YOUTUBE MUSIC GURUS
The Virtual Underground
YouTube Subscriber as Indie Rock Guru
by Jim Rader
My addiction to YouTube began in '07, the good old days when you could watch just about any movie at no cost, calling up bands secondary as I'd already come upon a treasure trove of fresh, gratis indie rock on Last FM, interesting bands such as Women and Crystal Stilts.
In 2012, my old clunky PC finally bit the dust, and I was too broke to replace it. When I got out of the rough patch about two years later, I still didn't buy a new PC as I rather enjoyed roughing it for a while, inspired by a musician friend's hermetic move to a log cabin in the wilds of Maine. It wasn't until 2017 that I coughed up for a new PC, as I'd resumed writing. As expected, the totalistic state known as Microsoft had changed in the interim. No longer could I cheap out on the internet at the library as I now needed the 'net to empower Word 16. However, on the upside I no longer needed the noisy local library to go online.
YouTube had changed in the five-year interim: far fewer free movies, but far more free music, especially rock. The first YouTube indie rock guru I chanced upon was Captain Beefart, the first vid that hooked me Vacant Lots' second album, Departure, which offered distinctive lo-fi production and a novel spin on The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat, though Galaxie 500's "Fourth of July" might've inspired Departure's "Make the Connection," whose laconic recitation is apparently about the end of the world: "Eyes wide awake / watching life disappear." Guitars, bass, and drums churn out a muddy two-chord riff redolent of "Sister Ray," though the overall effect of "Connection" is transcendent rather than hypnotic. "Make the Connection" goes great with Ronald Nameth's vintage film of Warhol's DOM extravaganza, also on YouTube. Two other fave bands under the Captain's banner are The Hidden Ratio and Magic Shoppe. The Hidden Ratio's eponymous architectural EP mashes Elevators-like guitar figures with raga-like undertones; Magic Shoppe's LP Reverberation mashes tuneful songwriting with discreet repetition, best exemplified by the catchy track "Time to Go."
Soon, YouTube guru iosonofederico offhandedly emerged as the Captain's psych-band rival. Belgian aggregation The Deserteur's EP Fever in the Pocket has a mixed-back soaked-in-reverb vocal that owes something to Crystal Stilts, though the purposefully trashy organ of ace track "Visions of Confusion" recalls the John Cale of "Sister Ray." Make sure to include this hot take in the dance mix for your next, long-overdue party. The thick varied guitar textures of Black Nite Crash's EP Colony Drive shine most effectively on the catchy Hüskeresque title track. More-trad rock and roll band Jennifer evokes Lou Reed's streetwiseness on their punchy LP Stop Digging, their vocalist's phrasing convincingly seedy and tough without sounding anything like the late Lou.
Should you need to chill out, YouTube guru Pop Therapy offers the mellow poptones of bands such as Blonder, Del Claro, and Baseball Game. Blonder's concept EP Crystal Ball succeeds in contemporizing peak-period Brian Wilson, though not The Beach Boys as there are no four-part harmonies, only a Brianesque ethereal whine above discreet instrumentation. The opening track, "Island," clocking in at fifty seconds, clearly imitates Brian, whereas the remaining tracks come off far less derivative. Somewhat similarly, Del Claro's EP Been Dreaming kicks off with the brief instrumental "Introspect," which sets the soothing yet unsettling tone. The second track, "Feel the Same," explores the lighter side of romantic obsession, its texture balanced between a light synth and a light guitar that sometimes take succinct solos. There is no overt Brian Wilson influence; rather I hear the early-'80s bands Aztec Camera and Love Tractor. Baseball Game is more a guitar band, with arresting arrangements, novel effects, and probing lovesick lyrics that recall both Alex Chilton and Todd Rundgren.
Pop indie gurus Nice Guys are to Pop Therapy what Captain Beefart is to iosonofederico. However, the pop indie gurus don't have as many artists in common as their psych counterparts. Unlike any of the aforementioned gurus, Nice Guys have a boatload of one-track vids that enable queueing more than a few bands inside YT's allotted forty-three minutes. Jonny Kosmo's "Fool" references the silky '70s Soul of The Delfonics and Luther Ingram without the slightest trace of irony, whereas Babe Rainbow's soul-accented "Your Imagination" ironically goofs on soul's occasional gooey recitations via snappish lines such as "How come you never kiss me more than twice?" Far Caspian's acoustic-based "Warning Sign" comes off an unlikely but colorful collaboration between the late Elliot Smith and Brian Eno.
Now back to the intense stuff. Guru Harakiri Diat has to be the most rabid indie rock fan since Jack Rabid. My first exposure to his numerous uploads was the cassette Hunger for a Way Out by Sweeping Promises, a Boston band that sounds like Pylon fronted by Siouxsie. As with all the aforementioned artists, their influences don't come off studied or arbitrary. As many of Harakiri's vids are recent releases, they communicate the angst of a "second dark age," as Mark E. Smith would put it. This vibe comes to the fore on the first eponymous release of Germany's Imposition Man, especially on the cassette's last track, "Fallacy," which recalls Husker Du's "Chartered Trips," though IM also evoke Die Kruezen's most interesting LP, October File. Also hailing from Germany, Ostseetraum bring to mind early Cabaret Voltaire with their loopy synth/tape/tinny-guitar racket.
As most of these artists are still active, their vids are tagged with links to Bandcamp, small labels, or other resources, and I encourage you to support your favorites. You also may want to check out subscriber In Depth Music, which has a wide selection of almost-forgotten '80s indie bands, such as Asylum Party, Comsat Angels, and My Dad Is Dead. I first heard MDID's catchy track "Your Love" eons ago on Boston college radio, but never got the song's title or artist as the DJ forgot to convey this vital information.
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