Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Selling Out: The Joys of Adult Indie Easy Listening

It's a torture to young people, of every generation, when its favorite musicians get "soft." Like, when Peter Murphy, the lead singer of Bauhaus, started putting out post-New Wave solo records with backup singers. I felt this way (wrongly!) when Kristin Hersh started putting out gentle acoustic-guitar music. (She was on her way, however, to 50 Foot Wave, which has an even harsher sound than Throwing Muses ever did.) Or like when REM entered its endless middle period. And Siouxsie! (From goth to cheesecloth dancepop!) Some of them are like Jonathan Richman, who didn't want to hurt any baby's ears. More often it's a subtle graduation—primarily because the recording artist can finally afford decent producers. (See: L7 and The Donnas, and, more extremely, Marilyn Manson or The Offpsring.) Let's not even talk about David Bowie, with the zigging and the zagging between terrible and wonderful. (Even "dance" outfits can go soft, like the long late period of Saint Etienne, though to be fair, their last album was genius.) So many artists accidentally or intentionally enter the arena of Adult Indie. Which is already a crowded field!

The Delgados were roundly trounced and embraced for being stalwarts of "indie adult-contemporary." Nitsuh Abebe wrote the most-important take on this, in 2003:

This is the music that may eventually prompt your preteen kids to roll their eyes and make unenthusiastic noises when you force them to listen during long car trips. Jeff Tweedy may become your Sting, Wayne Coyne your Peter Gabriel, Mercury Rev your Steely Dan—and there's no reason any of this will be any less wonderful than the Carole King LPs in your parents basements.

To update: The Strokes will be your James Taylor. Or, better, look forward to the Sleigh Bells covering Joni Mitchell.

And yes, so much of that has come to pass already! (Sting where is thy death, etc.) There's just Nick Cave, the last hold-out. (In between all those sad love ballads, of course.)

Operating somewhere between post-lounge, dream pop, indie chillwave and what is now called post-yacht-rock, over the last ten years, bands as diverse as the Delgados and Tahiti 80 and Slumber Party made (great) music that was never hard, but music that seemed it was asking you to sell out just to listen to it. Could you listen to this in front of your friends? You would not.

Then Destroyer came with "their" ninth album, and almost fixed all this with the ultimate meta-take on "going soft."

Who can care? One of the joys of getting older is that your Morrisseys, and now, your PJ Harveys, will age along with you. And as radio formatting becomes so entrenched as to be ridiculous, and record store sections die away, genre means so much less. The new music industry (and you know, lack of it) killed off the genre snobbishness that gripped so many of us as youngs. Having a "shuffle" function for mp3s may have ruined us all for rigidity. And musicians can become itinerant genre workers, and we can worry about what we actually like.

33 Comments / Post A Comment

LondonLee (#922)

I get that feeling when I listen to Richard Hawley. I love him but I do feel I'm basically listening to the same music my mum did when she was my age. He's my Frankie Valli or Charlie Rich or something. At least Destroyer are doing something "new" with the old.

When was Saint Etienne's "long, late period"? I don't think they've ever been less than brilliant (OK, maybe 'Sound of Water')

SeaBassTian (#281)

@LondonLee Coincidentally, I just listened to Coles Corner the other day. I was struck by how MOR this all sounded despite the admittedly impressive songcraft. Ultimately, I'd only spin it again late @ nite.

soco (#8,225)

The Foo Fighters' softest album (There Is Nothing Left To Lose) is actually my favorite. I don't mind when previously alternative or indie bands go soft, if they still make good music. It's just too often "soft" becomes "mindless, shit music."

KarenUhOh (#19)

Get old enough and wrinkly enough and sellouty enough and they stick you in an expensive suit and put your photo in the NYT Mag.

Your Art is now Fashion.

HiredGoons (#603)

My friend Becky works at a Japanese nail salon where they play easy listening covers of the likes of 'Lady Gaga,' 'Interpol' and 'MGMT' – sometimes I stop by if I'm running to Pac Lab (next door) and pretend I'm just stopping in to say hi, but really I'm going in to listen to the music.

Most 'indie' groups have already sold out (at least rights-wise) to foreign markets, like actors who do commercials in other countries.

Think about a slowed-down acoustic rendition of 'Kids.' Think about it.

freetzy (#7,018)

I'm thinking about it and I could really relax with a Suntory right about now.

BadUncle (#153)

I heard an easy listening cover of a Bob Mould song at CVS.

SeaBassTian (#281)

@BadUncle That reminds me of the time that I heard a Muzak version of "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" at Wanamaker's. Good God I'm old.

Hey, I LIKE "Cuts You Up".

jfruh (#713)

…and what is now called post-yacht-rock…

Seriously, you people just make this shit up, right?

katherine (#10,025)

So you mentioned L7 and you also mention Kristin Hersh and there's also a whole post about this, so — thoughts on Donita Sparks' _Transmiticate_? On the one hand I can totally see how it can be construed as "soft" — "He's Got The Honey," "Creampuff" especially, so much of the album. On the other hand, is that a bad thing?

Bittersweet (#765)

As someone who "sold out" in 1984 when I got my teenage mitts on my first Duran Duran album, I say, bring it on.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Two Duran Duran refs in the same day. Are you trying to win a bet or something, Bittersweet?

oudemia (#177)

That was so not selling out, that was buying in. (And, you know, my sister! I rocked my fedora hard that year.)

Bittersweet (#765)

@boy: no, but I just liked them on Facebook so they're top of mind.

@oudemia: no fedora, sadly, but my pink and grey double belt, Guess jeans and jazz oxfords were key to my Durannie look.

tm (#7,306)

We still have The Fall, I believe. No smooth session musician drummers, no bass players with "chops", just the usual mess. Not that I've ever listened to them.

Also, Finisterre was a career highlight for the 'Tienne, surely?

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I don't know what this says about my musical tastes, but when I first listened to the new Destroyer album it didn't sound at all unusual to me.

pepper (#676)

Also apropos of L7 – Rob Cavallo is certainly slicker than Jack Endino or Butch Vig, who produced the two L7 albums for Sub Pop, but to imply that he is the "decent" producer of the three is a bit much.

petejayhawk (#1,249)



sox (#652)

And the most recent Blonde Redhead? Lacks so much screaming…or anything with a pulse actually. It's like they slammed a handful of barbiturates and laid on their instruments.

hman (#53)

I am so OK with "Chasing a Bee" being my very own "Deacon Blues" – really!

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

"Meth of a Rockette's Kick" our "Do It Again…"

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Also, doesn't MR get some kind of free pass for life for collaborating with Robert Freaking Creeley?

hman (#53)

(Pleading ignorance!)

Screen Name (#2,416)

I will never forgive Chris Gaines for selling out and changing his name to Ben Stiller.

oudemia (#177)

Steve Albini has not put out his acoustic singer-songwriter material yet.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

One of the best things about being over 30 (well, over 40 now) was the dawning realization that it doesn't matter how popular or unpopular the things I like are.

ow that hurt (#3,919)

I do know that Melt Banana's "Long, Late Period" started with Creeps in a White Cake, and
has been just like forever, ever since!

*also, we did hear a Magnetic Fields tune on a dog food commercial last year, in Mexico.
It was a perky tune, not suicidal, tho-

lbf (#2,343)

Namedropping Tahiti 80, one of the most inessential yet totes enjoyable bands of the French pop scene = wtf.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Two anxiety-of-aging posts in one day? How's everybody holding up.

Speedy Gray (#6,451)

Listen to Handshake Drugs and then compare Tweedy to Sting again. I dare ya.

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