STAFF 2012 WRAP UPS: ANDY
Posted by Andy Decelles
breaking up with indie rock
A few months back, Hipster Runoff declared indie rock dead. As pathetic as it might be, reading that article was the “where was I when I found out?” moment of my life. The Greatest-Generation had Pearl Harbor. Boomers had the JFK assassination. I had some faceless blogger writing about the end of a scene that meant everything to me. (In case you’re curious, I was riding on a bus driving north out of NYC. It was a shitful, rainy day, and I was reading the article on my iPhone because the bus didn’t have wi-fi. Woe unto me.)
2012 has been an amazing year for just about every genre but indie rock. Hip-hop and R&B were carried to new artistic heights on the backs of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. The electronic and dance scene is as vibrant and exciting as it’s ever been, thanks to the incredibly diverse but consistently excellent work of artists as disparate as Burial, Scuba, and TNGHT. But when the subject turns to rock music, things start to look pretty grim.
By my count, indie rock peaked in 2009. Pretty much every band in the late-2000’s pantheon of indie rock put out a great record that year: Bitte Orca, The xx, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and Veckatimest are all classic records that deserve to be remembered. The four bands behind those records (The Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, The XX and Grizzly Bear) all put out follow ups this year. Swing Lo Magellan, Centipede Hz, Coexist, and Shields are all quality releases, but seem like a step back from the mastery of the bands’ earlier works. Indie bands that were the absolute shit in 2009 now struggle to captivate audiences in the post-everything 2012 musical landscape.
The Hipster Runoff post in question was written at least partially in jest, but like all great satire, also raised fundamental questions about its subject. In a long winded but poignant take on the state of indie rock in 2012, Hipster Runoff godhead Carles mused, “Is it ‘just time’ 2 close the book and start something new? How do we even go about doing that?”
Indie rock isn’t dead yet, but it has reached a low point. It might never again reach its glorious 2009 peak. It might never even climb out of the gutter. I’m ok with that now, but I wasn’t at first.
Like any breakup involving one overly attached psychopath, I was at first in denial about the whole thing. I was not at all ready to close the book, or even think about closing the book. Before even finishing the article, I threw on some Grizzly Bear, which at the time felt like I was raising a cosmic middle finger in the face of time (and Hipster Runoff). In retrospect, all it accomplished was further bumming me out. I was already tepid about Shields, and listening to it in that state of mind really just drove Carles’ point home.
I then began to mask my sadness beneath a cloak of ‘fuck it all to hell.’ I figured that if indie rock was going to die, I might as well get used to a life without it. I didn’t need reverb soaked guitars (and vocals, and drums, and trumpets, and God knows what else) to lull me to sleep at night. I had Kendrick, FlyLo, and a thousand other artists that were way sweller than Animal Collective to vibe to. And for a long while, I did just that. But even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I really missed indie rock. I missed the rawness of live instruments. I missed the self-effacingly verbose lyrics. But most of all, I missed the emotion of it all.
It took Rave Snob’s review of Scuba’s Personality to make me realize what a pretentious fuck I was being. “Dance music isn’t limited by the machines used to produce it or the clubs where it’s often played—it’s limited by the mindset of individual listeners who don’t expect sampled kick drums and 909s to be able to express the same emotions as another song made with a guitar and a drum set.” Rave Snob writes.
Like, word. That was me, almost to a T. I was never enough of a Luddite to slap a “drum machines have no soul” bumper sticker on my car, but I did harbor a predilection towards guitar based music at the expense of everything else.
I had a similar moment of revelation listening to “His Pain” by BJ the Chicago Kid (which features an excellent performance by Kendrick Lamar, and tops our list of the best hip-hop songs put out this year.) I hadn’t encountered that kind of emotion and intimacy on a hip-hop record before.
It might have been a shitty year for indie rock. But that’s not what I’m going to remember about this year. Carle’s death decree, Rave Snob’s review of Personality, and Kendrick’s verse on “His Pain” are the things I’m going to remember. 2012 isn’t the year indie rock died for me anymore. It’s the year I learned to appreciate everything else. So thanks Carles, Kendrick, and Rave Snob. Here’s to 2013.