I have a problem. Let me explain.
Au Revoir Simone’s “Shadows” presented by David Lynch Foundation Television
Au Revoir Simone have released the debut music video, “Shadows,” from their forthcoming album, “Still Night, Still Light.” Yet again, the music is warm and wonderful, with clever, deceptively-simple ostinatos and earnest melodies delivered in wispy vocals. But the release also suggests the new album is going to be more of what we got in the last albums – pleasant and dreamy, but absent, ironically, any hint of “shadows.” The music video comes again from Vikram Gandhi and Brendan Colthurst of Disposable, a firm with expertise in indie-tilted but finely-crafted and always-safe music videos. Their previous outing on “Sad Song”, featuring un-ironic, sweet footage of the trio baking cookies, seemed to capture the blissfully good intentions of the talented Brooklyn outfit. Here, though, the video seems to fixate on its crushes, alternately on the ladies, their vintage synths (just one more effects shot over the top of the JUNO-60), or both. It’s product placement for hardware that isn’t made any more.
I begin to wonder if all of this is moving us, the music fans and critics, into dangerous territory, tangled in indie cred and inescapable nostalgia. I expect some of you wonder why, years into an avalanche of releases with whisper-thin vocals of [boy/girl] atop vintage [square wave synth] and [lo-fi beat box] it would take me until now to come to this conclusion. I love Ms. John Soda and Lali Puna and the many other bands whose stripped-down style is close to Au Revoir Simone’s, but it seems by definition the sort of music that doesn’t need description or explanation or analysis. Yet, oddly, we have even more publicity for a band that seems not to need it.
After all, for a Brooklyn band that makes lovely, earnest tunes, do you really need to know that it has an endorsement from David Lynch? Lynch is a talented visionary, but does that mean you need his musical advice – and isn’t there a danger that it’s not longing for his insight but yet more 80s nostalgia, for headier times with landmark art, here for Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986) in place of a Roland JUNO-60 (1982).
This is not a critique of Au Revoir Simone, or their lovely music. It’s meant as a critique of us, in 2009 – of me. I expect this trio has found their identity and musical voice honestly. It seems not to be changing – that’s fine; change for change’s sake is never an appropriate answer for an artist. But their output it just one place on the musical spectrum, and it’s a place with which I fear the rest of us have become overly fixated.
It’s possible to become crippled by nostalgia and romanticized ideas of what constitutes authenticity. There are times for synth-art-folk. But there are times when we need to find music that’s dangerous, uncomfortable, radical, and not in any way like a batch of warm cookies, to find men and women who are recluse and don’t have any endorsement from anyone.
Therein lies my problem. I know that this is in part the responsibility of those of us in the press. As writers about technology music – in that order – part of what we can do is to highlight things that are genuinely new. New technology does not necessarily mean new music, but the presence of radical tools can be connected to radical artists. I think we risk becoming, instead, caught up in gear lust, in artist lust, and hero worship.
To everything, indeed, there is a season. So I put it to you that it’s perfectly appropriate to admire the new work from Au Revoir Simone – but also that we need to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum. And as I always do, I ask you for your help: who should we cover? What artists would merit the time of outlets covering technology and new music, so that we talk not only about the lovely gadgets and lovely tunes?
My problem is, I often don’t have the perspective to track the output of music in the age of global abundance, while also troubleshooting driver issues, programming, and making my own humble attempt to be an artist myself. I can never be a perfect critic, because of the dangers inherent in being artist and critic simultaneously. But I am nonetheless a lover of danger and the new. I hope that our abundant, globally-connected community can find a way to tell the story of that music. I expect a lot of it is outside of Brooklyn – love that borough as I do. I hope we can find more work there, the stuff that truly lives in the shadows.
Side note, in the interests of explanation: Aaron asks in comments, isn’t it unfair to single out a band? Indeed, yes – it is profoundly unfair to single out this band, as Au Revoir Simone is neither the cause nor symptom of anything. But a blog is, by definition, a medium in which you try to find deeper meaning in the day-to-day news item. It’s trying to make cosmological sense of your inbox. The problem I have here is that posting Au Revoir Simone’s new video is entirely appropriate. But their promotion is, at the moment, focused on David Lynch’s endorsement, and the video on their instruments. So the dilemma is, I either post such things without question, or I ask a larger question we should be asking of everything – that I’m obligated to ask myself regarding my own artistic output (a test I myself will often fail, by my own standards).
And I say this is a “problem” not specifically because of one band, but for every band that we’re not covering. Is that all there is? If my inbox isn’t making much sense (and, perhaps yours), how can we get something different in there?