If you’re a little confused, let me clear it up: Bollocks! has not become a sports blog (that won’t happen until hurling invective becomes an Olympic event). Hockey is a band from Portland (!) that might remind astute listeners (or even not-that-astute listeners) of LCD Soundsystem or the last Yeah Yeah Yeahs record. By itself, that’s not an entirely bad thing – Hockey’s debut album, Mind Chaos is an enjoyable enough listen that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I rate it about on the level of the Killers’ first album, except the dudes in Hockey are far better musicians than the Killers.
No, Mind Chaos is not really a problem for me except that, when I listen to it, I get this feeling – a feeling a get when I watch Quentin Tarantino movies now, by the way – well, it’s hard to explain. Let me try, by way of meandering analogy.
When I watch Tarantino movies, I sense two things: 1) Quentin Tarantino has a vast knowledge of cinematic history and is able to cobble together a usually-interesting pastiche out of that and 2) Quentin Tarantino clearly thinks that Quentin Tarantino is the coolest motherfucker who ever lived. I watched Inglourious Basterds the other night and it was filmed well, and fine as far as it goes, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Tarantino probably jerked off while watching the dailies from this thing. Tarantino’s ego is obscuring his art for me at this point, and I’m no longer compelled to reward him for it. You might think that’s a terrible reason to stop watching Tarantino movies, but cultural preference being entirely subjective, I’ll offer you my usual follow-up reason for why I do or don’t like something: Fuck you, I don’t need to justify my likes or dislikes to anyone (and neither do you).
Now, Ben Grubin (whose voice is actually pretty awesome) and company may not believe themselves to be geniuses – in fact, the lyrics on much of Mind Chaos suggest that they think quite the opposite. They’re just out for a dance-rocky good time, and I’m not gonna dump on them for that. But Hockey’s music is so hyper-stylized (I may be damning myself by saying so, but Pitchfork was right to point out Hockey’s mostly agreeable cut-and-paste job of LCD Soundsystem and the second Strokes album) that it runs the risk of devolving into a shallow aestheticism – one song is the dance hit of the summer, one (“Four Holy Photos”) is the Dylan-esque song full of seemingly random imagery and strident harmonica bits. What I fear, is that Hockey’s triumph, if achieved, is the triumph of style over substance. I feel a similar discomfort about liking the Dandy Warhols’ 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl album. Both are fine albums from a musical perspective, but both are also indicative of two bands playing dress-up (it’s sadly telling to me that Howl remains Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s finest hour. And 13 Tales is pretty much the only Dandies album that shouldn’t go fuck itself). To Hockey’s credit, I think they’re playing dress-up to a much smaller degree than the Dandy Warhols, but I’ve always been a fan of balance, and even in the age of Lady Gaga, I think we can balance style and substance (the first person who attempts, with any seriousness of purpose, to argue to me that Lady Gaga’s music is in any way substantive will win a lifetime supply of scorn from yours truly).
I suppose some pretentious wanker who took a class in post-modernism might be compelled to suggest that maybe Hockey is striking such a large dance-rock pose to comment on poserdom itself. After all, the opening track on the album is called “Too Fake.” Surely, this wanker might suggest, that song is Grubin calling posers out as much as he’s labeling himself one, yes? My answer is a solid maybe. I know you can be in a rock band that comments on the nature of being in a rock band, but I also know that, to make it work, you have to be precisely as awesome as the Velvet Underground. But there’s nothing on Mind Chaos to suggest to me that Hockey is operating on any deeper level than the good-time music that litters the album. So I like them, but I’m careful not to like them too much until they prove that they are worth taking seriously.
And, lest I be accused of being humorless, let me clarify what I mean when I say, “worth taking seriously.” I don’t mean I want Hockey to start ingesting heavy doses of Joy Division and losing the quite-welcome spring in their step. I mean I want to hear something from them that suggests they’re doing something other than proving that any idiot can make a rock record (of course any idiot can make a rock record. How many albums does Kid Rock have? The problem is, I have no time for bands that exist to prove this point. That dead horse has been beaten enough, kids. Leave it alone). I’m certainly not asking Hockey to make a second album as colossally misguided as the Killers’ Sam’s Town, an album that crawled so far up Bruce Springsteen’s ass that I believe the Boss had to have Brandon Flowers surgically removed. I just want to know that they’re not laughing all the way to the bank. I’ll give you a for instance: “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem, probably my favorite song of the last decade (that, right there, is all the counting down of the best of the decade that I’m willing to do, folks. Take it or leave it), is an excellent dance/pop song but it resonates much deeper than that. There isn’t a happy moment that I’ve had in the last ten years that couldn’t be adequately soundtracked by that song, and I guarantee you I won’t be saying that about anything from Mind Chaos in ten years. Now, if Hockey’s second album is more Sound of Silver and less Sam’s Town, well… it probably won’t be. But I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.