The February 2010 edition of Paste Magazine features a black cover with the question, “Is Indie Dead?” in bold red letters. The cover is an homage to the iconic 1966 Time Magazine cover that reads, “Is God Dead?” Inside, John T. Elson’s controversial article studied the history and philosophy of religion and atheism. In 1966, America was facing a cultural crossroads of sorts with almost half a million troops in Vietnam and race riots at home. With its cover and subsequent ten-page article, Paste Magazine questions the cultural implications of the term “indie.” Now that a Grizzly Bear song can appear in a Volkswagon commercial or a Bon Iver song in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, it seems as though the world of independent music is at a crossroads as well.
Last Friday was WIUX Pledgefest 2010. The station was raising money to keep afloat, and they raised over $2000 throughout the week. The culmination of a week-long pledge drive was a concert on Friday night featuring six local bands. I was busy until 6 so I missed Varsouviana (bummer), but I was there for the rest of the night. The show was fun and despite an early scare from the Five-0 everything went off without a hitch. Here is the day from my perspective:
Bonus Video! – Here is Clouds As Oceans. Not sure what the name of the song is they are playing, but it sounds good to me. I had never seen them before but they had a Maserati/Russian Circles feel to them and were easily my favorite act of the night –
Right now in the indie rock world there are a lot of revival movements picking up speed. Whether it be lo-fi rock or electro-pop, this offers critics countless opportunities to play what you could call “the influence game.” Citay is a band that I would say fits into the psychedelic pop-rock revival genre, which is clearly a genre I just made up. I will tell you that Citay features harmonies reminiscent of The Mamas & The Papas and has Big Star-like pop sensibility, but that does not do their sound or their live show justice.
Photo by colm.mcmullan
Robert Christgau, perhaps the most famous rock critic in history, once called Radiohead the “Only Band That Matters,” a title previously bestowed upon British punk band The Clash. Radiohead has put out seven full-length studio albums and have been called the “Pink Floyd of Generation Y.” Whether or not you listen to them or you believe they deserve it, they are the most critically acclaimed band of the past two decades.
I grew up in a middle-sized town in northwest Indiana: too big for John Mellencamp, but not quite large enough to relate to the Rolling Stones’ portrayal of New York in “Shattered.” I used to sit in front of my parents’ stereo and listen to Beatles’ records for hours at a time. I listened to a dozen CDs a week driving to and from my high school. My best friend used to tell me there were three musical phases you would go through at some point in your young adult life; a Beatles phase, a Led Zeppelin phase, and a Radiohead phase. My Beatles phase came young, and my Led Zeppelin phase was throughout high school. Now I write for a couple of music blogs and spend part of my week doing grunt work at a local record label. I have listened to thousands of artists, I own hundreds of records, and I have never had a Radiohead phase. This makes me wonder if it will ever happen to me. Is Radiohead worthy of a phase in my life, or everybody’s for that matter? In order to answer these questions I enlisted the help of experts and conducted a personal experiment (involving five and a half hours of Radiohead) that has never been attempted.
In order for Radiohead to legitimately occupy a plane above all other pop bands they have to contribute more to society than ring tones and record sales. According to Brandon Forbes, co-editor of Radiohead and Philosophy, the band is not just a capitalistic juggernaut.
“We had a pretty good hunch going into it, but putting this book together made it plain to us that there are good reasons why Radiohead has succeeded The Clash as ‘The Only Band that Matters’.”
The book compiles essays about the band itself and its music and lyrics, separating them into categories such as “Radiohead’s Existential Politics” and “Radiohead and the Postmodern.” The overarching theme of the book is that yes, it is possible to have a discussion about the band that goes beyond the surface aesthetics.
As Forbes puts it, “Radiohead’s music points toward philosophical analyses of actual experiences in the world.”
However, Radiohead has impacted more than just the philosophical world. They made a cultural and economic splash in 2007 with the unconventional release of their highly anticipated album, In Rainbows. They decided to allow fans to download the album for whatever price they wanted to pay. The results were mixed, and it is estimated that less than half of those that downloaded the album contributed any money to the virtual tip jar. The album was released physically later, but this attracted much less attention than the initial digital-only sale.
This new method, flawed as it may have been, created a whirlwind of controversy about not only the album itself, but about the entire music industry. D.E. Wittkower, author of the essay “Everybody Hates Rainbows,” says that cutting out the middle men of the recording industry is something that plenty of people would not mind doing.
“Music is expressive, and the idea of transforming something fundamentally communicative into a commodity for sale has always been a bit of a house of cards…From the fan-perspective, music as a commodity has always been only a necessary evil and an unwelcome precondition.”
Any band with enough power to make countless numbers of fellow musicians, authors, and professors muse about their work and cultural impact has to be important. Having established that Radiohead does hold merit in intellectual communities, it is time to answer whether or not Radiohead can have a significant impact on my personal life.
What do Radiohead and I have in common? Nothing as far as I can tell. I have never listened to any of their albums all the way through. To me, this does not seem like such a big deal, but to other music writers it is akin to reporting on professional football for a year and then going on vacation during the Superbowl.
In the interests of science and my own personal edification I listened to all seven of Radiohead’s studio albums in a row. According to iTunes that is five and a half hours and 81 songs. There were three bathroom breaks and a phone call from my mother that stopped the music, but other than that it was smooth sailing on a slow Sunday. When I decide to do something I tend to follow the plan through to completion (unless you count my childhood dream of owning a Ford Probe, which I have put on the back burner for now).
I am not a very good scientist. I went into the experiment wanting to like Radiohead. Often I wonder to myself, do I have an inherent dislike for Radiohead, or as perhaps George W. Bush would ask, is it a choice that I freely make? The only band I ever tried to make myself like was Pink Floyd. I remember having a 7th grade duty to hate them since “pink” is in their name (i.e. must be for girls). Then, somebody cooler than me told me they were the greatest band ever so I sucked up my pride, bought Dark Side of the Moon, and listened to it twice through while sitting in my mom’s minivan. Quickly it became one of my favorite albums, and I still love it.
I have listened to a few Radiohead songs before (I think once in high school I fell asleep listening to Hail to the Thief on a long car trip), but I’m still probably an anomaly in the “indie rock” world. Before I listened to all the albums I liked the song “Karma Police” and I have a previously formed opinion (more later) on the single that vaulted them into the spotlight from relative obscurity, “Creep.”
This did not end up like Chuck Klosterman’s essay where he sets out to watch music videos on TV for 24 hours, only to find out that they loop every couple of hours, so he ends up watching the same videos in the same order all day. Radiohead does have seven studio albums and, as I found out, they had quite an interesting musical evolution. What follows is my account of the day when my view on Radiohead became informed, instead of just based on speculation.
Any Given Radiohead Sunday
Released in 1993, Pablo Honey is the group’s first studio album, which is the first step on my journey to enlightenment. The album art is god-awful and for a moment I consider scrapping the whole experiment and throwing on an old Led Zeppelin record.
1 Song In: The first song on the album is called “You” and it sounds more like R.E.M than what I had imagined Radiohead to sound like. It is rather surprising and I can’t say that I dislike it.
2 Songs In: This is the aforementioned “Creep” and my opinion on it has not changed. Anybody who has played the Rock Band video game or has had a roommate trying to learn guitar knows this song and has heard it too many times. Since it is the second song into my odyssey there is no new context in which I can view it, so I still think it is whiny drivel.
5 Songs In: I’ve listened to four full tracks and I have not heard any break beats or electro-sneezes that I expected to hear. This song is called “Thinking About You,” and if Radiohead was an 80′s hair metal band, this would be their “Ballad of Jayne.”
12 Songs In: “Blow Out,” the last song on Pablo Honey is ending, giving me the first glimpse of psychedelic weirdness that I have previously associated with Radiohead.
15 Songs In: This song, “High and Dry,” is the first song that has legitimately wowed me. It has a sad beauty that kind of sums up the rest of the songs I have heard so far.
19 Songs In: More than half way through The Bends, and this song, “Just,” has woken me from some sort of trance. I was either entranced or napping, but I’m not sure which. This song is what I would call rock and roll and boasts a pretty great guitar solo.
25 Songs In: “Airbag” is the first song on OK Computer, which many consider the band’s greatest accomplishment. In an NME article from 1995, singer Thom Yorke said of the album, “You know, the big thing for me is that we could really fall back on just doing another moribund, miserable, morbid and negative record, like lyrically, but I really don’t want to, at all.”
30 Songs In: I can see what Yorke means now as I listen to “Karma Police.” This album ventures more into outer space, with songs like “Paranoid Android” and “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” as opposed to the introspective bent that the previous albums had. Like The Smiths before them, Radiohead was often labeled as a band to listen to only when depressed, since their lyrics were often self-loathing and melancholy. OK Computer signaled a change in perspective as the band began to comment more on the world around them, as opposed to the world inside themselves.
37 Songs In: Starting the next album, Kid A, right now, and feeling the beginnings of the pain this might inflict on my physical self. I feel a little burnt out but glad I decided to undertake this experiment instead of a Whitesnake experiment. Can you believe the band with one video of a model dancing on the hood of a car put out 11 full-length albums?
46 Songs In: This song (“Motion Picture Soundtrack”) has multiple endings and solidifies my view that Radiohead is adept at choosing the last song on each of their albums. I am enjoying each album more than the last, which I am more than half certain is not because I am developing some sort of disorder from sitting in front of my monitor for so long.
57 Songs In: I just finished listening to Amnesiac, which is the most epic album that I have heard so far. It has thunderous bass, but lacks the cohesiveness of Kid A. The albums were recorded at the same time, but their releases were staggered since the band was opposed to releasing a double album. My mental and physical states are on the brink, but maybe the next album will be full of Metallica covers to keep me awake.
58 Songs In: I am listening to the first song off 2003′s Hail to the Thief, which is called “2+2=5 (The Lukewarm).” This album annoys me already for a few reasons. First, did each member of the band get to choose a word of each song title without consulting each other? I do like the title “A Punchup at a Wedding. (No no no no no no no no),” but I think that probably triggered the trend in music nowadays where bands think it is okay to name themselves Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
71 Songs In: Hail to the Thief, like all of Radiohead’s previous albums, builds on their sound, this time adding a creepiness and feeling of impending doom to each song. At points the album falls short and turns into background music, but it has a handful of quality songs. Also, I think this may be the first album that gives credit in the liner notes for playing the “laptop.” If you are allowed to claim that you play the computer, I think the next Britney Spears album will come with a tome full of liner notes.
81 Songs In or The End: I just finished listening to In Rainbows and it went by like a blur. I like the sound of the album as a whole, but there are not any songs that stood out to me like “High and Dry” or “Karma Police.”
Having consulted the experts and gained firsthand knowledge (maybe a little too much) about Radiohead’s music, I have come to realize a few things. The first is that Radiohead is a great band. Who am I to tell millions of people that a band they love is not worth loving? Such a statement always sounds ludicrous and ignorant when it is about a topic as subjective as musical taste. Even if it is not my perception of them, the world sees them as great and credit should be given where credit is due. The last thing that I learned from my time with Radiohead is that I do enjoy their music and their message, even if I do not fully understand it. Now I understand the hype and I can eagerly follow along as the band teeters on the edge of a break up or contemplates the post-In Rainbows world and the evolving (devolving?) state of the recording industry. I may be a late bloomer, but I feel like I am on the edge of a new musical phase…
Why? are a band I just got into fairly recently. I listened to Alopecia for a little while then put it down. When I picked it up again I listened to it nonstop until Why? actually came here. They are touring behind their newest album Eskimo Snow which I don’t think is quite as good, but is still a decent album. Local band Tammar also opened the show, but I missed them because I guess they only played for about 20 minutes.
Katie wrote the review of the show, and I got pictures and video.
Originally published on The Live Buzz on November 16, 2009
If I had to choose one album that defined my freshman year of college, I would hands down pick Alopecia by Why?.
I can’t even come close to being able to count the number of times I listened to that album. Whether I was walking to class or staying up late working on homework, Alopecia was by my side and in my stereo. When I heard that they were going to be town that year, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, they played at Bear’s, a venue that is 21+, so I wasn’t able to get into the show.
Needless to say, finally getting to see Why? last Friday at Rhino’s was a wonderful and satisfying experience.
Local band Tammar was the first band to play that night, but I unfortunately missed their set. Luckily, I’ve gotten to see them a few times already, as they play quite frequently in Bloomington. They are definitely one of the best local bands I’ve seen perform.
Acoustic duo, The Moore Brothers played next and uncannily resembled Tenacious D. They were a lot quirkier than expected; in one song they beat boxed and in another they rapped a segment from Eric B. and Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend”.
I didn’t particularly like their music and it wasn’t something I would have expected to see before Why? but I must say that I did enjoy their cover of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.
When they were done with their set, the crowd waited patiently for Why? to take the stage. As a smaller band without an excessive amount of instruments, I figured that they wouldn’t take long to set up. However, after a half hour had passed, I began to grow impatient. Rhino’s was extremely hot and there was an abundance of excited young girls who didn’t have any qualms about stepping on people’s toes.
45 minutes later, after decidedly taking off my tights to help quell the heat, the band announced that they were finally ready. They apologized for missing their sound check earlier that evening and explained that they had missed it because of the eight hour drive from Iowa to Indiana.
Watch their performance of “One Rose” off Eskimo Snow:
As soon as I heard the opening beats of “The Vowels Pt. 2” however, all was forgiven. With bone-crushing beats and an added echoing effect on Yoni Wolf’s vocals, this beast of a song was absolutely incredible live. It was the first song I had ever heard by Why? so the experience was truly special.
Going into the concert I thought Why? would mostly play songs off Eskimo Snow since that is the album they are currently supporting on their tour. Practically all the songs they played were off Alopecia however, which was quite a nice surprise for me. It’s not that I don’t like Eskimo Snow, but as I said earlier, Alopecia is very sentimental to me.
Yet another great surprise of the night was their performance of the epic and raw “Simeone’s Dilemma”, which I believe is one of their most underrated songs. The drummer completely let loose, exposing his talent and the deliverance of Yoni’s rhymes gave me the chills.
Although I could have been completely satisfied after hearing that song, when they performed “The Hollows” as their last song of the night, I was even happier.
This is their performance at the show:
They didn’t give the crowd the satisfaction of an encore, but in all honesty it wasn’t needed. The concert was the perfect length and they played every song that I wanted to hear. If you ever get the chance to see Why? live, please don’t pass up the opportunity, they are truly incredible.
- These Hands
- The Vowels Pt. 2
- Good Friday
- January Twenty Something
- Brook & Waxing
- Gemini (birthday song)
- One Rose
- A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under
- Simeone’s Dilemma
- The Hollows
Words by Katie McKenna
Photos and Video by David Ray
For all of you who didn’t know, I do a radio show every week on WIUX here in Bloomington with the very talented Katie, from the Live Buzz. We try to stick to the generic “college radio” format, but we like to take liberties with that definition as well. I will try to find a way to host the actual show, but for now, here’s the list from Monday’s show with links where you can listen to the songs if you are interested:
The Blow – True Affection
Sunset Rubdown – Idiot Heart
The Smiths – That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
The Clash – Janie Jones
The White Stripes – Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise
Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust
Grandaddy – The Crystal Lake
The Mars Volta – Teflon
Fugazi – Repeater
Secrets Between Sailors – In the Summertime
Eels – Fresh Blood
Fall Out Boy – Beat It (Feat. John Mayer)
The Kills – What New York Used to Be
Minutemen – Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Red Eyes and Tears
Dirty Projectors – Rise Above
Elliott Smith – Coast to Coast
Mudhoney – Twenty Four
Dinosaur Jr – Pieces
At the Drive-In – Rolodex Propaganda
Passion Pit – Moth’s Wings
Brewer and Shipley – One Toke Over the Line
DNA – Blonde Red Head
Handsome Boy Modeling School – The World’s Gone Mad
Trio in Stereo – Jupiter
The Horrors – Primary Colours
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
The Arcade Fire – Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
A.A. Bondy – You Got to Die
WIUX is 99.1FM in Bloomington, IN or you can listen on the web at http://www.wiux.org (or through iTunes/other media players). The station has been highly ranked on a few Internet radio sites and was chosen multiple times as an iTunes staff pick. We are on 11pm – 1am on Monday nights so listen in and send us your requests!
For those out there who had hoped Sebastien Grainger’s next project would be You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine II, Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains is a disappointment of sorts. The nihilistic, frenzy-inducing punk rock that vaulted Grainger to fame is sparse on this record. However, those hoping he would make a great album should not be let down. Grainger combines melody with energy and a thorough self-examination to create one of the year’s best rock albums. You will still need a towel and an extra shirt after a show, but this time you can skip the hospital bill.
Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains is Canadian rocker Sebastien Grainger’s mature response to the whirlwind romance that was Death from Above 1979. While DFA 1979 bassist Jesse F. Keeler decided to go loud and electronic with MSTRKRFT, Grainger sat in his living room at home and recorded some tracks in 2006 that would be the inspiration for his first solo venture.
The songs don’t have the same simplicity and rough feel as DFA 1979, but the same kind of raw energy and power is present throughout the record. Instead of wailing into the microphone and pounding on the drums, Grainger’s talent and passion shine through his vocal delivery. The main subject of Grainger’s laments is still deferential love, but he has matured from screaming to singing. Old habits still make it through into tracks like “Niagara”, a minute and a half long primal therapy session reminiscent of Lennon’s screams on Plastic Ono Band. While he still has a penchant for screaming, most of the vocals are intricately layered over the strong melodies provided by his backing band.
Grainger applied for a grant from the Canadian government to shoot a video for his first single, “American Names”, and was rejected. The American Names EP was released digitally by Saddle Creek Records to generally good critical reviews. In a recent interview Grainger explained that, “They [The Canadian government] don’t roll the dice. They put all of their money in the Nickleback basket.”
This record represents a switch from the self-destructive to the introspective. It is a journey through the mind of a man who has just hit an immovable barrier in his life. Unsatisfied, he examines his friends (“I Hate My Friends”), his lovers (“Love Is Not a Contest”), and even future generations (“American Names”). No lucid conclusion is reached, which leaves Grainger an open future and musical landscape to sculpt however he pleases. For now, roll the dice on this one and you won’t be disappointed.