Young white man with satiny suit jacket and no shirt with shaggy brown hair singing intoa ic

Because I write a music column, people get the idea I am paying attention to modern music. I periodically get asked what new bands I’m listening to, and I always feel guilty when I have to tell them that I’m not really listening to any new bands. To be honest, if I’m listening to current music these days it’s pretty much pop with a little bit of dance. I’m sort of done with the Pearl Jam imitators on 99.7 The Blitz and the “indie” rock infesting the internet. The Pearl Jam stuff is self-explanatory, but people always seem disappointed that I can’t point them to an up and coming indie band.

Which is sort of bullshit. Why should I have to listen to indie rock? Why should I sift through the detritus of a genre that hasn’t had an original idea in 20 years just to see if somebody got confused and accidentally made a good record? The people over at Pitchfork get paid to do that, not me. Even then, how those people summon up the motivation to write breathless reviews of these lame bands day in and day out is beyond my comprehension.

Consider this Pitchfork gem from 2006: “Statistically, the debut single from Oxford Collapse's Remember the Night Parties isn't all that impressive: one riff, three nearly-identical verses, and four choruses. But the focus and repetition of "Please Visit Your National Parks" propel the song into a kind of frenetic, suspended animation trance that hasn't been done this well since Cap'n Jazz.” Oh, do tell?

To children of the late 80’s and 90’s, the term indie actually meant something. While the major labels were busy chasing glam in Los Angeles, post-punk groups like Sonic Youth and Nirvana were putting out albums on the so-called “independent” labels like SST and Sub Pop. Once Nirvana was signed by Geffen and released Nevermind, the majors signed up every indie band with a pulse and rechristened them “alternative rock.”

Let me admit something – those bands were cool but their recordings were pretty rough. Even after all these years, Nirvana’s “Bleach” is still a tough listen for me. They also sound precisely nothing like Good Charlotte and its glossy progeny.

Oh, this music has name all right, but it isn’t indie – it’s hipster.

At first I tried, I really did. I listened obsessively to Modest Mouse trying to figure out if I was just stupid or missing something. I tried out some band called the Rumble Strips. I even enjoyed one of the thirteen tracks on Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr.” But in 2008 I went to see indie “super group” the New Pornographers at the Newport on a cold July night -- so cold that their bassist had to wear a stocking cap on stage. Twenty minutes in their drummer took a guitar solo, they covered ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and I was just done. Just forever finished. 

So yeah, these days I’m listening to pop, or maybe even modern country. The truth is that Miley Cyrus is putting out stuff that is more musically interesting than the Arctic Monkeys’ pointless drone. And, bluntly, her lyrics are smarter.

But every once in a while I check in, somewhat out of guilty obligation but also because I would like to recommend a new rock band someday. That would be pretty cool, right?

So on July 26, 2019, I pulled up the rock charts on Billboard and was directed to the number one song “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” by the band Panic! At the Disco. A fairly standard rock song with pensive ambiance and a touch of auto-tune on the chorus, with an intense transition from the verse to the chorus that seemed somehow oddly familiar. Mowing my lawn two hours later, I suddenly realized that holy shit, that isn’t oddly familiar – that’s “Call Me Maybe!” Good god, what kind of monster rips off Carly Rae Jepsen?

And the lyrics, oh god the lyrics. “This world is full of demons, stocks and bonds and bible traders; So I do the deed, get up and leave, A climber and a sadist, yeah.” It’s like the bass player’s grandmother spent two hours on the internet compiling random phrases she thinks teenagers like, which are then strung together randomly and sung in a squeaky voice. I kept waiting for someone to jump up and say this was all a joke, but nobody did.

So I'm putting the lid back on the indie rock trash can for another couple of years. Maybe I'll check back in 2022 to see if it has improved or died.

Oh, this is an album review by the way. “Hey Look Ma” was released as part of an album in 2018, but was only now released as a single in 2019. I didn't listen to the rest of the album. I assume it's terrible.

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