The Rich Girls Are Weeping

09 May 2006

We could be underground. Another busy day, another late, late offering. I had a post planned for today about various up-and-coming Austin bands that will have to wait for another day and I'll have to shove my thoughts on the Art Brut/Robot Kraus/Birdmonster show into bitty entry later this afternoon (or possibly just over on DFG later) because right now I really need something off my chest.

I heard The Little Ones for the first time yesterday, and was shocked that they're generating hype by aping moves perfected by The Shins (and, to a certain extent Of Montreal). It then occurred to me that most baby bands, when they're first starting out, generally sound appallingly like their major influences. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and part of pop music's evolutionary process. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), due to MySpace and mp3 blogs and aggressive online marketing, we're being subjected daily to an onslaught of baby bands that we might not have otherwise heard before they faded into oblivion. As it is, The Little Ones aren't necessarily a bad band, they're just not quite ready for a wide audience yet. Or, maybe more specifically, they're missing that one thing that separates the wheat from the chaff -- something unique and distinctive hiding between that blatant adoration.

The Little Ones -- Cha Cha Cha
(via I Guess I'm Floating)
The Little Ones -- High On A Hill (via I Guess I'm Floating)

And so while Pinkie and I went on our evening perambluation last night before parting ways to get pretty for the show later on, I was blustering with a hyperkinetic thought stream surrounding the state of art, in this case music, in the age of digital reproduction (with apologies to Walter Benjamin, natch). And of course, as I do, I used Spoon as an example.

Now, don't get me wrong, I adore Spoon. Absolutely adore them; Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight hold very special places in my heart. Plus, living in Austin as long as I have, I've been lucky to be able to observe the band's development over the past ten years (I'm trying not to feel woozy and old as I mention that). As such, they've become the band-in-a-test tube upon which I can exercise a lot of my ideas about the development of cultural product in the early 21st century (yes, I totally just said that).

See, once upon a time, even Spoon was a baby band who wore their influences plainly on their sleeves. Listen to Telephono now, and even though it's still a solid record, it's so clearly heavily influenced by The Pixies, which something that was observed by reviewers at the time. Then there was the Wire phase and the John Lennon phase and ... In short, Spoon tried on a lot of hats before they arrived at the "Spoon sound" that we know and love today. But the thing was, unlike with a lot of baby bands getting overhyped these days, even on Telephono there were strong indicators of that original sound. And now, ten years later, Spoon's gone from being emulators to being the emulated.

Spoon -- All The Negatives Have Been Destroyed
Spoon -- Chips & Dip
Spoon -- Lines In The Suit

(And we have more Spoon here and here, if you're interested.)

When I heard The Robbers on High Street for the first time last year, I thought I might be hearing some sort of long-lost collection of Girls Can Tell-era b-sides. It was weird, and disconcerting, and ultimately I never listened to them again, really. But it was mostly because their songs just didn't grab me -- there's more than a glimmer of originality there, it just falls flat with me.

Robbers on High Street -- Japanese Girls

Which brings me to Hockey Night. Now, I listened to a number of Hockey Night songs today -- from their first album and some new demos -- because I saw a dude wearing a Hockey Night shirt on Saturday and realized that though I'd heard of the band, I'd never heard them. Well, suffice it to say that it was just a horrifically frustrating experience, but neatly dovetailed with my dissection of Spoon's development. See, as I listened to Hockey Night's songs, I felt like I was listening to my neighbor's band cover cast-off Spoon songs with the sharp, interesting edges shaved off and a huge injection of mediocrity used to replace them. And my first thought was: I don't need to hear this band. I didn't ever need to hear this band. The best, or worst, of their offerings, depending on your point of view, are following:

Hockey Night -- Dark Trances (Psychic Lightning) (via You Ain't No Picasso)
Hockey Night -- Save the Clock Tower (via You Ain't No Picasso)

As with The Little Ones' limited ouevre, there's no adventure here, nothing special -- Hockey Night is ripping off Spoon, and badly. And I kind of think that both bands are being done a disservice by the fawning adoration of a handful of music bloggers who aren't calling a spade a spade. Both bands need to find their own sound -- which they could, if they worked on it -- but I can't help but think that won't happen if they're heaped with adulations before they're deserved.

So that's that, really. And please don't make me listen to Hockey Night again, okay? Okay.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Want your band to play in New York City for thousands? Emerging artists can post their music up for the chance to perform in our upcoming music event!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 7:40:00 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

Omigosh "I Could Be Undergound" is my absolute fav Spoon song. Which is saying a LOT.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 8:16:00 PM  
Blogger earl grey said...

Great point- I never really considered that all of the ways for bands to get found would create an over-saturation of sorts in music. and it's people like anonymous, there, that are doing it, putting stars in the eyes of every little band. damn anonymous.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 8:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What a sad little rant. The Shins, whom I like, borrow liberally from 60's bands such as the Zombies, Left Banke, even CS&N. The first band (forgetable as they were) sounded nothing like the Shins. The Robbers song owes as much to Bowie as anything. Come to think of it, "Kill the Moonlight" leans quite heavily on the Thin White Duke, too. And if Hockey Night's ripping anybody off (and believe me they are), it's Pavement. Rock and Roll has always been about theft, from the early Beatles aping Little Richard and Buddy Holly, to the Stones ripping off Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. There is little originality in any popular culture these days. That doesn't necessarily make it bad. Shit, so much for Austin as a music town.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so lame, why waste time on hating? are you upset that your band cant get the exposure that some of these bands are getting? or is it that your such a bad musician that you secretly wish you were in one of them yourself? rich girls are weeping. wow that title is sooo fucking cool so original and captivating....what a jerk, and bad comparisons by the by.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:49:00 AM  
Blogger kathryn said...

No, this ain't hating, this ain't a rant, it's a hard look at what we the public are doing to the landscape of music by harvesting bands before maturity.

There is little originality in any popular culture these days. That doesn't necessarily make it bad.

...which is exactly not what she's saying; Cindy writes "...this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and part of pop music's evolutionary process."

So of course, bands are going to be influenced by the bands that came before them. Of course musicians are inspired by other musicians like the Beatles and the Chuck Berrys and the Buddy Hollys of history.

Cindy's point is not that the bands are ripping off other bands, but rather there's a point where mere imitation or homage turn into something else. At that point, the band's sound turns into something special, something memorable, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

And by shining our music blogger floodlights on burgeoning talent, we just might be ruining the process. (Radish, any one?) As ravenous music fans, we're always searching for the next target of obsession, the next big thing, the next hip name for your t-shirt, whatever.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 1:29:00 AM  
Blogger essteeyou said...

I'm somewhat torn on this. If something's pleasing to the ear, I'll probably not have a problem listening to it. HOWEVER, if it's just the same old thing, it will always be the same old thing and never garner enough of my attention to create any sort of loyalty to a band.

...which happens to be commonplace and has been for as long as I've been listening to music.

Maybe we've just found a new variant of easy-listening. Or maybe we're trying to beat Seth Cohen to the next buzz-band.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 9:58:00 AM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

Anonymous 1: Point taken, and actually, you bring up a few items that were actually in my original draft that didn't make the final cut. At one point, I had included a sentence that made my thesis more clear -- which is that today's over-hyped baby bands aren't reaching that far back with their influences; sometimes it seems that they've no sense of music history before the mid 90's or so. But I thought this was redundant and removed it; I see now that might have been a bad choice, but then again, other people got my drift, so who knows.

Secondly, I did also mention that Hockey Night was also blatantly ganking from Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. as well. As I don't know either bands' ouevre all that well (I've never been a fan, but know the major works), I didn't feel qualified to make that statement. Perhaps I should have, for clarification's sake.

So, care to reveal what band or blog you're with? I think hiding behind anonymity when leveling personal attacks is really kind of tacky.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

Kathryn: Radish! I really belived in those kids, I really did. And heck, that whole debacle went down before Internet Instahype even existed, but it's a great cautionary tale. As a matter of fact, I worry that Eisley will meet the same fate.

ps -- thank you!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

essteeyou: It's funny that you mention the idea of indie easy listening; another point I meant to make is that with the truncation of the cycles of influence, it becomes easier and easier to water down what's "edgy" in indie rock along much shorter timeline.

My current favorite examples of this include Mates of States' career trajectory and the very existence of Film School.

Lately I find myself only seriously considering bands that are doing something I haven't heard before, or who are taking traditional forms and messing with them in new and different ways. I don't want to think of myself as a snob, but if I'm told to listen to sub-par demos and be told that they're genius, I'm not going to be very happy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

Also, for anyone interested, a reader forwarded me the website of a band that really is the worst offender in the Spoon rip-off department: The Damitheads -- they even have a song apparently titled "Alright," which, I'm sorry, just isn't okay.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger HK said...

When I saw Robbers on High Street - granted it was a long time ago, maybe 2003 when they opened for Junior Senior at the Knitting Factory - I immediately referred to them as Baby Spoon. Their older songs, especially "Debonair" and "New Evil" (I think that is the name of the song), really really really sounded like Spoon. I didn't mind it so much at the time, because I thought the songs were catchy at least. I haven't found their later recordings as interesting though. I suppose I don't mind derivative as long as it's catchy. Come and slam me now, you anonymous comment-leavers.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous James said...

I'm sorry, but rock and roll (good pop music, at least) is *not* about theft. The Shins do not "borrow liberally" from the Zombies and the Left Banke. They use a larger set of influences and synthesize them into a new sound (and Spoon did much the same with their forbearers).

And the Beatles may have aped Buddy Holly and Little Richard way back in 1961 (before they ever stepped foot into a recording studio), but they adapted elements of Buddy and Richard, not to mention Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, the Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins, Buck Owens, Arthur Alexander and quite a few others and created something new - call it "Beatlemusic" if you want to.

And I'm just rephrasing what Cindy has already stated quite eloquently.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 3:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The real underlying problem here is that most of these blogs ONLY know how to speak in hyperbole. For example, take Gorrilla vs. Bear.... since Mar. 05, look how often these phrases were used (via Google):

"Favorite" : 155 times
"The best" : 150 times
"I love" : 169 times

That's an average of 2-3 times per week, which seems kind of high. I'm not saying that blogs need to start talking negatively about bands, but they do need to stop making every single band they post about into "The best most favorite that I love"

Thursday, May 11, 2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger J Frank Parnell said...

Agreed. By reading most blogs, you'd think everything recorded under the sun is great. This has to stop - and while I sometimes don't agree with certain hate, I always welcome it --it's healthy, and it was healthy here. If that's not recognized, the blogosphere will become the sterile corporate label farm league it's already moving toawrd.

"Anonymous,' of course, is way off - while the Shins do something nice on their first rekkid, their second, Chutes and Ladders, was a wooden replica, a boring reahsh of the same old tricks. I wasted my money on it, and sold it away. As for the Beatles, Anon gets it wrong - they were nothing more than a glorified cover band, originally, esp during their tour of Hamburg, and really only woke up as a band when they discovered the studio as an instrument around the same time they discovered LSD. Of course, most of the time they blew it by making glorified kids music. Although revolver can't really be topped, nothing esle they did was as truly psychedelic as early Black Sabbath, or the Stooges, who were their contemporaries '68-71, don't forget.

Although Hockey Night isn't even good enough to rip off Pavement, if they did, dismissing bands who simply ventriloquize oldie faves is a tough call, no? Sereena Maneesh is a Slowdive-My Bloody Valentine tribute show, and the Wilderness just rapes my favorite influences -- but both are done so well I can't turn away. And I think my secret embarrassment, over that, is what has me similarly lured toward way-out stuff, like Scott Walker's new album, or the newer Boredoms stuff (then again, they're just Can now) or Gang Gang Dance, or Lightning Bolt, or Deerhoof, or etc. Which is good, because it means I'm getting mad, preparing me for the oncoming onslaught of Jethro Tull and Genesis influenced bands (yes, this is coming) will be a horrible, horrible thing, for the most part (unless Aloha keeps keeping it real).

We have to have the courage to hate bad stuff, especially by bands we love.

And as for 'Why waste time on hating?' I can answer that: Because crap music wastes our time first. Stop making it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 12:03:00 PM  

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