“Meet Me in the City:” A Pop Revival Primer, Part IV (2011)

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While Vivian Girls continued in their success, their position as critical darlings had been taken forcefully in late 2010 by another girl group, Dum Dum Girls. They were louder in both sound and sight, and more importantly, they were from Los Angeles, not New York.

Los Angeles had the nation’s foremost indie music station in KCRW, an NPR affiliate, at a time when New York no longer had even a rock station. It had The Echo, a small but venerable modern-day version of Manchester’s Haçienda. And nearby Pasadena had a new music festival, now poised to be one of the most important in America. So it is no surprise that Los Angeles rapidly became the new center of the genre.

As local scenes became more diffuse, national exposure became more diffucult. La Sera is a great band, but its first album, immensely popular in the scattered western cities, was so obscure in Chicago that the AV Club only managed to write about them once the second had come out. They’re doing much better now, but it’s telling that even their most recent tour was most concentrated in California.

Though Pop Revival today is at its peak of popularity, it is limited by a problem of parochialism. It is dominated by local bands, popular in their native region and among a handful of devotees elsewhere. Every once in a while, a Gotye or Grouplove will achieve nationwide success but few other bands will.

This is a challenge to every prominent music genre today, except for Dubstep, which the behemoth record labels took as their own: Mumford and Sons have made it big in bluegrass while Trampled by Turtles remain a purely midwestern phenomenon. In the days before the internet, keeping in touch with contemporary culture meant living in (a) New York, (b) Chicago, or (c) wherever the music was being made. Now the music is being made everywhere,* and it’s getting awful crowded.

Ironically, the band that stands to dominate Pop Revival nationwide is Best Coast, who have made a veritable gimmick of their provincialism. The title track off most recent release, The Only Place, was described by KCRW as sounding “as if it had been written by the California tourist board.” The reviewer said that’s what he loved about it, but for others that was they hated. The rest of the album is good though.

Next time: Number-ones are made as a genre reaches its peak– and gets its first villain.

*The sole exception to this appears to be Northern New England, which is culturally silent. Probably for the better in a region where Keane is still taken seriously.

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