Not all revolutions grow up to become dogmas – only the good ones! No need to lose sleep over it; it is just the rhythm of the cultural process. We’d all like our moment – the moment at which we do our best work – to be one of resonance, relevance and impact. But the great wheel doesn’t care about that. It can’t care; it’s just a wheel.
Good art is as likely to come at the close of a movement as at the top, but artists at the end stage of the cycle have to explain (often from the grave) why they weren’t part of the new revolutionary foment around them – how they missed that memo about their own irrelevance. They tend to be unfairly perceived as conservative or “establishment,” even though they were just speaking their heart’s truth, like everyone else. No one gets to control context. You barely even get to choose your own influences, as the formative ones do their damage long before you’re even aware of it. (Thanks for nothing, Kansas.)
This is my version of the Serenity Prayer for all you ink- and tune-stained wretches: If, through no fault of your own, you are born passé, be the best damn passé that you can be, and then sit back and wait for the revisionists to detect and defend your genius. It could happen.
Take indie rock: a genre of young collegiate theorists, and thus one ecstatically contorted by its own contradictions. Originally, “indie” described not a sound or a style but a status – a non-relationship to the mainstream music economy and a do-it-yourself workflow. But indie quickly became associated with a set of styles. The essential indie guitar rock bands like Pavement (my favorite) and Archers of Loaf put the slack in the indie sound: intentionally and proudly half-assed, detuned, shaky, not only permissive of slop but in love with it.
Good revolutions grow up to be dogmas, and today’s indie bands are well-schooled in how to sound so unschooled, always on the hunt for fresh new ways to be awkward. And, really, it is still a beautiful and necessary thing.
Fans of the area’s tenuously burgeoning indie rock scene (like me) had best find their way to Bacchus in New Paltz this Saturday, June 16, at 10 p.m., when Shana Falana, Breakfast in Fur, Battle Ave. and Quarterbacks perform in an event billed as a sendoff for Falana and drummer/Lovesick frontman Mike Amari, who are launching a grueling, 24-date coast-to-coast-to-coast American tour – indie-style.
Falana’s luminous, layered ambient guitar pop has been the subject of considerable hubbub lately, and justly so. Her multimedia-enhanced performances are an immersive sensory treat, and the material holds up extremely well on record – which is not always the case when music marries visual art. In the Light, a six-song EP released in January of 2012, displays Falana’s genius for complex textures, naïve melody and swelling/subsiding, long-arc song forms. It is inherently visual music even without its video complement. Bearing the distinctive sonic stamp of New Paltz-based producer Kevin McMahon (Swans, Titus Andronicus) and mastered to a warm, articulate glow by Jamal Ruhe, the EP is all swirling light and dreamlike, stormy darkness. It’s a stunning realization of Falana’s ether-pop vision.
In only a few years of existence, the New Paltz-based quartet Breakfast in Fur has evolved into a rocking and road-tested outfit with a taste for odd sound combinations and disarmingly unadorned lyrics and vocals. Fronted by guitarist/songwriter Dan Wolfe and accordionist/keyboardist/drummer and minister of graphic design Kaitlin Van Pelt, Breakfast in Fur’s live sound is a fascinating mixture of spirited, instrument-swapping naïveté and some downright-chopsy blowing, courtesy of multi-instrumentalists Michael Hollis and Matt Ross. The new indie has finally made some room for virtuosity. Check out Dirty Projectors if you don’t believe me.
Bearsville-born Battle Ave. works the indie side of emo (a term that I am sure that its members loathe, but they must remember that I am not talking to specialists here): vocals that start at 10 on the tremulous scale, hyperdramatic band dynamics, storming atmospherics and a crunchy core sound that comes from a time before indie and alternative arrived at the fork in the road. Its McMahon-produced EP War Paint is gripping rock.
Another New Paltz concern, Quarterbacks, play a deliriously tuneful, breakneck indie punk that perches on that exhilarating razor’s edge between inept and ept, where so much of the most influential indie rock has always lived. Songwriter Dean Engle’s lyrics score again and again with half-winking, half-weeping, girl-powered suffering and rejoicing. And every now and then you catch a glimpse of a band that is playing at musical innocence, more than truly not knowing any better. It’s that old indie thing.
For more information on this June 16 show, call (845) 255-8636 or go to http://bacchusnewpaltz.com/calendar. Bacchus Restaurant, Bar & Billiards is located at 4 South Chestnut Street in New Paltz.