Indie Rock Goes Remedial

07/21/2010 4:00 AM |

As Wavves’ Nathan Williams insists on reminding us every single chance he gets, inadvertently or otherwise, there’s an undeniably bone-headed streak running through a lot of the lo-fi indie rock that’s been so popular in the past couple years. There’s a proud sort of minimalism at work, evident in the across-the-board low quality of the recordings, sure, but also in the—let’s be generous—unfussy, laid-back approach to matters of intellect. There’s a shared, all-consuming, and frustratingly debilitating desire for simpler times: simpler emotions, simpler relationships, simpler ways have a fun. It’s not particularly interesting from a philosophical perspective, nor is it an idea that, in the context of, well, anything, seems particularly meaningful. And so you have a sub-genre (or maybe just a trend) that’s devoid of social or cultural relevance (I’m not buying the recession-related explanations), and that clearly frowns on the very notion of innovation. By default, then, through perhaps nothing more than the process of elimination, melody is king. Or queen, as the case may be.

Bethany Cosentino, lead singer and songwriter in the much-hyped, L.A.-based duo Best Coast, is probably the most purely talented of anyone currently working in this style. She’s merely a passable guitarist (which is really all that’s demanded of her), but a surprisingly affecting singer and an absolute expert when it comes to the sun-drenched, bbq-ready melodies this stuff lives or dies on. There are subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints of 90s alt-rock here and there, but she’s clearly most influenced by 60s girl-groups—there’s reverb everywhere, and an ever-present sense of yearning that’s at first quite likable and then simply infuriating for its extreme narrowness.

A selection of lyrics from the band’s aptly titled debut full-length, Crazy For You: “The other girl is not like me/she’s prettier and skinnier/she has a college degree/I dropped out when I was 17” (“Boyfriend”), “I can’t do anything without you,” “You make me lazy, but I love you” (“Crazy For You”), “Every time you leave this house, everything falls apart,” “I can’t get myself off the couch” (“Goodbye”), “When you leave me, the bed is empty/And I feel crazy” (“Our Deal”), “The sun was out/I thought I was fine/But then you slipped into my mind” (“Bratty B”), “Every day’s the same/I feel like I’m losing my mind/All I do is think about you all the time… I just wish that you would tell me/Is this real, or are we through?”

You get the point. And yes, granted, loving someone is really difficult. It’s powerful and all-consuming, and it’s also the subject of a huge amount of the best pop songs of the past 60 years, so it’s hard to hold it against Sorentino that she’s willing to sing about nothing else (except for smoking weed—she seems to like smoking weed), but what’s most troubling is the lack of nuance and poetry, let alone insight, in what she sings. It’s all so plainspoken, so single-minded that it’s nearly unbearable. It should also set off all sorts of feminist alarms: the extent to which our narrator seems to define herself in relation to a man is at best irksome and at worst extremely dangerous. This is the type of idea, though, that the album wouldn’t dare engage with or acknowledge, and it’s a shame. There are elements here that really do shine—they’re just not quite bright enough.

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