Gallimaufry

By Mac Weekly Staff

I have absolutely no interest in hearing the new Shins album, “Wincing the Night Away.” Ditto for the new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! The predominantly glowing reviews of Joanna Newsom’s “Ys” warranted a quick download and cursory listen, but nothing more. There’s room in my hard drive, but not in my tympanic membranes, for the latest opuses from Of Montreal, Animal Collective, Explosions in the Sky, !!!, Bloc Party, or even Arcade Fire. And somewhere in my cold dead indie heart, a little man can’t help but beg the question, “Why?”

We could chalk it up to the quality of the work in question, the sophomore slumps and misguided alterations in vision, but even this doesn’t address the sheer lack of curiousity. These are bands that at one point or another captured something extraordinary and managed to create fantastic sonic documents out of it. Bands about which I could’ve written pages upon pages and still just scratch the surface. And only within a year or so ago! Why is it that I don’t even care to hear what they might say next? Why the shunning, the banishment to irrelevance that I so coldly feel for bands I so warmly welcomed upon initial reception?
Perhaps the explanation, or at least part of it, lies in that oh-so-quickly blamed scapegoat The Internet. The fact remains that today’s in-the-know music aficionados (and even casual listeners) have immediate access to music the moment it is made, through downloading, myspace, and similar outlets. Add to that the hydra-headed behemoth of online criticism, websites such as Pitchfork that provide five new album reviews, multiple song downloads, videos, news and discussion every day, or blogs that have the capacity to update multiple times a day with new caches of opinions, finds, and links galore, and you have a hyper-accelerated culture of new media consumption and instant critical dialogue.
Directly linked to this ever-expanding online consumption, of course, is the indie music culture itself, transformed to the point that music fans who came of age prior to our generation’s internet-savvy epoch would be hard pressed to recognize, let alone understand, it. To claim indie rock as a subculture is now laughable. Indie rock today is blatantly above ground, widespread in popularity to such an extent that major television shows and Hollywood films cash in on its supposed street cred. In other words, while the fabled college rock revolution of the eighties existed on a word-of-mouth popularity and fan-based dedication, today’s independent music is in the open, accessible through the simple click of a mouse.

What this all amounts to, of course, is exactly that which begged the question. Bands today can no longer experience the sort of long-term fanbase that pre-indienet cultivated. Far more important than what a single band will do from album to album is what the next band will do. It is a culture of newness, in which trends and cultural commentary changes from week to week. Disagree? Name the last band that experienced the kind of attention album-to-album that The Rolling Stones once experienced. For my money, I can only name Radiohead, whose “OK Computer” may well have been the last culturally-unifying album we will see. That is to say, the question “What will Radiohead do next?” was a shared one, at least among a significantly broad cross-section of listeners.
This may sound obvious or, worse, insignificant. On the second charge, I can assure you it is not. There was a time when purchasing the newest Rolling Stones or Beatles or even Nirvana album was a shared event, and as such, signified a broad cultural meaning. The consumption of Teen Spirit signaled a unified adoption of the “Nevermind” message behind grunge. It was a shared event, and it mattered as such. Nevermind wasn’t blogged, it was experienced. This is the difference, and it is a crucial one.

The point of this column (and those that follow) is loosely based around this concept, a concept I’ll call “gallimaufry.” Gallimaufry describes a mish-mash, a loose miscellany. But the word has its origins in cuisine, as a European soup with no dominant flavor, but consisting of disparate meats, vegetables, and breads that the gourmand may pick and choose from. I’d like to propose that this is the state of our culture, one lacking in any distinct motivating flavor, something that separates it from any cultural era that proceeded it. So the question of why I find myself lukewarm at the idea of a second Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Album is easily answered: I’ve already digested that particular flavor, and need only to move on to my next choice.
Gallimaufry is a column authored by the Arts editors.