Indie Daytrips to the Land of “Eh”

The Magnetic Fields
Released: 1.15.08

Rating: 5.75 out of 10

The Evening Descends
Dead Oceans
Released: 1.22.08

Rating: 6 out of 10

I know that I have a tendency to call out Indie music on the grounds that it’s by and large the product of an unevolved sect of musicians that wishes for the glory days of the 80s underground, but it’s not as if I’m given any reason to think otherwise. Granted, there were a few Indie-categorized groups last year that blew me away, but those bands succeeded in bringing their sound past the New Wave croon and passed the same twenty year old riffs that should be earning enough royalty-wise to keep The Cure’s nursing home payments up-to-date. Please, for the last time, gargle with vinegar and sandpaper, plug your guitars into rugged, fucked-up amps, stop crying at sunsets, get pissed off and start fucking shit up. Trust me: you’ll get just as much pussy being badass as you will playing weepy and sympathetic.

Which leads to me to the following observations about these two records:

I’ve been putting a lot of effort, difficult as it’s been, into having faith in new bands, Indie or otherwise. So, intrigued, I shelled out a couple bucks for The Magnetic FieldsDistortion and The Evening Descends by the Evangelicals. And, within the first minute or so of hearing both, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I’d heard these records before, or at least felt that they more or less summed up the last twenty years of everything good or bad in terms of Indie rock. Either way, “familiar” is what I took from these listens. And there have been many.

Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields benefit from a long existence, but only in terms of credibility. Distortion, their 9th album, resembles its title: murky reverb sticks to its every element, sounding more like the live recording captured by a My First Sony microphone than a professional mix. And man does it tap the Jesus and Mary Vein.

Merritt’s deep and ponderous vocals, especially in the too-slow-to-keep-from-drowning “Mr. Mistletoe” and “Old Fools,” sound preposterously old hat. Merritt has a little fun with “Too Drunk To Dream,” opening with a “compare & contrast” series of observations:

”Sober: life is a prison/Shitfaced: it is a blessing/Sober: nobody wants you/Shitfaced: they’re all undressing…”

And I have to admit that, despite my initial dislike of the track, “Zombie Boy” has grown on me considerably. You really can’t get it out of your head once it sets in.

The album’s real achievements are “California Girls” and “The Nun’s Litany,” both of which amusingly mask their somewhat subversive sentiments with cuteness. In these times of America’s obsession with rich bimbs, (The Hills, The Girls Next Door and The Real Housewives of Orange County come to mind), “California Girls” is a more than appropriate indictment of these vapid objects of our attention and a perfect counterpoint to The Beach Boys song of the same name. “The Nun’s Litany” reads like a wishlist for the unhappy virgin, unable to do all those impure and grotesque things that hold so much mystery:

”I want to be a topless waitress/I want my mother to shed one tear/I'd throw away this old sedate dress/slip into something a tad more sheer…I want to be an artists' model/An odalisque, au naturel/I should be good at spin-the-bottle/while I've still got something left to sell…”

But, overall, the music itself remains rather uninspired and regurgitated. You’ve heard it all before.

To contrast Distortion’s simplistic mud bath, The Evening Descends, an album that’s been earning some decent press in the alt circles since its January release, is of a thicker variety. While crafting itself an epic niche into its Indie pigeonhole, the Evangelicals’ hocus-opus makes every effort to showcase the talents of its perpetrators but fails to differentiate itself from its predecessors or peers. Despite its efforts, it sounds like an overdone, though competently built facsimile.

Josh Jones, a man committed to begging for cheese with his whine, should’ve called this album The Testicles Descend. His voice, a testament to what Thom Yorke might’ve sounded like as an adolescent with a nitrous habit, is so distracting it actually does his music a disservice. Not that the band has a firm grasp on what they should or shouldn’t be doing, but there are some very nice musical moments herein that can’t hold up to Jones or his sometimes corny moments of trite, spoken passion. (Note for instance his cry of “Holy Shit!” during a relatively quiet section of “How Do You Sleep?” and try not to piss your pants laughing, or the cheesy and gratuitous hospital dialogue in “Party Crashin’” where Jones emphatically declares “I don’t think he’s going to make it” like he mainlines estrogen and misses his teddy bear.)

Pushing the prog/psych envelope for all its worth, the Evangelicals fly through the swirling guitar licks, odd and abundant sampling and really sound like they’re trying too hard. Opening with the title track, an admittedly inventive piece of conceptual engagement, the band sets up the album as “thematic.” “Midnight Vignette” keeps the pace relatively interesting and then, once “Skeleton Man” hits the ears, The Evening Descends suddenly sounds like the second or third or forth coming of…whatever overwrought Indie record came before it. Never mind the fact that “Snowflakes” could’ve been lifted directly off of ANY Radiohead album, I couldn’t help feeling, despite many, many intent listens, that there were no surprises left.

However, there are a couple highpoints: “Stoned Again,” a fairly straight-ahead light rocker, pleasantly showcases some decent guitar work and utilizes its harmonic shift flawlessly toward the end. Purposely over-the-top “Bellawood,” fast and Theremin-laced, takes the context of age-old matinee horror movies and affords the band a breather from their efforts to be taken seriously. “Here In The Deadlights,” using the Flock Of Seagulls “I Ran” riff pretty well, finds Jones in a lower octave, displaying a pretty decent singing voice. Too bad that it’s so late in the game.

I know that I’m repeating myself, but can the Indie genre please branch out? It’s been either 60s Psych revivals or 80s New Wave rip-offs for the last twenty years and it’s no longer sounding fresh, deep, dramatic or original. Or, can the Indie genre grow a pair and stop with the pity party? I’d take either; scorching hot with no cream or sugar in a BIG GULP cup with the remnants of an ashtray and a shot of something alcoholically demolishing added for effect and NOTHING to take the edge off. We need a lot of edge these days.

Letters From A Tapehead


Anonymous said…
The last paragraph of your review makes the whole thing totally worth it. I lol'd.

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