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


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.

Flight of the Conchords – “Carol Brown”

When: 26 November 2009
Where: My mom’s apartment
Who: My mom and bubby
Weather: Cool

I came back home for the first time since my mom moved out of the house. I preferred to take the overnight train– less precious vacation time wasted– and crashed at her apartment reading the latest articles from the AV Club. With a whole week off, I decided to revisit another high school institution that had recently been revived, Flight of the Conchords.

After inviting my dad to thanksgiving for the only time ever, Mom and I gave the new season a look, and I was struck by how much darker it was than the first. It was the story of failure, with the added bonus of Korean songs and budget bears. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it then, but I liked it more later.

Next: I return to a city from my troubled past, but it feels more like trespassing.

Elliott Smith – “Kiwi Maddog 20/20”

When: 20 August 2008
Where: The Grapevine
Who: My parents
Weather: Hot, sunny

“Smith also had a slyly humorous side, which he exhibits on the closing instrumental “Kiwi Maddog 20/20,” a languid surf-y tune that wouldn’t be out of place playing over the credits of a Quentin Tarantino film. Which means “Kiwi Maddog 20/20″ is totally out of place on a collection of depressing folk-pop songs, though after 30 minutes with Smith’s quiet tales of desperation it’s practically a lifeline.”

When I first read that on The AV Club, I could have said the same. Managing school, work, a girlfriend, and college admissions was an uphill battle, and I didn’t always win. I lost my job at Bulgarini’s when they left me off the schedule and never fixed it. And I’d made myself physically ill thinking about all these things. But finally the fear had passed, and it was time to collect my reward. The night before leaving, I actually jumped for joy, so high and so hard that I hit my head on the ceiling. I tried not to fall asleep that night so as not to have a concussion.

I didn’t, and the next day we were on the road north. I’d prepared myself a “travelling playlist” which included this song. I had never risen higher…

Next: …And before I knew it, I had never fallen further.

SoulDecision – “Faded”

When: 8:00 PM, 31 December 2000
Where: My living room
Who: Several family members
Weather: Cold, clear

“Canuck funksters SoulDecision resembled a boy band, with their male-model looks, wholesome sexuality, and shitty, shitty name, but they actually wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, which made them an anomaly in Lou Pearlman’s heyday. NOW! Volume 5 compiles “Faded,” one of the compilation’s few pleasant surprises.”

–Nathan Rabin

SoulDecision is one of the few mainstream pop-acts to be fawned over by AV Clubbers for two reasons: One, they make their own music and two, the music is good. So this hidden gem was an appropriate dance number for the close of the 20th century.

In Pasadena, you go out on New Years’ Eve, eat a ton of food, shoot silly string everywhere and either camp out on the street or go home. I’ve done both (we’ll get back to that in about nine years), but this time it was just home after some particularly energizing shrimp tempura. I danced my ass off, and none of that Dance Dance Revolution jumping masquerading as dance. I was really into it. I have a picture of it somewhere, my spiky hair and pilot’s jacket, but I don’t know where.

Prepare to get your car buried in toilet paper

Next: We in Pasadena were also very proud to know that the new millennium started in 2001, starting with Daft Punk!