As we enter the 12th year of the 21st century, an increasing number of young independent recording artists are shedding their “bratty” images. Are these true moves toward a “matured” sound or just away from the risks of cliche?
(Classic Best Coast track: “Crazy for You” [mp3])
It had to happen eventually: Bethany Cosentino is giving up on words that end in “y”, writing a “grown up” record that’s apparently less about lethargy and cat obsessions and, rather, more “emo” (which I guess she’s trying to tell us is an album about feelings… whatever that means…). In her recent interview with Pitchfork, the Best Coast front-woman mapped out her plans to release a more matured album sometime later this year, describing her work with producer Jon (Mr. I-scored-I ❤ Huckabees-what-did-you-ever-do?) Brion and a significant step away from the simplistic songwriting that both drove and diminished her highly listenable first LP. While Crazy for You was a pop gem, it lacked the lyrical prowess and compositional complexity needed to truly warrant the artistic acclaim in managed to garner. It felt more like a guilty pleasure than a fully realized masterpiece back in 2010, and while it catapulted Best Coast to the forefront of indie’s most popular acts, one couldn’t help but ask whether Cosentino’s bratty lo-fi tunes were worth hailing her the queen of the scene.
Best Coast is hardly the only indie mega-act looking for a little adult credibility. One of 2011’s most controversial and unapologetic indie fixtures, Tyler, The Creator of Wu-Tang Clan part-deux (aka Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), is reportedly in the works of a followup to last year’s Goblin LP. Having built his career (or hype, as it were) around an aggressively nihilistic image of contemporary youth culture, rampant disregard for authority or self-reservation, and disrespect for just about everyone and anything around him, the idea of a human-caricature like himself turning away from lyrics about rape, killing people, and generally acting like an all-around a**hole seems to go against the unrelenting pseudo-realist aggro-principles he’s built his image around. While Cosentino’s move toward mature songwriting at least hints a step in the right direction, Tyler’s works against the only thing going for his buzz-machine: unrestricted mania and a dedication to shock-value.
The idea of the “mature” followup has been in place as long as recorded music has been a medium, and the move toward softened songwriting is an omnipresence especially in the independent music scene. One of my personal favorite groups, The Walkmen, jump-started their career with garage-rock revival and now stand as one of the most thoughtful and “grown-up” acts in the scene (along with bands like the National or *shudder* My Morning Jacket… The Walkmen are exponentially more poignant than both). The late Jay Reatard took similar strides toward a matured sound with Watch Me Fall and even the recently disbanded LCD Soundsystem saw significant maturation after their first record (let’s be honest, guys: “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” pales in comparison to just about anything on the two latter LPs or subsequent EPs). Still it’s often difficult to gauge how ready an act is to truly move past “bratty” songwriting: take for example Cloud Nothings’ new record (which you can read a review for HERE). Where their first true LP was an energetic blast of youthful songwriting, the second album drags under an ambitious emotional weight the band simply can’t carry yet.
(The Walkmen [doing it right] – “On the Water” [mp3])
At risk of saying “if it ain’t broke…”, I do feel like many acts (especially in the independent music scene) feel pressured to move past the workable styles and structure of previous records merely out of a fear of losing relevancy with contemporary audiences. And while tastes have certainly shifted towards the quieted sounds that dominated critics’ and listener review polls last year (Bon Iver, I’m looking at you… drowsily…), hasty departure from a sound and vibe that compliments the actual maturity of the songwriting (and songwriters) can only stand to detract from the credibility of a “matured” followup, and in turn, its relevancy. So don’t feel like you have to plug us with a “grown up” record, guys: just do what you do best, and take it in strides. After all, most of you have only been with us for less than three years anyways!