Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"I have zero familiarity with any of those"

If you're a friend of mine you know the scoop with the delay behind IfIHadAHiFi's Nada Surf EP, an issue that's finally going to be resolved in the next week when "Somebody Take the Damn Money" gets remixed to replace Harley Race's voice with that of our new buddy, world-traveling indie wrestler "M-Dogg" Matt Cross. Latest Flame has pushed the "official" release date of the disc back to January (along with a 2012 schedule that is shaping up to be balls-awesome), but here's the thing with that--the manufacturing issue with the Harley Race sample came up so late in the game that CD versions of the EP were already out to the press before this happened. As a result, it's possible to find the record floating around out there (my friend Brian, in fact, just informed me that you can listen to it on Spotify, so hey, how about that! I guess we'll find out how much this cuts into what were sure to be bananas record sales).

This also means that reviews of the disc are showing up, which, unfortunately, are now regrettably timed way ahead of schedule (which, i suppose we could be waiting to post the reviews on our pages until release time, but whatever). So far, the reviews have generally stayed true to the form of our last albums' worth of reviews: in short, people who "get it" like it (like Playground Misnomer or PopMatters), people who have no frame of reference for what we're doing don't.

I know how pretentious that sounds--"ooh, if someone doesn't like our record, they just don't get it, is all." Here's the thing--i really don't think our brand of pop-flavored noise rock is that difficult to comprehend. I mean, when compared to some of the more abrasive, esoteric, or just plain weird stuff in my collection, IfIHadAHiFi sounds, to my objective ears, pretty simplistic. Bands like Ho-Ag, Melt-Banana, and HEALTH are doing variations of what we've been trying to do for years, and all of them are doing it way better. So in a way, i'm often surprised when people outside our insular bubble of weirdo spazz-rock can't find anything in our songs to latch onto.

Which leads me to this review of Nada Surf over on It's overwhelmingly negative, which is fine--not the first time that's happened. But portions of the review, a cursory check into the dude's general music tastes, and the fact that he ended up reviewing us twice (because he thought he was going to be reviewing a Nada Surf record, ha) made me realize a few things about us, or more accurately, remind me about some things i already knew and had apparently forgotten through some sort of slowly narrowing perspective.

Hilariously, the dude provides a great pull-quote when taken out of context:

Forget how the word 'punk' is mostly used these days. You'll find no buzzy yet warm guitar melodies here, nor any raw yet sentimental vocals or nostalgic songs about hometowns, best friends, ex-girlfriends etc. What you'll get is a truck load of noisy feedback, distortion and discord, crashing drums and tuneless yelling, delivered with no hint of relent or compromise whatsoever.

It also provided a peek into what the dude primarily listens to, and sure enough, when checking out his profile page on the site, his "favorite bands" list includes low-rent mallpunk fare like Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World. As i skimmed through the rest of the writer profiles, i started to realize that it was fairly unlikely that anyone on the site, except for maybe the editor-in-chief (who posted in the comments to both of our reviews on the site saying that he liked the music just fine, even going so far as to essentially tell the writer that, yes, he probably just doesn't "get it"), was going to find any common ground with us at all. It led to an interesting string of comments on the review in which a number of our influences were thrown at the reviewer and he confessed to zero percent knowledge of 100% of the bands listed. The thread was spurred by Chris from Police Teeth and myself, which, yes, i know that commenting on your own band's reviews is pretty sad pool, but i was honestly drawn to post more through the exasperated disbelief that this kid had never even heard Archers of Loaf or The Jesus Lizard, much less Brainiac or Poster Children, and the hope that maybe he'd check out those bands and find something he liked.

When co-workers ask me what kind of band i play in, i generally tell them "noisy punk rock," and leave it at that, knowing and being ok with the fact that those words probably mean a wildly different sound in their heads than what's encoded on our CDs. What this whole exchange with reminded me of (and depressed me to remember) is that even in the subculture of independent bands and internet music publications, the stuff that we fell in love with in our teens and 20s and are emulating now is, in many corners of the internet, becoming completely forgotten. And while it's freeing to know that, since large slices of the population won't ever like what we're doing, we can just not worry about it and do what we will to our heart's content (which also means, of course, that we're never making any money from this stuff), it's kind of a shame to know that even so-called music reviewers could go their entire lives without hearing a Brainiac song. I know that real hipsters are supposed to treat their favorite bands like secrets to protect, hoard, and lament when they become popular, but that's just not me.


  1. I have this very problem with the boy. He really wants to understand what all this noisy stuff is that I love, but he has no frame of reference. Questions like "well, what do they sound like?" make me panic, because the first 10 bands I mention, he hasn't heard of. So I dumb it down. And dumb it down. And by the time I get to a thing he can identify with (then actually PLAY something for him) his reaction is always "this doesn't sound anything LIKE that other thing you said!" And I'm like, of course not. The band I'm talking about has NOTHING TO DO with the LCD I've identified for you.

    Of course, if I lead with "you've never heard of them", then I'm a pretentious snotty hipster. But am I really a hipster when it's true? I guess I don't expect Joe Schmo to actually have heard of Jesus Lizard or Shellac or any of it, but for fuck's sake, don't make it out like I'M the one with the complex because YOU haven't heard of anything.

    Funny enough, I feel like I could be talking about noise rock or Occupy Wall Street right now.

  2. Heh. Whenever i try to describe a band i'm digging to Liz, i have to remember not to cite other bands, because she just smirks at me and reminds me that she has no clue what i'm talking about. So then i just have to play it for her, which works fine. Fortunately she doesn't have a complex about music and doesn't give a shit if her taste is seen as "cool," so she doesn't care if she's never heard of a band i mention! Thank god our relationship was built on mutual love of baseball, wrestling, and hair metal.

  3. My guess is that eventually, some clever pilfering band will come along and get very popular emulating the noise bands you like. Some critics will call them incredibly original(because they haven't heard Brainiac and others)and others with more background will point out the theft.

  4. M'ris: As the smirking girlfriend DJ talks about in the previous comment, let me tell you, sometimes descriptive words work better. So instead of describing who they sound like, describe how they sound. Maybe that will help?

    Also, I don't think saying "you've never heard of them" makes you a pretentious hipster at all! I often tell DJ that our musical tastes differ more because of exposure than anything else (just because I haven't heard of a band doesn't mean I wouldn't like them).