So, I got to thinking about the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and whether there was an indie rock version. I don’t know that anyone has created one, but I thought I’d like to try. Would I use David Bowie? What about Mike Watt? Nope. The man I believe I can connect to every indie rock artist (maybe even several non-indie rockers) is Thruston Moore.
Why Thurston Moore? Besides being the frontman of the seminal and legendary Sonic Youth, Thurston also has a long history of mentoring young bands. He buys every 7″. There is a connection between Thurston Moore and every band I’ve ever loved. I’m sure of it.
What defines a connection?
Well, with the Kevin Bacon game, people are connected via films and TV shows in which they’ve appeared. So, albums would be the logical place to go with music. However, that is only a part of the equation in defining how artists are connected in this industry. There are tours, video appearances, collaborations, shared producers, etc. So, I’ve attempted to rank the sort of connections one could have that would lead them to Thurston Moore in six steps or less.
- Recorded an album together as a band member, producer, recording engineer, etc. is the most direct connection.
- Collaborated on or curated a project together might include an ATP event or a special one-time performance as a tribute.
- Toured together, especially in a package deal is a bit difficult to pin down as often bands play gigs together without really have much to do with one another. Plus, it’s sometimes difficult to find these connections. However, if the musicians in question played a seminal show together, it should definitely count.
- Friends of friends is even a shakier place to find connections, but indie rock is more of a community than anything. Also at this level, I’d consider labelmates as some bands on labels practically live in incest while other hate each others’ guts.
- Even sketchier is if the musicians are simply lumped together in a scene or genre. I will avoid using these connections, but I reserve my right to use the weakest of connections to prove my theory.
Those are the connections. I feel I can trace any indie rock hero to Thurston Moore in six steps or less. I will first demonstrate below and then open a challenge to you in the comments. If my first tries seem too obvious, that was not done purposely as I really believe this will be easy with any indie rocker. Also, if you think you can connect them in less steps, that’s fine as well. The real goal is to connect Thurston Moore to anyone in indie or alt circles in six steps or less.
First up: Ani DeFranco – Part-time lesbian and independent label owner who beats the hell out of a guitar and growls all feministy at ya.
- Ani Difranco runs Righteous Babe Records whose lineup included Andrew Bird.
- Andrew Bird appeared on Thao with the Get Down Stay Down’s Know Better Learn Faster.
- Know Better Learn Faster was released by Kill Rock Stars.
- Kill Rock Stars’ lineup famously included Bikini Kill who was fronted by Katleen Hanna.
- Kathleen Hanna appeared in Sonic Youth’s “Bull in the Heather” video.
OK. That was easier than I thought. Let’s try another.
Up next: Deerhunter – The sonically lofi P4k darlings fronted by the remarkable Bradford Cox sounds like Sonic Youth, but are they too young to be connected to Thurston Moore? Let’s find out.
- Deerhunter’s latest LP was released on 4AD.
- 4AD was the former home of the Breeders, featuring Kim Deal.
- Kim Deal was not only Kim Gordon and Thruston Moore’s babysitter whenever they passed through Ohio, but she also appeared on Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl” off Washing Machine.
That was even easier. I realized it as soon as I moved to 4AD. Maybe I should move outside indie rock to see if my theory can hold up outside of Thurston Moore’s circle of influence.
Super Bonus Challenge: Justin Bieber – Yes, the “musician” with a lesbian haircut and hordes of adoring female fans couldn’t possibly connect to Thurston Moore in six steps. Or could he?
- Justin Bieber signed with Usher’s management group.
- Usher was part-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers whose marquee player before this summer was LeBron James.
- LeBron James is close friends with Jay-Z.
- Jay-Z’s video for “99 Problems” featured Vincent Gallo.
- Vincent Gallo played bass for Jim O’Rourke.
- Jim O’Rourke not only produced albums for Sonic Youth, but he was considered the fifth member for quite some time.
That last one was iffy, but it works. I could have probably connected Usher to someone different or used Rick Rubin, but I successfully connected Thurston Moore within six steps.
Now it’s your turn to come up with musicians that may or may not connect to Thurston Moore in six or less steps. The only rule is that the musician or band in question has to be famous enough that their name appears somewhere on Wikipedia. I can take it from there.
Personal Life is a record that lies closer to Guided By Voices
and Weezer than it is to Billy Bragg or Fugazi. Sure, there’s politic in the personal, but this record deals with relationships in a real way, a way we can all relate. Melodrama is left behind as real emotion comes through in what must be the most mid-tempo record The Thermals have ever set to tape. It’s not completely poppy, but it’s approaching a pop sensibility not normally associated with a KRS act. Still, I like it. It’s relationship music at its finest. I’m a sucker for this and The Thermals did it right.
The biggest difference in this album and previous Thermals records is the aesthetic. Nothing creates more criticism or praise for an album than aesthetic. Which is too bad as the songwriting and musicianship usually remains relatively the same or improves over time. In The Thermals’ case, it’s a cleaner, ready-for-radio sound that mirrors a Weezer or a Ocasek-era GBV. Still, Kathy Foster’s heavy bass lines are more in-front than I’ve ever noticed. All this is good in a lofi era that prefers more bedroom and less digital. The key is that The Thermals did not tweak their aesthetic too much. Personal Life is still unmistakably a Thermals’record. The production and new themes demonstrate a band who knows what they are and are simply growing. I mean, you can’t play punk rock forever, can you Billie Joe?
In much the same way The Thermals have slightly altered their aesthetic, The Walkmen continue to play with their own aesthetic that won them a Saturn commercial and our collective indie rock hearts so long ago. Lisbon is yet another boozy, late-summer gem that not only furthers The Walkmen mystique but also plays with the formula a bit.
I’m a huge fan of The Walkmen. I’ve made no secret of this fact. They play a post-punk soul like no one since The Afghan Whigs fucked it up back in the mid-nineties. The Walkmen have a recipe that works. They look good. They keep it simple. And they just put out good records.
Lisbon starts off a bit slow, but upon repeated listen, opening track “Juveniles” grows on the listener with nuance and feeling. This is how the rest of the record rolls. The band knows how to use their retro sound and sparse production to create one of the most engaging and sonic aesthetics in music. No one makes records like these. Soul, punk, sonics, feedback, nods to the past, booze, soft-loud dynamics, etc. This just works every time.
Most interesting in the transformation of The Walkmen sound is Hamilton Leithauser’s voice. It’s actually improved. I’m sure it’s from tour after tour of screaming himself hoarse every night or not. And the development feels authentic. This is not a classically trained singer by any means. I always appreciated his imperfections, but the steady improvement of his vocals are noticeable and welcomed.
This post is heavy on aesthetic. All three albums I’m reviewing here represent my tastes as far as aesthetics are concerned. The Thermals represent a youthful punk exuberance. The Walkmen channel ghosts of rock n roll past as played over a sonic wall few can achieve. All three take advantage of some level of lofi, feedback heavy aesthetic, but Deerhunter comes to this most purposefully. Few bands represent the current trend in indie aesthetic more than Deerhunter. This is not to downgrade their material, it’s just how they represent on a superficial level. Of course, their music is anything but superficial or merely for aesthetics alone. This is just how they sound on first listen, without much investigation.
First, Halcyon Digest will never be confused for Microcastle. Or any other heavy-handed previous Deerhunter release. Still, somehow, the band maintains its aesthetic of guitar jangle, muffled bedroom vocals, noise, malleable lyrics, etc. Aesthetic preserved.
Halcyon Digest is not at all what I expected, but it works for the most part. It’s loopy, laid back, and sloppy. There’s plenty of angst in the lyrics. It’s compact and whatever the opposite of sprawling is. It’s a ghost of an album and sometimes that’s all you need. The quieter moments in this record are the strongest and most satisfying for sure.
That said, I am having trouble finding some cohesion in this record. At times, it challenges, then it invites air time on your favorite Clear Channel alt radio station. It lulls you to sleep and jerks you awake. I’d say the sequence is uneven, but I can’t figure out where…
OK. I’m nit-picking. There isn’t much wrong with Halcyon Digest, but I am having trouble grasping its brilliance and its folly. The trouble with this indecision is that I don’t think it’s a grower. Some albums tell you that over the course of the first three or so listens. This one doesn’t indicate to me that it will grow on me, but I don’t know that it’s supposed to.
Whatever. Deerhunter still records a better record than 99.9% of the bands earning 9+ on P4k. That should be worth something, maybe a little faith in their recipe. Like I said, at least the aesthetics are there.
So, there’s the three record reviews promised in the title. It’s as schizophrenic a post as I’ve done in a while, but the important thing to remember is that aesthetic tells us as much about the music we love as almost anything else. All three records present a different aesthetic, but all are worth your time and hard-earned dollars.
Please comment and make sense of what I just told you.
1More Tobin Sprout than Bob Pollard.
2Blinkerton Weezer. Also, Ocasek-era GBV is not the best era and did not involve Tobin Sprout. Yes, I contradict myself.
3Seriously, Billie Joe, hang it up.
4Although Lisbon and You & Me are the only two that have actually been released at the end of the summer, all their records sound that way.
5Seriously. The Afghan Whigs had something going with Gentlemen and even Black Love (to a lesser extent) until they sort of forgot what they were doing. Kids today don’t realize how good that band was.
6This post also represents my tendency to being repetitive. Repeatedly. Again.
7Honestly, I’m not that familiar with Deerhunter’s discography. I’m going by what I’ve heard and read.
8The sonic levels reached are quite enjoyable as well, but they don’t reach as high as the last time out.
9This is the point where this post loses its own cohesion.
10What a copout.