Language Studies – Deerhunter, Coconot, The Sea and Cake, The Lucksmiths

December 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, November 27, 2008.


Deerhunter, Coconot, The Sea and Cake, The Lucksmiths

There’s an oft-held assumption amongst the tight-jeaned community that all things indie exist in a vacuum – a kind of free space where music rises to our attention via its inherent qualities rather than the obscene marketing budgets, manipulative publicity tacts, general hype mongering and ‘next big things’ that typify its major label cousin.

This, of course, is accurate to an extent. The independent label construct affords listeners a much less filtered snapshot of what’s really happening in music.

A record like Microcastle (Kranky/Remote Control) – the third full-length from Atlanta art-rock ensemble Deerhunter – for example, could never have come from the tempered artistic domain of a major. While it takes a much more conventional and pop-orientated guise than atmosphere-laden drones of and noise attacks of 2006’s Cryptograms and 2004’s self-titled debut, it’s still a fantastically expansive record. It’s raw and it’s loose and it follows no particular rule of thumb. Drifting surf-inflected melodics mutate into searing, droning arcs, while arcane pop meanderings (see ‘Green Jacket’ and ‘Activa’) explode into pummelling bass hooks (‘Nothing Ever Happened’).

It’s not alone. The tumbling rhythms and ethno-psychedelic modulations of Cosa Astral (Mistletone/Shock) – the wonderful new mini-album from Canary Islander El Guincho’s Barcelona-based tropicalia/experimental trio Coconot – also, draws from a palette well outside of the mainstream, and is all the better for it. The presumption, however, that either of these two records exist outside a kind of indie star-making scheme – outside of fashion and the cult of the new – is pretty-much laughable.

Microcastle has already proven a favourite amongst taste-making websites and indie-press, and we can safely assume that Cosa Astral will follow. Hell, El Guincho’s debut Alegranza went gangbusters. Anything with youth, an exotic back-story and a psyche or kraut prefix can be guaranteed editorial and followers in the current moustache-heavy, Pitchfork-gazing environment. The quality of new records that stray outside such bounds seems irrelevant.

New releases by prominent, but less fashionable indie rockers are nothing if not evidentiary. Chicago stalwarts The Sea Cake’s crystalline eighth album Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey/Popfrenzy) has barely made a blip on the radar, while you could be forgiven for failing to realise that Melbourne royalty The Lucksmiths had even released their 11th album, despite the fact that First Frost (Lost and Lonesome/MGM) is amongst the strongest of their catalogue. The stunning ‘How We Met’ is one the most economical and downright moving love sketches of the year. By hey, you would never know. These lads are getting older – Marky Monnone’s bowl cut is still cute, but not the right kind of cute – and hell, The Luckies’ psyche and kraut credentials are next to zilch. The fact that they’ve been making fine records forever doesn’t help either. But hey, perhaps it should.

This line of logic isn’t some kind of stab at Deerhunter or Coconot. Not in the slightest. They’ve both crafted interesting, exploratory albums and we should afford them that. It’s more about how we’ve come to disregard equally accomplished records by comparatively older men. It’s fair to presume that the indie scene passively accepts its kings and queens via much of the same PR tactics, the same myth making and the same disregard for our musical family tree as the next FM listener. It’s just that we take our cues from the pasty young things at Pitchfork, and that somehow makes it okay.

Music isn’t about fashion or prefix; it’s about music. The pencil moustache revivalist (nee, hipster), one might say, is a sheep to the same shepherd as the fluoro muscle-t wearer. Only in a different, slightly paler form.

Dan Rule


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