Getting personal

Something unique about indie culture is the way it brought music into our homes. I'm talking about the Internet, but I'm also talking about familiarity of artists. Countless indie bands have embraced the Internet as a format of releasing music, sure, but countless more have embraced the Internet as a forum to meet with and connect with their fans. What's more, these artists seem to be just like us. They don't have heroic rags-to-riches tales about dealing drugs, nor do they brush their teeth with oysters (except maybe Vamp Weekend). But as indie music gets stretched and a personal connection with a band or artist is no longer very novel, and a forum for communication with artists is as oversaturated as the music medium itself, others are going the way of the dodo—novelty through sheer anonymity.

Remember when jj wasn't just some duo with a keyboard and guitar? They were an enigma, a cloaked entity from overseas that produced one of the more expansive of comfort albums in jj n* 2. But what happened between then and now is that they took the cloak off. They performed at SXSW and released a very mediocre follow-up. With or without their mysterious persona, jj n* 2 was an irrefutable success, so we can't necessarily blame their exposure for their lack of a better album. But it was surprising to see them follow up such an exhaustive debut so quickly, and it predictably fell far short of its predecessor.

You can point to a few things for this. It would be implausible to say that since they've unveiled themselves they feel personally responsible and had to abide by our time frame, not theirs, and thus rushed through their second LP. Even less plausible would be to say we fabricated substance where jj lost some in their cloaking, and now that we're more familiar we see there wasn't much in it to begin with. More likely, they just exhausted all their ideas on their first try. But what matters is not that they became better or worse, what matters is that, once the screws came loose and we got to see the inner workings ourselves, we got to see the art for what it was, not just what we expected it to be.

A great lyricist often leaves lines open for interpretation. It's a balance between emoting a message while leaving it open for interpretation on the other end. Just about all art forms act in the same way. Bands like the Knife (and, hell, Hollywood Undead and Slipknot) go so far as to wear masks to de-personalize their art—it's a product of ideas, not a product of a person, and thus the product can be communal so long as the ideas can be shared. But the more and more these anonymous artists pop up, the more we have to take a more analytic lens to them. Maybe it's just the cynic in me, but at some point these cloaked messages are no longer communal thoughts but Xeroxed beats left nameless in the company fridge. We can all stick our fork in them, but they're nothing but cold turkey and mustard.

The Fader dropped this new joint called "Seaww"–which isn't a word—by some group called oOoOO—which also isn't a word. But it's an atmospheric joint that sounds ripped from an extraterrestrial b-movie, which is a good thing. It's the kind of song that would keep me interested in a nameless, faceless group, even if not altogether winning me over yet. Which is the normal trajectory for these groups of anonymity. Case in point: iamamiwhoami.

Some nameless, faceless female figure started popping up on YouTube a couple months ago, and everyone started freaking out over the high-def visual effects and entrancing synth bass. The videos were littered with existential allusions and esoteric clues that promised a moment of musical enlightenment—a music nerd's equivalent to "Lost." The whole world was going to explode with this underground act who was going to redefine musical expression. And then the full-length video came out and it was crap. All the clues led to a quaint cabin, a piano and a really weak song. The imagery of dogs, the screenshots of goats, the strawberries, the numbers, none of them were substantive, and now nobody's listening anymore. There very well may be another video installment left in the plan that will clear up all our foggy ideas, but the point is we've already ridden it out as long as we feel obligated to. We got invested in the marketing scheme, but the song's failure means we won't get invested in the band. She's distanced herself just for the sake of distancing herself, and left us no reason to bridge the gap on our own. We just carry on with the Internet's endless cycle.

And that's really all I'm trying to say. This dada-ist music is a dime a dozen, and any eight-year-old can put it together on a Casio keyboard. It's when dada-ism forges a connection between the art and the person that it creates a lasting impression and gives a band staying power. The nameless, faceless route is a high risk/high reward venture, a zero-sum game in both musical success and artistic legitimacy. The whole conversation reminds me of a quote in Gil Scott-Heron's latest album, I'm New Here, in which he says, "I met a woman in a bar and told her I was hard to get to know, but damn near impossible to forget."


  1. That oOoOO joint is a jam-and-3/4.

  2. Yeah yeah, here's a new one too