Now that print is dead and MTV hasn’t existed as “music television” for eons, blogs and websites like Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, and Gorilla Vs. Bear increasingly shape views of popular music. The dynamic hasn’t changed much since the heyday of NME or Rolling Stone; only the speed at which it occurs. This is not, on the whole, a positive paradigm shift. With the aid of broadband Internet, cheap recording equipment, and an inflated sense of self, anyone can be the next blog diva, even without having played live or written an album’s worth of songs. Musicians are launched into the public eye by the blogosphere, and are subsequently scolded like bratty children for their lack of experience and professionalism.
“Chillwave,” a term that emerged last year to describe bands that share an affinity for synth pop, neon, and the 1980s is perhaps the blogosphere’s worst crime. Consider Neon Indian, a prominent chillwave musician (aka Alan Palomo). Palomo’s music is meaningless fluff coated in obnoxious synth lines and neon paint; dumb songs that shout loud and signify nothing. Neon Indian is blazingly unoriginal, shamelessly aping his New Wave idols and failing to break any new ground. Despite this, he’s released a single on Mountain Dew’s record label and his band made their national television debut in February on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The Internet has a gigantic hard-on for this guy and I don’t know why. Pitchfork’s review of their debut album Psychic Chasms pretty much just jabbered about the 80s and how cool cassettes and analog stuff is. Christ. I get that Palomo’s aesthetic appeals to children of the Reagan administration, but beyond his day-glo image lies nothing remotely unique or interesting.
The Internet has had a profound effect on how quickly bands can be hyped and glamorized. Bedroom garage band projects can go from complete obscurity to international recognition in a matter of months, before the artists in question have had time to gain experience and hone their craft. Grunge may have been a media creation, but the bands of that fad had been touring and recording for several years before 1991. By the time Nirvana’s Nevermind came out, they were an experienced live act that lived up to and often exceeded the acclaim that they gained. Wavves, on the other hand, was the subject of intense blog attention in 2008 and 2009, despite having only played a handful of shows and not knowing how to properly record an album, in a matter of months Nathan Williams’ band was booked to play the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain, where he took too much ecstasy and Valium and pretty much fucked up his set completely (video here). The blogosphere trounced, like a jilted ex-lover eager for revenge. He had made a mockery of the Internet, betraying their blind endorsements with unprofessional, pubescent behavior.
Blog hype is fickle and not really that discerning, and it seems like any band could get on the front page of Brooklyn Vegan, as long as their music is safe and listenable. Some people are willing to pay money to see bands that are untested in the live setting, simply to propagate a trend and to be hip. It’s funny when aging wannabe hipsters like John Norris talk about their favorite new bands, a list that often coincides with Pitchfork’s Best New Music. Unfortunately, the way the music industry is evolving, it seems pretty clear that Pitchfork is on its way to being the new Rolling Stone or, worse yet, Billboard, and with that, comes a new era of people liking shitty bands because everyone else says they do. Which isn’t really at that different from the way it was 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago…now it’s just faster.