“How Far We’ve Come:” A Pop Revival Primer, Part V (2012)

Sam France

In 2012, Pop Revival finally acquired mainstream attention. Bands of the genre were performing on talk shows, featured on magazine covers and the soundtracks to MTV’s more bohemian-minded series. Not since the heady, “Rock is Back” media push ten years prior had a subgenre of Rock and Roll so forcefully (but far less forcibly) arrived in the general consciousness. What’s more, Pop Revival in 2012 achieved what Garage Rock Revival never did: a number-one American single.

Of course, “Somebody I Used to Know” is not a song terribly indicative of Gotye or Pop Revival in general. But it was #1 for 8 weeks, and by the end cover versions were already being heard on the radio. In a period of regionalism and the decline of the music industry, when the best hope of a hit single was pure novelty, that meant something serious. It was one of perhaps three songs that year that absolutely everyone heard. But there were also trade-offs.

When a genre is in its infancy, it’s easy to pick and choose the best artists to represent it, but when popularity comes knocking, there’s a great fear among tastemakers that people will mostly choose the most artificial and unfortunate one of the lot. Just as Grunge had Temple of the Dog, just as the British Invasion had Herman’s Hermits, pop revival would get its first great villain.

Lana del Rey a.k.a. Lizzy Grant was an obscure but well-received 2010 album; unsurprisingly the titular artist re-released it after her second album, Born to Die, was panned by critics in a manner ranging from mildly favourable to startlingly vicious. Born to Die had none of the emotion of the original Lana del Rey; and amidst new rumours of plastic surgery and an unexpectedly dreadful performance on Saturday Night Live, Lana del Rey would serve as a shibboleth to distinguish Pop Revival’s newest fans from the rest.

Meanwhile, Best Coast released their second, (mostly) darker album, establishing Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno as the faces of Pop Revival worldwide. La Sera performed two tours and released a second album that was met with praise in the Western US and a footnote everywhere else. LA newcomers Allah-Las found a similar challenge with regionalism, though they did have an unexpected run-in with current events.

So what will come of 2013?

As discussed before, Pop Revival is the rare (perhaps only) non-niche branch of rock music dominated by female singers, leading AV Clubber Jonathan Shapiro to write: “There’s a huge number of amazing bands with female lead singers right now. If only today’s male vocalists didn’t sound so bland and interchangeable.” Mr. Shapiro’s complaint may have been answered this past July:

I first saw Foxygen open for Magic Trick, who opened for La Sera. The band comprises Jonathan Rado and Sam France, with accompaniment by Rado’s girlfriend Jaclyn Cohen (I very nearly hit on her earlier that night). Rado is a consummate professional and France is a flamboyant force of reckoning onstage. But all I could think of as I watched them perform was “they’re going to do really well when they transition to Dream Pop.

This is probably it, you see. This is where Pop Revival peaks. It’s daughter genre Dream Pop is already coming into its own and winning the hearts of critics and listeners through bands like Tame Impala and Wild Nothing. And as pop revival begins its inevitable decline, there will be a band who will, as Arctic Monkeys did seven years ago, lead us into the next step in Rock’s evolution. Foxygen may be that band.


Stone Temple Pilots – “Silvergun Superman”

When: June 2007
Where: Claremont Street
Who: Nobody
Weather: Foggy

After the exciting events of the spring, I jumped, yearned for summer to arrive so I could make some real trouble. It was not the whirlwind adventure I’d hoped for, but it was good enough, because every once in a while, you realize that there are some fundamental things that you have missed. For me, that meant catching up on Stone Temple Pilots.

I spent much of that June wandering under the fog, confidently walking around town feebly looking for something to do. At the time I was listening to this, I was on my way to get a sandwich after “the Sunflower incident”– yet another failed attempt to do something interesting. But like always, adventure would have to find me. Seeking it out only made me look crazy or stupid.

Next: Hallows Eve.

Smashing Pumpkins – “Zero”

When: March 2004
Where: Home Ec, Barnhart Middle School
Who: Several Classmates
Weather: Clear

Mrs. Hall was a nice old lady, but she let us listen to our music when we did our sewing. This wasn’t always a good thing. Sometimes a song would come on we weren’t sure she’d approve of, and in our embarrassment we would start conversations and keep the volume up until the song was over. Such was the life of the private school student.

Once it was a particularly objectionable song– a soft and cuddly cover of a gangsta rap– and we ended up all yelling at each other. When it was finally over, this song came on, and we could go back to normal.

Next: Muse arrives, aggravates.

Nirvana – “Sliver”

When: 21 October 2003
Where: Somewhere on King Street, Alexandria, Virginia
Who: Elliot Van Nest and David Paez
Weather: Rain

With all the benefits of going to a private school, I got to go on a class trip to Washington, DC. It was a tradition at our school for 7th-graders to go to Yosemite and 8th-graders to our nation’s capitol, one that had been pre-empted or postponed in recent years by 9/11 and the Beltway Sniper. Hurricane Isabel nearly killed it for us, but we got to go right on time anyway.

Our trip didn’t start in DC, though. First we switched planes in Charlotte, my first taste of the South, thence to Norfolk, where we met up with our regular driver Kurt. The first days were to be spent at Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and I fell in love with Virginia. It was just so different, and it was old and pretty.

After visiting the battlefield at Yorktown on Tuesday, we pulled through the evening to Alexandria in the pouring rain. While my roommates slept, I couldn’t help but stare out the window and listen to my Nirvana CDs, euphoric from the alien landscape. I wasn’t in the west anymore. I was in America.

Next: Fighting fire with Fire

Bush – “Machinehead”

When: 16 March 2003
Where: Barnhart Middle School
Who: Several classmates
Weather: Cool, clear

Before I begin, I must remark that the only thing weirder than having a blog about all the music you listened to on the radio, is when the DJ who played the music starts reading it. Greetings, Stryker.


Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to 2003. It’s been a long time since the last installment of Background Music, and a full three months have passed since the last song. So, what’s been going on?

For women, lowrise jeans finally made it to west coast middle schools, much to my titillation and later disgust. America was three days from going to war just for the hell of it, but if you spoke against it you’d probably get your ass kicked.

And before this all went down, we had a school dance. I’d gone to the Barnhart dances before, but this one was different. It was St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, I spiked my hair for the last time ever, turned it green, and kicked ass on the dance floor. But suddenly something happened. I stopped having a crush on that one girl, the one that had so compelled me to go to this school. I was free. And it suddenly occurred to me that this dance sucked. I mean, this wasn’t even dance music.

I slept at my Bubby’s, somewhat euphoric. I hung around there every once in a while for a few weeks until I promptly came down with a serious case of the flu.

Next: Rock is Back!™ Meet The Vines!™

Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”

When: 8 December 2002
Where: Lake Avenue exit eastbound, The 210
Who: My mother
Weather: Intermittently cloudy, wet

Here’s what happens: A Jewish boy takes Sunday School, then takes three years of Hebrew School, then takes a year to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. Once that happens, he’s gone.

With all of this in mind, I headed home from Sunday school following an ethical discussion of Crimes and Misdemeanors, and this song came on. I asked my Mom if she thought it had a certain Beatlesque quality to it. I think I was thinking about “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Next: Racing to the finish