I wrote a blog post last year about how independent musicians, including local ones, are growing increasingly comfortable taking cash from companies willing to support their music. Fair enough.
But recently I’ve been noticing what’s happening on the other side of the increasingly blurred line between art and commerce in independent music: In Charlottesville’s restaurants, shops and cafés, critically acclaimed indie rock is becoming the new muzak—that is, music to buy stuff to.
I’ve been informally jotting down indie rock tunes as I’ve heard them in businesses around town. Arcade Fire’s "Ready to Start" was blasting in Revolutionary Soup yesterday afternoon as I downed a quesadilla. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ "Home," a catchy track that quickly grew insufferable, which draws from twee indie rock traditions like Mariachi-ish horns (Beulah, Neutral Milk Hotel and so on) and whistling (Peter Bjorn and John, Andrew Bird), seems to be playing everywhere. And the once-indie-darling duo MGMT’s "Electric Feel" was playing at the Sears Sunday afternoon at Fashion Square Mall.
On one level, I like the thought that independent musicians get a couple cents from BMI, ASCAP or SESAC when their tunes get played inside a business. But on the other, how do you square the consensus among the critical establishment that most of each of these bands is breaking down boundaries with the smiles on the shoppers’ faces? If the cream of the independent crop is so widely digestible, what purpose does that independence serve?
It may very well be the case that this music is very listenable and rewards whatever attention you give it beyond the surface level. But still—whatever happened to music that pisses off your parents?
Here are some tunes that I heard while shopping last week, and the scores the albums they appeared on received on the review aggregator site Metacritic.
Arcade Fire’s "Ready to Start."
From The Suburbs.
Metacritic score: 87.
MGMT’s "Electric Feel"
Metacritic score: 72.
The Decemberists’ "We Both Go Down Together"
Metacritic score: 81.
Band of Horses’ "The Funeral"
From Everything All the Time.
Metacritic score: 78.
The Shins‘ "New Slang"
From Chutes Too Narrow.
Metacritic score: 88.
Grizzly Bear’s "Two Weeks"
Metacritic score: 85.
What do you like to shop to?