[12 October 2006]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The most fervent music-critic discussions during the last few years have been overly concerned with “rockism” versus “poptimism”, with presuming the supremacy of authenticity versus frivolity, with assumptions about what’s important. And more often than not in those debates, “indie” is considered representative of the former camp, somehow an outgrowth of Rolling Stone-like dinosaurdom. But where does indie-pop fit into that divide? What to do with music that’s synth-based as much as guitar-based, that values freshness of style, that tilts towards sensitivity and romance more than aggression, and that bears the influence not just of guitar-based groups like the Go-Betweens and Felt but also of ‘50s vocal groups, Motown, and northern Soul? It’s clearer than ever that “indie” is no monolithic category, but it’s still so often used that way by critics.
But that’s all about semantics, taste disguised as objectivity, and territory warfare. It has little to do with going to the club and dancing all your cares away, with staying out late and getting down to the music of today and yesterday, with old friends and new. That’s what The Kids at the Club: An Indiepop Compilation is all about, and what it attempts, absolutely successfully, to emulate in the form of a CD.
How Does It Feel to Be Loved? released this compilation as an extension of the indiepop dance nights that they’ve been putting on in London. Label head Ian Watson’s liner notes paint a picture of parties where pop fans dance to music they know and love already, but just as often to music they’ve never heard before. He may get a bit carried away with a tone of self-congratulation while describing playing a new song by an unknown Swedish band, the Salty Pirates, and having the crowd go crazy. But the appeal of that scene is so clear that it’s easy to excuse the giddiness. There’s nothing like hearing a fantastic pop song—catchy beyond compare and filled with energy—for the first time, and there’s nothing like a setting which encourages that to happen.
The story of How Does It Feel to Be Loved? is one of heartfelt love for new music, and this CD is filled with the same. It’s sequenced like the most obsessed-over mixtape, one where the creator stayed up nights figuring out the best songs to select, and the perfect order to put them in. It opens with Voxtrot’s “The Start of Something”, for my money, it’s one of the best singles of the last few years: lovelorn, jaunty, filled with sweetness and absolutely addictive. And two of the most enticing new songs of this year follow it: the joyous sing-along “We’re From Barcelona” by 20-something-member ensemble I’m From Barcelona (who’re from Sweden, actually) and “Stardust,” a happy and at the same time melancholy hustle by Irene, also from Sweden. And it just keeps going from there. All of the 19 songs are impeccably crafted and sport a fresh demeanor. Most of them will be brand-new to all but the most devoted music fanatics… and even to them, really. A few have been released before but most have not.
There are a handful of Swedish bands represented here, but that’s to be expected considering how many great new bands seem to be coming from that country with each passing day. The Kids at the Club closes with one of the most exciting: Suburban Kids with Biblical Names contribute another song of the year contender, “Seems to Be on My Mind.” It’s loose and dance floor-ready, and carries a theme of obsession, completely appropriate in this context.
Sweden’s not the only country delivering fresh sounds, though. Most are from the UK, and there’s a couple from the US. The bands’ styles tilt overall toward the melodic, on a joyous spirit, and love/heartbreak/infatuation-centered lyrics. But it would be a mistake to lump them all together under too descriptive of a single category. Listen and you’ll hear everything from a great contemporary take on a girl groups ballad (by Lucky Soul) to several horn-laden, shout-to-the-stars sing-along pop-rock tunes. The years go by, bands come and go, but the feeling you get when you discover a great new song, the way it taunts you and haunts you and chases you around, is irreplaceable. The Kids at the Club is filled with songs like that, with songs that in their two or three minutes make you feel like new music is something worth caring about, like there are still songs out there worth falling head over heels in love with.