Pennyblackmusic Presents: Heist & Idiot Son + The Volunteered & Simon Bromide

Headlining are Heist with support from Idiot Son , The Volunteered and Simon Bromide
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Various - This Is Indie Rock: Volume One

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 25 / 1 / 2005

Various - This Is Indie Rock: Volume One
Label: Deep Elm
Format: CD


Expansive debut in new compilation series from former spearheads of the "emo " genre Deep Elm, which aims to promote previously unheard indie rock bands

In 2004 Deep Elm completed its compilation series 'The Emo Diaries' after ten volumes, and replaced it with a new compilation series, 'This Is Indie Rock'. So, the question posed is this; if this really is the state of indie rock, then what does it tell us? Well, it tells us that even though the word ‘emo’ is out of fashion, the music has not changed. In 2001 and 2002, ‘emo’ became a fashionable term, though many of the bands had been playing since the mid-90's, or were influenced by bands from that period. Then, as it got more popular, the trendsetters (self-appointed) decided it wasn’t cool. Deep Elm went from being a label that documented an ignored style of music with a varied and talented line-up, to a backward label that peddled unfashionable emo-rock in about a month. 'This Is Indie Rock' has the same job as 'The Emo Diaries', in that it presents 12 unknown bands, all contributing an unreleased song. The change in title may indicate a willingness to broaden the stylistic base, but my guess is the change in title came because the word ‘emo’ got in the way of people giving the songs a fair listen. The word ‘emo’ was not a good one. I don’t like the way it implies a drawing of lines, a defence mechanism. It is a trap many critics fall into, allowing the idea of right and wrong to creep in, when how we respond to music comes largely from our own personal history with the bands. It is stupid to dismiss a band because their shows aren’t selling out and they don’t have a PR, but it is just as stupid to dismiss a band because their shows are selling out and they do have a PR! ‘Indie rock’ is a better term, though not flawless (indeed, Deep Elm owner John Szuch has said it is “even more vague” than ‘emo’). It still gives a rather ‘superior’ impression, but does allow more stylistic inclusion. I still don’t like the way that it is marked up as artistically superior. To me, when I hear people talking about ‘alternative’ music or ‘indie-rock’ music, I think of people that rate the Pixies as the ‘most influential band’, and claim to prefer post-rock to the Beatles or the Beach Boys. In fact, most of these people simply reject the mainstream for equally predictable fare. This compilation claims to represent this ‘indie-rock’ universe. The tendency towards distorted guitars, self-consciously angsty vocals sometimes sounds too dull and lacking in originality. I worry that some bands get so obsessed with ideas of ‘indie authenticity’. Such bands hide behind their ‘indie’ status as a substitute for actually having ideas of their own. But, Deep Elm are good spotters and have once more trawled through the (doubtless many) average bands and found some with real talent. The Blind King’s ‘Indie Pop Song’ mocks the awkward position indie rock finds itself in, repeating that this is ‘JUST an indie pop song’. But it sounds very pleasant as a drum machine leads into two guitar lines; one simple and melodic and the other spurting and more distorted. Half-mumbled lead vocals and a female backing singer make a good combination. It may be nothing more than an indie pop song, but it is at once clear that this band means a lot to them, and is the compilation’s first gem. It is not unlike the quiet music of Pedro the Lion, and after noticing that they have 6 full members and 2 guests providing vocals and lead guitars, I am left wondering how on earth they make so little noise. Second Hand Stories is acoustic music from a hippie dude with dreads, and shows that this series will not just be about four piece rock bands with guitars and scruffy hair (but, for the record, neither was 'The Emo Diaries' by the end.) There are some changes of tempo on their contribution 'Frontiers' that don’t quite work, but other than that a very strong production and vocals similar to Damien Jurado make for a pleasant listen. The biggest departure is 'Silver and Gold' by Joanna Erdos, which is recorded on piano, not guitar. There is a whiff of jazz on this track, and Erdos seems unsure whether to pitch herself as an indie rocker like Cat Power or a jazz singer like Norah Jones. The indecision is her strength. This song sounds like it would make a better album track than a single, but it is one that I’ve noted to look for more from. Winter in Alaska are another real find. 'Puzzle; Part One' has a deep bass line surging out and a vocal that made me think of Roddy from Idlewild. The two guitar lines play well together, and sound vaguely post-rock styled. This leads into a more typical indie-rock chorus. I’d love to hear more from this band, as the singer has a good voice and the interplay from the musicians sounds great. My favourite song is 'Rooms' by Leaving Rouge, which sounds like it has come from a band that loves its craft. This song is not over-ambitious, but the combination of the most beautiful instrument (piano) with soaring guitar chords, and some yearning vocals is very affecting. Other bands offer up some strong ideas, and there are tracks that are pitched in pop/punk and others that aim for a hardcore metal sound. I’ve picked out the ones I feel would be capable of making good albums, but none of the songs were actually bad. Oddly, the only band here with an album out on Deep Elm, Claire De Lune, offer a song much weaker than anything on their debut album. Strange, because they are an ambitious, original band, and this song sounds far too typical. ‘Indie-Rock’ is an expansive field, riddled with critical controversies and muddled as to its true purpose. The Deep Elm label has set itself a tough task to truly define Indie Rock, but listening to this compilation does give me hope. Bands seem clear where they stand, and there is room for people to play the music they want to play. As ever, one can only congratulate Deep Elm for persevering with young bands rather than snapping up eye-catching names, and as such giving bedroom based listeners an eye to the grass roots scene. Perhaps they should have called it 'The Indie Rock Diaries', because this is the world as Deep Elm like to see it.

Track Listing:-
1 The Pit That Became A Tower- I Must Save The President
2 Clair De Lune- Marionettes
3 The Blind King- Indie Pop Song
4 Dino Velvet- Weekend Warriors
5 Second Hand Stories- Frontiers
6 Throat- Saturday
7 Winter In Alaska- Puzzle: Part One
8 Joanna Erdos- Silver And Gold
9 Siva- G
10 Lakota- So Simple
11 Leaving Rouge- Rooms
12 The Kidcrash- Bells And Hammers

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