rock lore abound; two songs (from recent LP Rip It Off) "Come Together" and "Another Day" bare no resemblance to the Beatles' compositions, though "Another Day," a hippy-dippy flower kid ditty sounds like an outtake from Hair.
Even noisier than Wavves, I approached TNV like the bomb defusing expert in The Hurt Locker. "Rip It Off" outdoes John Cale's Sun Blindness Music as the loudest CD I've ever heard. Organist Beth Murphy and drummer Adam Elliott often share the ranting, infantile, unforgettable vocals while guitarman Jared Phillips crunches out fuzzpower chords a la early Teenage Fan Club. The band's knack for deceptively simple melodies is their "X factor"; "hits" like "My Head" and the earlier "Teenage Lust" recall the warmer side of the Velvets and the Raincoats.
TNV's truly edgy humor is best exemplified by a bizarre insert in their recent 45 "Move To California": a copy of a pissed-off letter to their record label requesting the band be dumped from the label roster over an "unprofessional" gig. I still can't tell if they fabricated the irate epistle.
Crystal Stilts- photo by Daniel Farinas
Next in my voyage of discovery were Crystal Stilts, whose name perhaps derives from listening to Tommy James and Bob Dylan too often. A four, sometimes, five piece outfit founded by vocalist Brad Hargetty and guitarist J.B. Townsend, The Stilts hail from Brooklyn's Bohemian hold-out neighborhood, Williamsburg. A casual listen might mistype them as yet another "retro" '60s garage bunch but they transcend that beaten path by also channeling early '80's post-punk like Public Image and Joy Division.
This off-kilter fusion is demonstrated on their infectious single "Love Is A Wave," which opens with a blatant bass-drums rip of the "Public Image Theme." JB employs Joy D.'s staccato rhythm guitar but he also sounds like Sterling Morrison, Dave Davies and himself. Singer Brad warbles beneath a murky reverb layer like a garage kid channeling the Lizard King. Paradoxically "Wave" emits an upbeat carefree vibe despite the dark '80's influences.
More rock than noise, the latter element consists of the below-sea-level reverb and crashing roller-rink sounds that add a modern edge. All the songs maintain the upbeat, good-timey feel, even the minor key "In The Nursery," bringing to mind acee vintage garage groups like Blues Magoos or the Electric Prunes.
Cause Co-Motion!- photo by Chuk Amok
Cause Co-Motion!, also based in Williamsburg, share Crystal Stilts' penchant of matching/mixing influences though their sources differ. Their comp CD It's Time/Singles & EPs 2005-2008 boasts fourteen stunning numbers clocking in for a total 21:09; yet each tune sounds complete, well-crafted and intricately arranged.
Cause Co-Motion!'s auteur Arno Kleni sings in a blunt style recalling Robert Forster (Go-Betweens) and thrashes out frantic rhythm guitar which lead guitarist Liam counters with piercing melodic high notes. The Mod sensibility of early Who/Kinks is obvious but C.C. are also influenced by Television as all the instruments engaged in dazzling counterpoint and harmonics. Like Crystal Stilts, they lay on the reverb with a trowel but the sound is more celestial than subterranean. Their best song "Baby Don't Do It," zooms by like a skittish kiss from Patti Boyd.
Considering the complexity of our media-saturated times, I'm obligated to end this rave with a disclaimer: there are more bands than ever out there and the lofty posture of this article will inevitably seem Quixotic to some readers. I admit I'm writing from a subjective, nostalgic and even anachronistic point of view. So in closing I'll just say: check out these sounds. I hope it makes a difference in your life.
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