Hipster Lessons: 5 Ways to Make Indie Bands Less Annoying

hipsters-main.jpg
Kennysun via Wikipedia
Of Monsters and Men
My girlfriend got a new car recently and it has satellite radio. The result has been a lot of channel-surfing and among the more regular selections is Alt Nation.

Though there are certainly some god-awful songs that get played on there, on the whole, it isn't bad and has even led me to some interesting new music.

One band that gets a lot of play on Alt Nation at the moment is the Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men. Unfortunately for me, they embody many of the things I hate about indie music. Most notably, I heard a live version of their song "Little Talks" and instead of the bland horn section that mirrors the melody on the record, there was just a single trumpet playing the same boring part. All I could think was, "Is that even necessary?"

It got me thinking that a lot of bands of their ilk possess some completely unnecessary crap that, if replaced, could go a long way towards siphoning off some of their more annoying qualities. Here are five.

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5. What They Have: Pet Sounds-era reverb.
What They Need: Pet Sounds-era songwriting.

Indie bands are enamored with this beautiful effect pioneered by the Beach Boys and Phil Spector, but that's exactly what it was for...effect. Pet Sounds may have been swimming in reverb, but it was used to punctuate the mournfulness of "God Only Knows," dial back the silliness of "Sloop John B" or, more importantly, enhance the ethereal quality of Brian Wilson's sweet falsetto.

Underneath this swirling echo wasn't seven minutes of bitter irony with no chorus that no one could remember 30 seconds after it was over. It was two and a half minutes of corny love song called "Wouldn't It Be Nice" everyone knows nearly 50 years later.


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Photo by Jeff Balke
4. What They Have: A useless horn section.
What They Need: A sound man.

Whenever I see a band on a stage filled with every resident of their Brooklyn co-op, the first thing I think is, "How the hell are they getting paid?" The second thing I think is, "Couldn't any of them take up sound engineering instead of the zither?"

It's the sad irony (yes, I said it) of bands that have ten musicians, every one of whom swaps instruments multiple times in a single set, that often can't afford to pay someone to mix their sound because they have ten people in the band.

Deciphering the cacophony of sound from what amounts to a small orchestra rolling off the stage is something only a skilled sound guy can handle and absolutely necessary for an audience to truly enjoy the music. Ditch the hot tambourine-playing girl who is too tiny to even help carry a mike stand in favor of a good engineer, which brings me to...


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Photo by Groovehouse
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: These cute chicks can play.
3. What They Have: A cute girl singer who plays bad keyboard.
What They Need: A cute girl singer who plays great keyboard.

It's an insult to both women and keyboard players that so many of those populating indie bands have only enough skill to put two fingers down at a time on a synthesizer their guitar player sets up for them before every gig (don't get me started on the girl bass players).

Hell, if I threw a rock out of a window in any hip urban center -- I'm looking at you, Portland -- I'd likely hit a half-dozen cute hipster girls with wings tattooed on their backs who can carry a tune and took piano lessons as a kid, but that doesn't mean they should be in a band.

If she's the lead singer or the co-lead singer (sigh), fine. Buy her some lessons when you aren't on the road and keep on keepin' on. But if all she does is act cute as she bites her bottom lip and looks at the crowd with big doe eyes, you don't need her in the band; on the album cover, maybe, but not in the band. And if she's the singer's girlfriend, fire her immediately.

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44 comments
joey
joey

When I tried to come to read this I got a warning that this site was a dangerous virus giving website. Just thought I'd let ya know

kickballninja
kickballninja

XMU is pretty great/super annoying too.  It's a step BEYOND Alt. Nation and I really love it while hating it, you know?

juepucta
juepucta

They'll never get it. They think cutting off your own ear will make you like Van Gogh, as opposed to learning how to paint.

Abby
Abby

I would like to submit as number 6 - get a real effin' band name. Ridiculous indie rock band names I have heard as of late:TennisBlousethe Men

Seriously? Get a real band name.

For Satellites
For Satellites

Truth! Absolutely true. Couldn't be truer.

Now, tell to this to their record labels and the web of management and agencies that support these groups, that pay for the recording and promotion of their mediocre songs. Why is real talent so seldom promoted? I would much rather support some old dude singing like Lightning Hopkins than most of the polished crud that's on the radio these days. 

...But youth and "good looks" are so "marketable."

LOLwut
LOLwut

What? Grace Potter - a bad keyboard player? She has surgical precision with that Hammond/Leslie combo. And yeah, she's charismatic and hot as hell, I'll give you that.

anr
anr

What do you mean "don't get me started on girl bass players"? Please do get started on that, because I don't see how it's the same as playing a tambourine. It's a proud indie rock tradition. Although don't get me started on the lame misogynistic jokes in this article. 

Phil Butane
Phil Butane

All's I know is that I would love to run my tongue up Grace Potter's leg.

Mike
Mike

What will Buxton and Wild Moccasins do once they read this article? LOL 

HR
HR

new band doing beach boys-esque reverb and catchy songs = mrs. magician.

Jonny Leather
Jonny Leather

Unfortunately the bands following your advice won't get talked about because #1 the don't have the superfluous hot chick, #2 they don't have a stylist, #3 they're not youthful.

there are far better bands out there than most of the press is writing about, but they're older, not much to look at, and their songs are original enough that it takes a few listens to appreciate. 

a lot of music writers/bloggers want to write about something that'll generate comments and won't reveal how little they actually know about music. It's way more fun to write about the shitshow that is Axel Rose or Lana Del Rey than a band that just plays great music without spectacle. Not to knock on Deerhunter but they're big because the singer has a strange disease and suffers meltdowns. And Black Lips are popular because they do things like piss into each other's mouth on stage. that's the reality of it all. Spectacle > songwriting

Ltr
Ltr

Your point about reverb makes no sense.  Yes reverb is an effect...well done! and it sounds fucking awesome!  and in fact if the singer is bad it doesnt disguise that, it makes it more obvious.  If they hit a bum note the reverb prolongs that wrong note dirrrrrrrr

Corey
Corey

Zero indie cred, 100% stereotypical hipster garbage.. Do us all a favor and stop reading pitchfork and tinymixtapes, and go back to your cock rock.. Thanks, though do agree facial hair is stupid/gross and far too trendy...

Clay Wisner
Clay Wisner

I needed a laugh - this was great. I would add: Any band member who lists "quirky" as a trait either on a bio or in an interview should immediately be jettisoned. Quirkworship is quickly becoming the new "Rachel's Hairdo." (a reference to an ancient television show for you youngsters out there)

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Tom Scharpling had a great rant about all the "unearned beards" in the indie / hipster scene these days. Just because you can sprout facial hair doesn't mean you have earned the right.

LTD
LTD

Truer words could not have been written especially regarding the reverb. Good lord people, get some talent! 

Steve
Steve

Boring, unnecessary article by a guy who seems to think he is funny. he is not.

mkt
mkt

2009: whining overtakes content on the internet.

Come on, man!
Come on, man!

All the garbage out there you can piss on, which the title of the article got me excited about, and you’re gonna mess with Hall & Oats?  And compare them to Katy Perry?  Because they don’t play like Bryan Adams?  Dude, seriously?!

Craigley
Craigley

#1 one should be no more girl lead singers who look up to that twat named Zoey.

White Lightnin'
White Lightnin'

I believe he was implying that Grace is a good player, not a prop.

Jeff
Jeff

Kitty V is dead on accurate. After I read it again, I realize that it might come off as sexist, but it was actually the opposite of my intent. I've played with numerous female musicians over the years and the one thing they want above all else is to be respected for their playing, not for how they look. They are far harder on other female musicians who can't play than guys are...by a mile. The worst question you could ask one of them when they tell you they are in a band is, "Oh, are you the singer?" Grounds for ass kicking.

Like most musicians, I value other musicians who work hard at their craft regardless of the style of music they play. I'm all for style as long as it is accompanied by substance, regardless of gender.

Kitty V
Kitty V

I wouldn't take it so personally.  I'm a lead singer/guitar player (female), and the guy's got a point.  He's not talking about women who can actually PLAY bass.  He's talking about bands who find a cute girl and stick her on stage with a bass (keyboard, tambourine, etc) in her hands, teach her a few basic licks (chords, bootie shakes, etc), and wait for pitchfork to write about how adorable they are.  That shit sadly happens all the time, and only diminishes those of us who actually work hard at what we do.  He's saying that if a band has a female member, she should be a musician, not a prop.  which I agree with.

Leathertrash
Leathertrash

WTF? Deerhunter gets attention because they are f*** good band! I don't like Lana Del Rey or Axel Rose at all. However, Axel Rose made remarkable songs when he was in Guns N' Roses which bands that you are talking about will never deliver because they have probably never left the average level of a proper school band.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Cock rock or indie trash, nice little dichotomy you have there.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Brooklyn / Portland / Montrose / Austin: 79 percent unearned beards.

Cast of Deadliest Catch: 0 percent.

Jeff
Jeff

I posted a picture of them to refer to the moustache. They have nothing to do with the take beyond that. And the Adams reference was a joke. :)

White Lightnin'
White Lightnin'

KItty V, a real voice of reason! Yeah, that's exactly what he meant.

eudemonist
eudemonist

That sentence went about four letters too long, Phil.

Steve
Steve

I am not! :) Seriously, the article might say some true words about sound engineering and true talent, but otherwise this article could have written by an angry dad who wants to defend his old heroes and the good old Roooooock days. Why should Experience always be better than Youth? Ever heard of Punk music and that you don't have to have a Master's degree in guitar solo playing to start a band? Angry old American man...keep on listening to your old heroes and don't bother us with your wisdom! 

Come on, man!
Come on, man!

Gotcha. Just breaking your balls!!  I should've mentioned that I thought the rest was dead on.  I gotta watch my knee-jerk Oats-stash defense mechanism that kicks in weekly.

Craigley
Craigley

Yes.  And to make you hate her even more, my wife reminded me her name is actually spelled:  Zooey

White Lightnin'
White Lightnin'

OK, I'll buy that. But I think the law of averages is that the good players/bands will last longer and have more impact at large. And "good" of course is in the ear of the beholder. There's a dozen indie bands making a lot of noise in town right now that I'd bet we've forgotten totally in five years. re. your point about "young people can create great music while experienced musicians not necessarily," again law of averages says probably not. The young people who really make it in music have spent the 10,000 hrs learning to be proficient. Look at Jessica Lea Mayfield etc. It's the rare young (and the way you're comparing it with "experienced" young means "inexperienced") musician/writer who is going to make something that stand out and stands up IMO. 

Stevie
Stevie

Well, according to you the best music is than this kind of music where the band existed the longest?  Of course that's one way of measuring it and of course bands deserve respect for "being around for such a long time". However, it doesn't say anything about the quality of music. Bands like Sex Pistols lasted very shortly, but they are way more influential than many bands who played for decades.  My point was that young people can create great music while experienced musicians not necessarily make the better music just because they can play 5 harmonies more than the youngsters. 

White Lightnin'
White Lightnin'

Give me someone who can play vs. someone who likes to act like they can play anytime. Experience isn't ALWAYS better than youth, only about 98% of the time. Anyway, sorry to interrupt your "don't bother us with wisdom" whining with a reality check. You may go back to listening to The Manichean now. Recess is in fifteen minutes, then we'll all have snack and take a nap.BTW, not to subject you to any logic, but the article is about "indie" bands, not punk bands. In punk, it is perfectly acceptable to play like shit. That's a given. But you might notice that punk bands that play like shit don't last long. The Sex Pistols died young and the Pogues are still around.

Florida 63
Florida 63

Don't you have an "Occupy" movement to get back to?

Diabeetus
Diabeetus

 Oats?  There's no irony in Wilford Brimley's mustache ...

Christina Lynn Hildebrand
Christina Lynn Hildebrand

oi. I really don't get her. Shes kind of the antithesis of me. She prefers jazz music standards. I prefer classic rock. She wears dresses. I wear old navy jeans and maybe a Heart tshirt.

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