At last Saturday’s Decemeberist’s show at the House of Blues in Boston, lead singer Colin Meloy apologized to the crowd in between songs. A few day’s before, Boston’s alt-weekly, The Phoenix, ran a cover story entitled, “How the Decemberists Ruined Indie Rock.” Meloy apologized for killing the genre. He added, “it really was no good.”
Sure I’m a fan of the band’s music, but if they had released a bad album, I wouldn’t be blinded to that fact by my fandom. This is important because the cover story, written by Luke O’Neil, is unadulterated crap. O’Neil never establishes a real thesis and even if he did, it seems he is far more interested in taking pot shots at music – music he hates to admit he actually kind of likes.
In building a case against the Decemberists, O’Neil tries to establish what “indie rock” is. That is pretty tough task anyway, and it is clear he isn’t interested in even really trying. You would be forgiven at the outset of his article if you came away thinking O’Neil doesn’t even like the idea of “indie.” Apparently, being indie in Britain is about being on the dole, but over here in the US of A, it was about maladjusted kids sharing hairspray tips. It is times like this when I knew I missed out on so much by not getting into Wilco until Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Just as you think Luke has set up this straw man, or better yet, straw man-child, of an edifice to knock it down, O’Neil says this public indifference was a good thing. Maybe this indifference and world view makes sense when you are seventeen and you hang out at Denny’s and drive aimlessly around your exurban county, but it gets old fast. You want something more, something with substance.
O’Neil attributes the rise of the Decemberists and their desire for authenticity as a response to grunge, emo, and the aforementioned indie indifference. And once the Decemberists started making music, white folk decided, hey lets keep it real by enrolling in MFA programs, buying mandolins, and wearing charming folksy hats. Kept real!
It is around this point in the article where you start to ask yourself if the editors at The Phoenix took the week off or maybe somebody owed this guy a favor because the writing turns from sloppy to inane. O’Neil bemoans how indie music was no longer about “rocking out, f***ing around, and having fun…” Thanks to The Decemberists, it was about caring about shit. Unless you are a Tucker Max acolyte, how can caring about “shit” be worse than “f***ing around?” I suppose if the women you are just hooking up with are dispensable, why shouldn’t the music be too.
We really should feel for Luke and his bros because an 18 minute single based on a Celtic folk tale is a total downer when you just want to go the club and get trashed. I’d suggest just renting “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” and saving the rest of us from your Ed Hardy collection.
It is tough for these bros who have to deal with NPR rock, which is the perfect soundtrack for the folks shopping organic at their local co-op. Maybe it is my mistake to dig too deep in an article that screams like it was written minutes before a deadline, but O’Neil’s diatribe against NPR and co-op shopping indicates some latent anti-intellectualism.
But here is why the Decemberists ruined indie rock: it isn’t just NPR and co-ops now, it is bars and the radio. No bar is free of the earnestness that is Bon Iver because of Colin Meloy and his gang of twee-sters. Who can’t sympathize with someone who just wants to sip their Bud Lime without having to hear a guy sing songs he wrote while holed up in a cabin during a Wisconsin Winter. Turn down the Iver, turn up the house music, and fist pump your way through the flannel!
And then, O’Neil acknowledges the songs on the new Decemberists’ album are good! After sloppily trashing Meloy & Co., the author can’t resist one last sophomoric slam at bands like The Decemberists, The National, Tallest Man on Earth, and others. According to O’Neil, the problem with these bands is that they care really hard about caring really hard. And music like that means nothing.
O’Neil dreams of a future where the music that mean something actually means nothing. I’ll give you a second to collect the pieces of your brain that just exploded. If that is what he wants, somebody should get Luke and his bros front row seats to the New Kids On The Block/Backstreet Boys concert at Fenway Park this summer.