Now Hear This 2004

[1 January 2004]

By PopMatters Staff

NOW HEAR THIS 2004   Can’t figure out what to listen to? Listen to us. Once again, PopMatters’ music team presents a highly opinionated, undoubtedly superlative but ultimately revelatory examination of 18 artists that demand your attention. NOW.
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:: Best Band to Break Up To (Post-Collegiate Division)

If you missed Elizabeth Elmore while she was fronting Sarge during most of the ‘90s, her new band is where to make her acquaintance. Never exactly romantic, neither age nor custom have staled her into making music for those blear-eyed, tear-soaked break-ups; this is music for wry grins and half-ironic (but only half-) “I hope you have a nice life” good byes. If anything, a decade’s worth of additional experience has only sharpened her eye for literal observation and psychological nuance: Elmore balances her indie artist’s eye for the telling minor detail with a therapist’s eye that checks any impulse to solipsistic dramatics.

Rational, razor sharp, and—why else bother analyzing so many failed relationships in the first person?—lonely, she is both post-Skinner and post-Freud, full of impersonal insights into the workings (and faults) of others (and herself) while remaining ambivalent about whether any of these insights have ever fostered a working personal relationship between two people. At the same time, she’s also a detached nitpicker by nature as much as nurture, pinpointing the exact incidents demonstrating the precise reasons why people (herself included) earn her ire. As such, her personal failings—err, quirks—are both signs of the time and marks of her own fierce intellect and independence.

As a medium of personal expression, the Reputation illustrate the eternal tension between being loved and being free. As a band waiting for you to hear the coiled snap of their rhythms backing Elmore’s sexy-thin-but-not-girlish voice, the Reputation cut the alienation of our modern age far deeper than the Strokes’ retreat into cool narcissism. And since Elmore’s angst is a lot less arch and arty than Nick Cave’s, it’s also a lot more believable. In its own way, it’s as believable and real as Kurt Cobain’s, only less tortured and thus more normal and easier to relate to. Outsiders not obsessed with their own alienation and likewise tuneful enough to catch the ears of listeners with unalienated concerns of their own (like jobs) (and with Bush’s economic acumen, that’s a lot of potential listeners), the Reputation may well be the definitive voice for a generation of worldly urban post-collegians. Even if, so far, they’re still Shelley’s unacknowledged legislators of that world.

— Peter Su

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