A few years ago, over roaring guitars and pounding drums, Craig Finn (he of the Hold Steady, whom you might know as the best rock band in America), shouted from the rooftops, “All the sniveling indie kids: Hold Steady!” I don’t know if he was proposing his band as an antidote to sniveling indie music or not, but I’d like the people at Pitchfork and Radio Exile to listen to the Hold Steady’s “Positive Jam” and start holding steady soon because the boner those two sites have for the Rural Alberta Advantage is gonna put someone’s eye out (it has also, by my count, lasted longer than four hours. Get these people a doctor!).
Both Pitchfork and Radio Exile (who are usually better than P-fork, in that they at least have a sense of humor) have been creaming their jeans over Hometowns, the Arcade-Fire-meets-Neutral-Milk-Hotel debut from the Rural Alberta Advantage. Now, there are bands that compare to, say, the Arcade Fire, but to my ears, the RAA is Arcade Fire instruments mashed up with Neutral Milk Hotel vocals (and less awesome lyrics). It’s a formula designed to lube up the loins of kids who are pining away for the next Sufjan release or smoking weed to Wavves. For me, it goes beyond “if you like the Arcade Fire, you’ll like this band” and ends up somewhere along the lines of, “Wow. Win Butler and Jeff Mangum should sue these guys.” The formula can be broken down thusly: How to Ensure that Indie Sites Will Love Your Band in Five Easy Steps.
Step 1: Be from Canada. Obviously, we can’t all be from Canada. The Fat Albert Advantage are from Canada, so that’s a point in their favor (in terms of the indie sites, remember). If you’re not from Canada, try being from Williamsburg in NYC or Portland or Austin. No disrespect to any of these locations (I love bands from all of these places and more – in fact, Portland is producing some of the best bands around right now), I’m merely pointing out that with some indie kids (as with real estate), it’s location, location, location!
Step 2: Get Signed to Saddle Creek. I know some people think that Matador and Kill Rock Stars and Sub-Pop are the sniveling indie labels, but that’s not correct. Those labels actually feature good bands (and Sub-Pop has a fucking sneaker now!). Saddle Creek, on the other hand, features some of the snivelin’-est indie you’ll ever come across, from Bright Eyes to the Rural Albert Collins Advantage to the infuriatingly named UUVVWWZ (I don’t actually know if this last band is “sniveling” indie or not, but that name pisses me off almost as much as Wavves). So if you want an instant 8.0 on Pitchfork, sign yer ass to Saddle Creek and start whining.
Step 3: Emotive (but Not Necessarily Good) Vocals. Again, there are good indie bands with not-great singers. Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips (a band that, though signed to a major label, certainly embodies more indie spirit than almost any other band I can think of) will never be mistaken for one of the Four Tenors, but the guy makes soul-crushingly beautiful music. Win Butler from the Arcade Fire can sing pretty well, but to guarantee success with the indie kids, it’s best to go for the clenched-jaw, I-really-mean-this-shit style of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst. To be fair, the Rural Alberta Advantage’s Nils Edenloff (sounds like a fancy German food, doesn’t it? “Waiter, what’s the special today?” “Well, sir, we have some poached salmon and steamed rice or why not try our Nils Eden-Loaf – it’s a blend of meats from the Alsace region on the French-German border, served with a cold Weiss-bier.”) doesn’t really do this, but his Jeff Mangum-aping is irritating as hell, especially on “Luciana” which is so blatant a Neutral Milk Hotel ripoff that I almost removed the disc from my car player and chucked it out the window. You see, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a personal treasure to me and to hear someone do a cut-and-paste job on that music is downright offensive.
Step 4. Synthesizers, computers, blips and bleeps, oh my! Again, to be fair, there are bands that can use technology to awesome effect (LCD Soundsystem, Franz Ferdinand, Postal Service, et cetera), but you don’t have to use technology well to get the sniveling indie vote. You simply have to use it. In fact, if your whole album can be recorded on a laptop in your bedroom while you buttfuck an amplifier (where is an amplifier’s butt? Ask that dude from Wavves), you can expect an invite to the main stage at the Pitchfork Festival.
Step 5. Profit! Well, maybe. You’ll certainly enjoy some hype from people who vigorously over-intellectualize music and philistines like me will probably still hate you. So enjoy that.
I realize I’m being pretty hard on the Rural Alberta Advantage, so to be fair (’cause life is nothing if it ain’t fair, right?) I’ll point out that, like a lot of stuff I’ve been listening to lately, there are good elements on Hometowns but most of those elements can be found on the two Arcade Fire albums (which I love with all my heart) and on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. If those three records didn’t exist, I could probably embrace the Rural Alberta Advantage more fully, but I suspect that the RAA wouldn’t exist without those three records.
I seem to have fallen into a musical rut lately; I’ve listened to a lot of stuff that runs the gamut from “bad” to “mediocre” and I fear I’m starting to sound like a broken record of the snarkiest, snobbiest motherfucker ever, but I’ve just had a hard time finding stuff the last couple of months that genuinely puts a smile on my face (the new Modest Mouse EP notwithstanding; sweet Zombie Jesus, I love that record). Later this week, I’ll get to We Were Promised Jetpacks and Green Day, but I’ll try to slip something in there that I genuinely enjoy. I’m often accused of hating more music than I love, and that’s not true, so we’ll strive for a little more balance in the future (I have a trip to Amoeba slated for this weekend, and that should help). In the meantime, apply the 5 steps and someday, if you’re really good at it, you could find your band being ripped to shreds on this blog. You lucky bastard!