Indie rock is dead.
That much shouldn’t be arguable.
And don’t ask me “what does ‘indie rock’ mean?” Regardless of whether you hold that indie rock is rock music released on an independent label or that it is has some sort of universally identifiable sound, you’ll know something is indie rock from a mile away. It’s as easy to identify as chronic masturbators (the ones with questionable stains on their sleeves). Of course, you can point out that indie bands nowadays are doing alright. Every time one of the greats announces something, it’s usually met with a great deal of enthusiasm. But honestly, when was the last indie rock record to really do something great? The Suburbs? No, despite having my complete support in stealing the Grammy away from the more likely winners that year. Bon Iver? Not unless you think “soulful” falsetto is novel in any way. I’d say that 2009 was the year that indie rock really hit its peak, and I don’t want to copy+paste the list of songs that I’ve namedropped elsewhere, but a lot of indie rock hits that year were huge (and still kicking around, according to the playlist at Dance Cave a weekend ago). Since then, indie rock has more or less been in a state of rigor mortis, and Deerhunter is a perfect example of that. With 2008’s Microcastles and 2010’s Halcyon Digest, they were ahead of their contemporaries, because the best of indie rockers—or at least, the most interesting—distinguish themselves by incorporating other sounds into their palette. With Microcastles, this was done with a neo-psychedelic flair, with 4AD-styled dream pop, with the slightest tinge of garage rock (and with the tagging-along Weird Era Continued, this was done with experimental rock). With Halcyon Digest, this was done by bringing in electronic sounds into their repertoire.
With Monomania? Nothing. Barring a couple of tracks that sounds like Ty Segall (especiallythe first two; the first song to really sound like Deerhunter is the third one), they sound like a band completely content with who they are, like you took Atlas Sound’s Parallax and made it more guitar-y. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but not taking a step in any direction is basically taking a step back for a band who’ve been slowly pushing their sound in different directions with each release. Moreover, it’s the wrong attitude to have; that once you’ve made it, you don’t have to keep trying. Now, Bradford Cox has always been a musician who is a little gimmicky (his flair for crossdressing in live shows) but never needed to because the music was the selling point, but here, he has been reduced to someone who is a little gimmicky for no reason. Case-in-point, in the Jimmy Fallon performance of their lead single for Monomania, in addition to the costume aesthetic, Bradford Cox pretended to have cut off two of his fingers, so during the live performance, the bloody bandaged stumps immediately drew attention (away from the music). What happened? Well, it was in honour of his father who had accidentally sawed them off in a woodworking accident, “if my father has to have these wounds and scars and bandages, then so will I.” Touching, but distracting.
Gimmicks. The way “Sleepwalking” suddenly ends instead of bothering to resolve its otherwise delicious climax (a trick which they had already done before and done better onHalcyon Digest)? Gimmick. Bawdy innuendo and self-depreciation to draw your attention on closer “Punk (la vie antérieure)?” Gimmick. Instead of opting for the melodic spin of inflecting the last words of each line, Bradford Cox simply spits them out—distractingly—on “Punk,” or else relying on technology to flay his voice to try and detract from what the song really is. And what the song really is, is boring. Both “Leather Jacket II” and “Monomania” end with chainsaw-like guitars; ones that kick up a lot of noise and they’re waved around, but I miss the days when chainsaw-like guitars did something more than cause a ruckus. The selection of the title track as the album’s representative single was, frankly, a terrible decision. Of course, the maddening thing about Deerhunter, and the same with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, another beloved indie rock band who fell short of delivering anything substantial this year, is that Deerhunter are still a competent band. Even at their most boring, they’re never bad; it’s hard to be when you’ve got a full band with working knowledge of their instruments and the backing of one of the leading names of indie rock record labels. I get a kick out of the riff that powers “Leather Jacket II;” “T.H.M.” is lovely dream pop (though the climax where Bradford Cox pretends to be an animal, is both understated and forced); while “Back to the Middle” has the catchiest Deerhunter hook to date and surprisingly, the verses don’t slouch around either.
I could be wrong, but I’m guessing from the title of the closer and the aesthetic (read: lack of experimentation) of the whole record, that this is Bradford Cox’s continuation with his fascination with punk, that’s led him to do and say some pretty fucking stupid things (which is an understatement). This includes his recent live performance, which caused quite a stir,”[Cox] asked people to take their clothes off. He shouted seemingly intoxicated defenses about his art. He simulated fellatio. He, to the horror of the Cedar employees, told everyone to pick up their chairs and shake them above their heads… it was unsettling and some people began filtering out of the venue. Eventually, after inviting the audience onstage (which visibly gave the Cedar staff an anxiety attack) he seemed to get the picture that the show was over and bid his adieu, dedicating the show to “the death of folk music and the birth of punk.” In his defense though, Cox came up with this gold-star line, “I am a terrorist. As a homosexual, my job is simply to sodomize mediocrity.” For the record, he’s identified as asexual, which means that I can only take this line to mean he doesn’t understand what homosexuality entails. The fact that he associates homosexuality with terrorism is another thing entirely. Last I checked, Marfan Syndrome is a physical disorder, not a mental one.
Not to mention, deciding to focus an entire recent interview on how much he hates the Smiths, provoked, apparently, because of something Morrissey said (and has since retracted) about the Ramones when he was 17 years old, “Frankly, all it took was that one criticism of The Ramones […]”. Do you not see the hypocrisy here, Brad? In more recent memory, Morrissey has said plenty of dumber things, but no, let’s focus on what he said way back when. And since you’re so keen to bully a better band, let me tell you this: the Smiths are way better than you are. Morrissey is way better than you are. You know why? For one, he actually sang lyrics that meant something, and despite your ignorance to the matter – “The Smiths wrote complaint slips that nobody read. Morrissey’s influence is so crippling that it could even deteriorate the flower of modern creative thought. It’s like a pungent death shroud over the future and the past” – the fact is people did (and still do) listen to Morrissey. Tons of people. And yes, Morrissey might’ve written about the same topics over and over, but I’ll defer to Paul Westerberg (unless you have a problem with the Replacements as well)’s statement, “To me, the best songs are about someone, rather than, I dunno, singing a song about this lamp over here. It might be very clever, but…boring.” Yup. Other than the visceral longing in “Sleepwalking” (“We’ve grown apart now”), none of the lyrics on Monomania mean a damn thing.
To Mr. Cox, being “punk” is not just about picking up a guitar, which you so obviously can do. It’s not about shouting unintelligent lyrics into a microphone, which you so obviously can do. It’s not about the attitude, which you obviously don’t have; sass is an attitude, but it’s notthe attitude. It’s about the music as well, which you would know if you ever spent a day in your life. If that’s frightening to you, then you seriously need to look at the mediocrity you subscribe to.