[6 December 2005]
I often feel that I am becoming more and more cynical when it comes to music. I don’t embrace as much as I used to, and so few things inspire me now. I used to become obsessed with certain bands, certain albums, certain songs; now these are few and far between. Have I, at the age of 22, become jaded? I like to think not. You know what I blame? Indie rock. Before I knew indie rock, music had to hit me over the head with greatness. I was not slowly won over by twee melodies, nor did I pay attention to retro posturing and borrowed mantras. Nothing grew on me; nothing was “good, but not my thing”. It was either mind-blowingly fantastic, or it wasn’t worth my time.
The music that evolved out of the college rock scene of the 1980s was exciting, rebellious. It was free and gritty. Such was the beginning of indie rock, a genre that has become so blah that I find myself listening to hair metal to see if I still feel. Now ubiquitous, the soft retro sounds of indie rock can be heard on ads for basically all companies, in chain stores, and, of course, on The O.C.. Not to say all indie rock is bad, but like any subculture that loses its prefix, it has become dominated by mediocrity.
Minneapolis band Halloween, Alaska, does not deserve to bear the brunt of my indie backlash, but when I sat down to review their new album, Too Tall to Hide, I was uninspired. A truly great band, I always thought, was one that made you want to pick up a guitar. Creativity should inspire more of the same, right? Too Tall to Hide and albums like it leave me with nothing to say, as though the lack of personality on the record has drained me of mine.
Having lived in Minneapolis for four years, I had heard about Halloween, Alaska. They were one of the more successful bands on the scene, having had one of their songs featured on Fox’s indie rock dumping ground, The O.C.. Hearing that they specialized in melodic pop, I gave it a try. Too Tall to Hide is not as much melodic pop, however, than it is a set of dreary Postal Service-inspired synth experiments. There is nothing new to be heard here. The opener “A New Stain” displays a light electronica, while “The Light Bulb Does” is Sufjan Stevens without the rootsy mystique. This album is sadly underwhelming, and the band seems to be afraid to go after what they really want.
This is the question I feel myself asking repeatedly in reference to mediocre indie rock: What genre do they really want to fit into? Does Halloween, Alaska want to be new wave (“Drowned”)? Do they want to be a novelty pop band (the lackluster cover of LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”)? The world may never know. But indie purgatory is no kind place, and if they keep making music this boring, Halloween, Alaska’s success will be shorter-lived than Marissa Cooper’s lesbian phase. Or maybe they’ll land on a sweet Target ad.