It's Only (Indie) Rock 'n' Roll | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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It's Only (Indie) Rock 'n' Roll 

But I Like It ... Sort Of

Published July 25, 2007 at 4:24 p.m.

When this as-yet-unnamed feature was introduced a few weeks ago, we hoped it would give Seven Days an opportunity to include more community feedback/input regarding musical goings-on locally. It's taken a while for folks to get used to not knowing which album was sixth on the charts in Enosburg from week to week - usually Credence - but, lo and behold, this letter appeared shortly after last week's paper hit the streets and is exactly the sort of discussion we hoped to initiate.

Here it is, in its unedited entirety:


In reference to your recent column concerning Built to Spill and other acts, I simply had to get my $.02 in due to the increasing frustration towards today's music scene and their lack of balls! I am not just speaking of the MTV scene or other one-hit wonders but even the bands you mentioned.

As far as Built to Spill is concerned, I had a ticket. That's right, I had a ticket but then two weeks before the show I started listening to them as I bought the ticket mostly due to friends telling me "I had to see them live!" I tried and tried and really listened to them but I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about. The same goes for Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie and even, dare I say it, WILCO!

It's not that these bands don't have talent because obviously they do and they are certainly writing decent enough songs to be around for years. My frustration is in the lack of charisma and superior musicianship. Perhaps it is my fault for being raised on such things as prog-rock that included the works of Neil Peart on drums or John McLaughlin - but I just don't find any of these new "indie" or "alt" bands making music with amazing drum work, guitar work or even singing. Not to say that music has to have boring virtuosity which you also discussed in your latest column, however, a little bit doesn't hurt, right?

Listening to all those old country and bluegrass records there is amazing work on the fiddle, mandolin and banjo. Listening to the rock of the late '60s and '70s there is wonderful electric guitar work and signature drum licks and of course in the '80s and '90s, the market was saturated with technical prowess from bands like Dream Theater and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Bringing me to the bands you mentioned and my not hearing any of this stuff. I am trying to listen and enjoy Wilco but it all sounds whiney with no great breaks or fist-pumping rock. There are no jams and I'm not talking 20-minute Phish-type jams but even 30 seconds of a really cool groove. Bands like The Mountain Goats or Arcade Fire are getting huge fanfare, but why? I want to understand it, I really, really do.

Whatever happened to bands that seriously rock? I would say The Hold Steady might qualify, though it can get tiresome. Or perhaps some of Ryan Adams' stuff and he DOES have a great voice. I think Son Volt is in this vein, however, his one-time bandmate and now nemesis Jeff Tweedy is getting all the love but, while Tweedy is both narcissistic and vain, Farrar is subdued and wholesome. Again, my opinion, obviously.

I guess what it comes down to is while you're searching for more indie/alt bands to come to town and you want support for those bands, I am looking for more music that is smart, intelligent, catchy but sounds as if the members have been practicing their instruments and harmonies for more than 6 months.

Help me lose my bitterness. I don't want to think the music died way back in 1959.


The Big Bopper

That's quite the diatribe, Bopper - if that's your real name.

The music didn't die in 1959; it's just changed a bit. While I'll allow the potshots at Wilco - this time - I wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment of modern music. Except Death Cab For Cutie . . . they blow.

Unfortunately, like "punk" or "alternative" before it, the term "indie" has been appropriated by the music industry and has lost most of its original meaning - assuming, for the moment, that it ever really had any. Twisted to fit a more marketable - read: crappy - sound, the result has been the proliferation of watered-down indie-lite bands such as Fallout Boy, The Bravery and Interpol, which all fit some yuppie marketing director's interpretation of what "indie" should look and sound like. But you specifically bemoaned Built to Spill and a general lack of intelligent, "fist-pumping" rock. I'm here to help.

If you don't like BTS, that's your prerogative, though I wonder how much of their catalogue you've been exposed to. While their latest album You in Reverse definitely lands on the poppier end of the spectrum, much of their early work rocks in many of the ways you lamented were missing in more current indie music. The same could be said of Wilco, by the way.

Part of the appeal of underground music of any genre is that, at its core, it tends to be more interesting and intelligent than its mass-produced counterparts. It's certainly not always the case, but generally, underground artists put more stock in craftsmanship than marketability. Bands such as Built to Spill are important because they've managed to maintain that spirit - even on a major label - while many of their contemporaries have gone on to suckle at the golden teat of commercial success.

There are dozens of bands out there that I think might fit your criteria - My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses and Spoon come immediately to mind - but the trick is that you have to find them yourself and discover what you like. Music is much more accessible than ever before and sifting through the overflow can be intimidating. For every truly great new band that comes down the indie pipeline, there are hundreds that make a flash in the pan and then disappear to some far-off corner of MySpace, never to be heard from again.

The bottom line is that finding good new music takes effort, and to expect anyone else to do it for you, whether a friend, a music editor or a nightclub, is asking a bit much. On the bright side, with so much music now available through the magic of the interweb, there really is something for everyone. To mangle a phrase: Bopper, there's plenty of Phish in the sea.

Good luck.

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About The Author

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles is Seven Days' assistant arts editor and also edits What's Good, the annual city guide to Burlington. He has received numerous state, regional and national awards for his coverage of the arts, music, sports and culture. He loves dogs, dark beer and the Boston Red Sox.


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