Win Butler has said that Arcade Fire’s concept album The Suburbs is “neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs.” But society long ago settled that the suburbs are both the ultimate middle-class aspiration and a handy metaphor for every modern day malaise. Consumerism, late-capitalism, blandness, conformity, boredom, dehumanization, isolation, ennui, insincerity, automation, homogeneity, heteronormative social roles, white flight, class warfare, bad taste, each and every abuse and depravity known to man festering just out of sight beneath the facade of complacent normalcy, etc. etc. ad infinitum. The suburbs-as-metaphor is its own genre, has been since at least the 1950’s. There’s not much a rock band can add to the conversation at this point, but even if Arcade Fire’s topic is not fresh, their compositions are ambitious enough to make up for it. And the ennui of having lived in the suburbs is enough to imprint a man for life, apparently. Win Butler was writing through the lens of his own experience growing up a place called The Woodlands on the far flanks of Houston, Texas. If growing up anywhere ironically named The Woodlands doesn’t scar a lad forever, then that lad wasn’t meant to become an artist. It’s because it’s personal ennui, not hypothetical disapproval, that fuels these songs, that the concept and production doesn’t feel as contrived and pretentious as they could have.
One of the most endearing things about the Decemberists is the community theatre vibe of their shows. They’re not the only band whose fans are wont to show up in costume, but they’re probably the only ones where the characters are an ancient mariner or a chimneysweep. The band are, of course, just a bunch of nerds with ink-stained fingers, which makes them easy enough to relate to for anyone with an academic bent. What they lack in pyrotechnics they make up for in camaraderie. What I’m saying is, I highly recommend going to one of their shows; it’s a different kind of a rock concert.
Speaking of things that elevated 1999… There were the Flaming Lips, who were late bloomers in terms of becoming well known. I certainly wish that I’d head The Soft Bulletin when it first came out; it would have saved me a few years of alienation and ennui. I guess that there are two types of great records: the type that encapsulates their times, and the type that exists outside them. This is definitely the second kind of record. It doesn’t sound like 1999, but it makes you see the 90’s in a new way.
If you grew up in the 90’s, you may remember 1999 as a soulless wasteland of pedo-friendly teen pop, corporate-endorsement rap, and the unholy sludge of whatever post-grunge/nu-metal/rap-rock all those bands with the poorly spelled names were. However, that impression was wrong. There was so much more to 1999 than your worst memories of it. There were edgy groups like Cibo Matto who, though they may not have reached the masses, were cooking up something fresh and different. Their boundary-breaking idiosyncrasies would slowly filter through to influence mainstream music over the years, enough so that in hindsight it’s hard to understand why they weren’t popular in the first place. Nobody popular was that weird in 1999, but the weird becomes popular given enough time.
I’m continually trying to wrap my head around the reality that Modest Mouse has become a generational object of nostalgia, because the 2000’s are now more than a decade removed and the OG emo kids are all middle aged now. I’m also bothered that on their last tour Modest Mouse opened for The Black Keys. Now, The Black Keys aren’t terrible, but at best they’re second-rank, a competent entry in the indie rock revival of the 2000’s. Modest Mouse, on the other hand, are one of the most original and important groups of the era, and their particular brand of eclectic rock and salty wit remain unduplicated. They should not, in any world, be in a position of warming up audiences for a generic blues rock band. Getting all wound up about which one of the favorite bands of your youth have slipped in status as they launch big ticket comeback tours is, of course, an emotion well familiar to all the boomers who’ve been grappling with it since Elvis supplanted Chuck Berry in the late 1950’s. Welcome to the “lifestyle” of arguing about things that stopped being relevant to the world decades ago, looking up whatever became of people your own age who are no longer successful, trying to hook up with kids half your age who dress the way you did except for them it’s ‘vintage’, and telling today’s pop music to get off your lawn.
Future Islands is good crying music. That’s high recommendation, for people who deal with their ups and downs by getting drunk and listening to music. Unlike some of the more obvious depression-music favorites, Future Islands stands out for being uplifting. The raw emotion of Sam Herring’s vocals invites crying along, but the lightness of their melodies is balmy and invites dancing. In fact, Future Islands have established themselves in the pantheon of music that can sustain a diversity of emotion – you can enjoy them in any mood you’re in, and always find something to reflect your feeling. It’s kind of slightly broken weird pop, for slightly broken weird people.
This may be my favorite thing that Moby has done in his post-18 years. It is, if you didn’t pay attention listening, an ode to The Spiders From Mars, and as such it touches my sentimental buttons. We are so very much in need of a space messiah, and if Moby thought we were in need of him in 2005, he didn’t know what we were all in for. For one thing, we still had David Bowie in 2005. Now we really don’t have much hope for anything at all anymore. We have to be our own Spiders, I guess.