Thursday, August 05, 2010

Don't Call It a Comeback

I get why The Arcade Fire are popular. Compositional adequacy; stylized histrionics; ethnic unaesthetization (read: being really white); vapidly populist gestures; arena-ready shout-along choruses. They're the beige middle point at which everyone's Venn diagram intersects, appealing in the same way that McDonald's french fries are: a very convincing facsimile of an enjoyable, nourishing experience that in fact is slowly rotting you from the inside out.

To put it mildly, I've always fucking hated The Arcade Fire. They're responsible for much of what I find repugnant & regressive about the state of contemporary "indie" music. Aside from legitimating the thin-windpiped kicked-turkey warble as a singing style, The Funeral as a subcultural Damascene moment cemented the supremacy of emotive peacockery & sartorial savvy over composition & ingenuity. Obviously, that's not to say the display of genuine emotion in music is bad full-stop; almost any audience would elect honest expression over clinical technique. But really meaning it is a tired Get Out Of Jail Free card for people without anything to say musically. It also drops the bar to such limbo-champion lows that, compared to The Arcade Fire's oikish anthems, middlebrow avant-pseuds like The Dirty Projectors can legitimately be called "progressive" or "daring".

Fer chrissakes, The Arcade Fire's new album is called, and about, The Suburbs - sociocultural territory so well-trodden (by everyone from Jonathan Richman and Penelope Spheeris to Eric Bogosian and The Kids In The Hall) that it needs to be repaved. In fact, bashing suburbia for its well-to-do WASPiness is so tired a trope that it's no longer even accurate: America's suburbs are in fact becoming more ethically diverse and poorer than its metropolitan centres.

(And I presume The Arcade Fire are indeed talking about North American suburbs, given that bourgeois sprawl peppered with above-ground pools and Buicks never really appeared anywhere else.)

None of this has stopped the greater part of the music press from wetting themselves in excitement over the new album. I should've put money on the predication I made to some friends that Pitchfork - who over the years have invested a considerable amount of their brand authority in The Arcade Fire - would give The Suburbs "nothing less than an 8.3 but no more than an 8.9!" Where's a bookie when you need one?

I find consolation in the somewhat-muted grumblings of fellow naysayers like Mike Barthel, who expertly skewered The Arcade Fire's disproportionate sense of struggle against repression:
The insistence among large swaths of the voting public that they are in some vague way oppressed is one of the cancers of American politics, and the fact that this music meant for the emotional state of a high school sophomore has resonated so widely is incredibly depressing.
A number of people have said Barthel is taking the record too literally, sung as it is "from the persepective" of suburban-dwelling teens. This, however, assumes that it's fine for teenagers growing up in relatively problem-free (if somewhat sterile) environments to be self-pitying little shits who privilege their own measly inconveniences over the actual problems of far-less-fortunate people whom they scarcely - if ever - encounter.

And if indeed The Suburbs is the ventriloquised ennui of adolescents, isn't it a bit sad, or disturbing, or both that a band of adults identifies so intimately with such unripened narcissism?


BDR said...

Thank you. You saved me the effort. I owe you one.

Anonymous said...

This was wonderful. I love REAL indie rock bands like Number Girl and Bloodthirsty Butchers, not this weak-kneed twee-folk trendie rock bullshit. Give me the noise!

Anonymous said...


Is there anything that you actually DO like?

Seb said...

Aw, come on, Anon #2. I always thought I was embarrassingly eager in praising certain musicians/filmmakers/whoever.

Or do you say that because I always phrase my kudos negatively? E.G. "[Another Blogger] doesn't like [Band I Love], but that's 'cuz [Another Blogger] is a fucking coward!"