Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why I Don't Like British Indie Bands

I was pleased and surprised to find a private message for me in last.fm the other day, asking if I'd be interested in writing for www.miwsig.com, a Welsh-tinged music website.

Sadly, I can't write about music for toffee. I can't even tell the difference between a harmonica and an accordion, as I discovered recently while planning a post containing Three Great Songs With Accordions In Them, so it's best all round that I politely declined.

Of course this doesn't stop me from writing rubbish about music on my own blog with merry abandon, which is a good thing, because I have been ruminating for a while on the contentious topic of Why All* British Indie Music Is So Crap.

After much thought, I have decided it boils down to four things:

1. Lack of musical expertise. I want my indie bands to be able to play proper instruments, and lots of them. None of this two guitars and a drumkit crap. I want cellos and kazoos and trumpets and pedal steels and double basses and timpani and accordions (yes) and harmonicas (which are not the same as accordions) and klezmers (whatever they are**) and glockenspiels and instruments I've never heard of. If possible, all on the same song. Ideally accompanied with bleeps and samples for a full-on rich tapestry effect.

2. Lack of lyrical expertise. I want my indie bands to have actually gone to school, and to have paid attention in their English classes. Or their French classes, or their Spanish classes, I'm not fussy. And if they didn't go to school, that's fine too, but I still want them to have a bit of sensibility about our fine and versatile language. I want them to think about their lyrics, and stop writing facile clichéd crap, especially facile, clichéd crap that doesn't make any sense, NOT EVEN METAPHORICALLY, and is just there to prop up a dull, samey song played on two guitars and a drumkit. Mainly I want long, clever words with lots of syllables in them, arranged in some kind of pleasing and original order, dammit.

3. Lack of female vocalists. British indie music is just way too blokey. I want to hear female vocals in there too, thank you very much. If no girls want to be in your band, perhaps you could just try singing like a girl occasionally, to break up the awful monotony a bit.

4. Improper motivation. Honestly, sometimes I think some of these bands just want to sell records. I want my indie bands to be psychologically driven to make music, even if no one buys it. Writing songs should be an unstoppable cathartic impulse, not a way to make money because no one will give you a proper job.

With these considerations in mind, I propose an instructive evening in front of MTV2 playing British Indie Band Bingo. That should sort the Shortwave Sets from the Razorlights. Scoring goes like this:

1. Band features instruments other than guitars, drumkit and keyboard: ONE POINT

2. Band has mixed gender line-up: TWO POINTS

3. Band has male and female vocalists: THREE POINTS

4. Band's lyrics do not make you wince, roll your eyes, or shake your head sadly: FOUR POINTS

Ooh, this might actually make watching MTV2 bearable.


* Not *all*. Just 'most'.

** Apparently not an instrument at all. See?

22 comments:

james henry said...

I have regularly upset the owner of this fine blog by pointing out that I quite like Razorlight.

And Coldplay, although yes, I think another ten minutes spent on the lyrics would pay dividends.

Billy said...

Megaphones are also good. I like instruments sounding like they're about to break - wheezing accordions, squealing string sections, guitars that sound like things dying. I like male/female harmonies when they are amazingly languid.

Sylvia said...

Can I ask what the definition of an indie is? Or is this not the right place? I'll get my coat.....

Sylvia said...

Actually, P, what makes you think you can't write for these people? Bet you could! Give it a whirl.....

miss-cellany said...

Please write for them.

Would be such nice relief from the male/guitar player/two syllable/dodgy haircut types who seem to currently write indie reviews for indie bands.

Not that I either like indie music, or read about it, but I would...

Rach said...

I like Billy's idea about megaphones. I once saw an Indonesian orchestra giving a concert using rattling bamboo instruments in front of the Eiffel Tower, with a woman singing into one of those old-fashioned megaphones. She sounded like Edith Piaf singing down a crackly telephone line, and it was marvellous.

nibus said...

Not quite sure what you're getting at here. Is it "why can't this music I don't like be more like music I do like?"? Is it like me saying "I don't like Simply Red, they should be more like Philip Glass cos I like Philip Glass"? If MTV2 is your yardstick no wonder you find it all so dull. TV is dead media for music, you're better off on myspace (really).

/rant

er, I'll go to bed now

Annie Rhiannon said...

You're a Belle & Sebastian fan, aren't you?

Tim Footman said...

I think what you're really after is a Polyphonic Spree tribute act based in Nuneaton.

I think Coldplay would profit from another ten minutes spent investigating imaginative methods of self-immolation.

1. London Girl by The Pogues

2. Where Do You Go To My Lovely by Peter Sarstedt (sp?)

3. The theme music from 'Allo 'Allo

patroclus said...

James: Actually I don't think I've ever consciously heard anything by Razorlight, but Kate Muir once professed to like them, which elicited my lifelong enmity.

Billy: Male/female harmonies are great, but any femal vocals at all would more than brighten up my viewing of MTV2. Actually my experiment with watching MTV2 is now over, as I found myself becoming quite fond of Fall Out Boy.

Sylvia: Greater minds than I have attempted to define indie and failed, although I'm sure Tim and Spinny could give it a good go.

Miss-Cellany: That's very sweet, thank you. Although I think the fact that I thought klezmer was a musical instrument (it occurred to me later that I might have been thinking about a dulcimer, whatever that is) immediately disqualifies me.

Rach: Now that does sound good, and not the kind of thing you're ever likely to see on MTV2.

Nibus: I can't stand that Philip Glass, with his non-existent lyrics and his stupid minimalist tunes. Why can't he be more like Spoon?

Annie R: Not especially, although they do score quite well in British Indie Band Bingo.

Tim: I've tried to decipher your comment, but find it remarkably resistant to analysis. I will try and unravel it on the way to work. Apart from the bit about Coldplay. They used to live upstairs from ex-Mr P, in a manky flat at the top of Camden Road, and were (of course) very nice boys, so I wouldn't necessarily wish self-immolation on them.

Tim Footman said...

A dulcimer is about half-way between an autoharp and a zither. Guess that doesn't help much, eh?

And I love it when people say my schtick is "remarkably resistant to analysis". I mean, I know it means that I'm writing poncy, impenetrable bollox, but it sounds kinda sexy.

Clue: none of those three tracks features harmonicas.

Annie Rhiannon said...

Damn, I thought I was onto something there.

I've just spotted Tailb Kweli duetting with Jean Grae in your recently listened to list... what a brilliant combination.

Joseph said...

I know a guy called Al Baker. He's jolly good and I think ticks all the boxes. Have some free music.

patroclus said...

Tim: Ooh, of course, accordions! I was going more for a three-way Decemberists/Gotan Project/Magic Numbers combo myself, but now you've mentioned the 'Allo 'Allo theme, I can't get that out of my head. Rubbish Claim To Fame No. 823: My third cousin twice removed once represented Gorden Kaye in a libel case.

Annie R: I probably would like Belle & Sebastian, if only I wasn't participating in a tiresome anti-commercialism experiment that consists of not listening to any music that is marketed at me in any way. I've only listened to that Talib Kweli track once, so can't pronounce on it yet, but I do like the way that elsewhere he rhymes 'coffin' with 'orphan', a skill that is denied to most non-New Yorkers. (See also Jenny Lewis rhyming 'mirrors' with 'fears'.)

Joseph: Why hello, and welcome! I have looked at that website, and, as resistant as I am to the word 'troubacore', I shall listen to some of the music later.

Tim Footman said...

Are you sure the Magic Numbers track doesn't feature a melodica?

Or is that just going to do your head in?

patroclus said...

Hm, I'm really glad I wrote this post now. No, I'm not sure about that, and I'm not sure that the Gotan Project track doesn't feature a bandoneon.

mike said...

Sounds like you need a little Los Campesinos! in your life... they fulfil all of those criteria,. I think.

surly girl said...

*shakes with terror at recommending music to patroclus*

have you tried the hot puppies? they've got a girl singer, and their lyrics are sort of clever, and they have a theramin on there somewhere.

um.

*runs away with hands over head*

llewtrah said...

Billy is an expert. He is introducing me to all sorts of bands. Maybe I should apply a points system to heavy metal?

wolfie said...

Can I offer a suggestion? A band called Goodbye Mister Mackenzie would score maximum points on your system, Patroclus. 1- They play well, and their complement includes an accordionist called Rona; 2- their lyrics are articulate and smart (and they also have literary leanings... as you can tell by their name); 3- two female vocalists (Rona Scobie, plus Shirley Manson, lately of Garbage fame); 4- They were motivated by their muse, to the extent of being kicked off more labels than the Sex Pistols were, partly due to narrative songs which could get v. close to the bone. Also, they're not fey Indie, but their delivery is gutsy... and can occasionally even get a bit Neil Diamond. Ten big points. MTV's dead.

Andrew Smith said...

As Frank Zappa said, music journalism is written by people who can't write, for people who can't read, about people who can't play. So, as you clearly can write, perhaps best avoided ;-)

On the subject of instruments, I've often craved more theremins. Or stylophones come to think of it.

Anonymous said...

There are a few British indie bands that don't suck. Take Los Campesinos, for example. They have male and female vocals, a xylophone (or a glockenspiel, I don't really know) and cute, bouncy lyrics. They deserve to be checked out.