Non-Extant Musical Genre Assailed For Lack Of Soul

Posted in music, non-sporting journalism, Reading Is Fundamental, Rock Und Roll at 1:22 am by

(Win Butler, still hoping to address your longing for palpable bass frequencies)

After a night watching the Arcade Fire, the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones “really wanted to hear, after a stretch of raucous sing-alongs, was a bit of swing, some empty space, and palpable bass frequencies”in other words, attributes of African-American popular music.”

The cynic in me might suggest, “perhaps you could leave the Arcade Fire show and attend another event”, but that doesn’t really address SFJ’s main complaint in “A Paler Shade Of White : How Indie Rock Lost Its Soul”, in which the author regrets having “spent too many evenings at indie concerts waiting in vain for vigor, for rhythm, for a musical effect that could justify all the preciousness. How did rhythm come to be discounted in an art form that was born as a celebration of rhythm’s possibilities?”

I’m going to presume the cute title was foisted upon SFJ by an editor. “Indie rock” is every bit as nebulous and unhelpful a marketing term as Bill Chippert’s invention of “Toilet Rock”. But just for the sake of argument, to claim none of the contemporary bands on what amounts to a circuit more than a musical genre have managed to “celebrate rhythm’s possibilities” or embrace discernable African-American influences is laughable. Frere-Jones profiled Spoon in The New Yorker some weeks ago, and their “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” (performed just two weeks ago on an obscure late night TV show called “Saturday Night Live”) owes a tremendous debt to classic R&B and soul. Is “Get Innocous” — as played by Arcade Fire tourmates LCD Soundsystem —truly a case of rhythm being discounted? Would Frere-Jones have us believe Yo La Tengo’s “Mr. Tough” is yet another example of what he calls “musicians retreating inward and settling for the lassitude and monotony that so many indie acts seem to confuse with authenticity and significance”? Is Reigning Sound’s cover of Sam Cooke’s “I Need You Now” just so much more “preciousness”?

Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes soul. But I would also hope Frere-Jones understands there’s something a little unfair about dismissing a pretty huge, disparate number of players (some of ’em more interesting than others, natch) as insipid or self-indulgent just ’cause Glenn Kotche doesn’t bring it exactly like Clyde Stubblefield.

14 responses to “Non-Extant Musical Genre Assailed For Lack Of Soul”

  1. kt says:

    not everything needs critical assessment or whatever.

  2. Jason Cohen says:

    Glen brought it like Clyde Stubblefield when he was in Paul K and the Weathermen.

  3. Joe says:

    Jason thanks Alex and takes “Pre-world wide web indie” for $600.

  4. Don says:

    Where I live and in most big east coast cities, traditionally African-American art forms like hip hop and funk are the majority culture. When hip hop becomes not just mainstream, but something a grandparent might have listened to in the 1970s, as is the case with one of my son’s teachers, then its continued use as a touchstone for something rebellious is getting as long-in-the-tooth as Rock and Roll itself. To reiterate, my son’s teacher, who is a grandmother of 4, fondly remembers early hip hop.

    What I find most interesting is the Latin “Reggaeton” style based a little on dancehall Reggae itself. Hip Hop embracing Arabic vocals and South Asian/ Indian rhythms. The Asian influence in Indie Rock.

    The idea that one would self-select indie rock bands dedicated to a genre type and expect it to “Branch out” doesn’t pass logical muster. I’d be far more interested in how Mexican Indie rock as presented on MTV TR3S’s “Indie 101” tv show is changing or will change both Latin music and indie rock itself.

    But in general, one of the last parts of Sasha’s article discusses how the reasoning for this lack of African-American influence may be because the Dr. Dre’s of the world have become the true mainstream and gospel-style vocalists thrive on American Idol. Perhaps these rhythms and “the beat” were new to a segregated society, but today the lack of such beats in music is the alternative.

  5. Michael says:

    Why is rhythm supposedly any more important than other elements of music like melody, dynamics, timbre, etc.? More to the point, why are most music journalists so completely fucking retarded?

  6. Joel Hunt says:

    “Glen brought it like Clyde Stubblefield when he was in Paul K and the Weathermen.”

    and Sasha Frere-Jones brought it like Barney Rubble when he was in Ui.

  7. matt says:

    can we forget this article and replace it with one that takes a shit on “italian” pop?

    rhythm or not…can we close the book on chromatics before anyone gets too crazy proclaiming the second coming of indeep mixed with gang of four on sleeping pills as awesome again? rhythm… apparently it’s all you need

  8. stewie says:

    Sasha has always brought that sex-tourism edge to his music writing. He has a one dimensional race obsession that should worry his loved ones. Sasha is a technically proficient musician and perhaps as a result makes music far too clinical to be calling the kettle pale in the case of the AF. Then again I can’t listen to MIA with a straight face. I wonder if this guy has ever covered a Dirtbombs show?

  9. GC says:

    I’m curious….in what universe are Wilco “indie rock” but the Dirtbombs are not? SFJ claims “indie” has become an aesthetic tag rather than anything having to do with record labels, but whose fault is that? I certainly don’t know any non-sucky musicians over the age of 12 who’d eagerly call themselves indie rock.

  10. The_Overdog says:

    I still have a sentence that I stole from Sasha-FJ’s Slate Radiohead article some years ago, which I read everytime I sit down to write anything of substance. I unfortunately don’t have it memorized and it’s on my other computer, or I’d share, but it was the most self-important, buzz-word meaningless piece of tripe EVER foisted upon the reading public. It serves as a warning to me – to think long and hard about what I’m about to put to paper.

    Good to see that SJF hasn’t changed a bit in the past few years.

  11. Marc says:

    Slate had a rebuttal of sorts to the New Yorker article that reads like the author has been checking out CSTB a little:


  12. matt says:

    i think marc’s just concerned about the article because of it’s slapdash equation where whitey trustfund + arcade fire = a sagged cock.

    shit’s heavy.

  13. Marc says:


    i’m not sure what the fuck you’re talking about. i don’t think either article registered on my concern scale. neither were interesting reads, just like neon bible wasn’t an interesting listen.

  14. David Roth says:

    I liked the Slate article okay, although I was surprised at how long it took him to make his point. Or really that the interesting part of the piece was on the second page — I know it’s all about click-throughs, but dude, buried lead.

    I also did not like Neon Bible. What it needed was more funky horns.

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