Harvard of the South perfects all-things passable about rock music.
During last fall’s absurd real-life old man yells at cloud situation between Mark Kozelek and the War on Drugs, the Sun Kil Moon singer’s most lasting jab was dubbing the band “beer commercial rock”. As commercials increasingly lean towards picking songs from critically-acclaimed, albeit un-mainstream, bands, telling Adam Granduciel and co. that they’d pair well with summery hops and a tint of orange peel is less insult than passable evaluation. Some industries, however, have yet to dig into the blogosphere for their backing music, instead relying on cheap, trite, “uplifting” snippets from bands whose output, were it standing alone or being heard outside of these thirty carefully selected seconds, would be booted off the mythical aux cord without hesitation. Call it Disney commercial rock.
A tenet of this subgenre is that outside of the thirtyish seconds on a full-length suitable for being played behind a triumphant set of clips that always manage to show people running to, from, or in something while pumping their fists and smiling and betraying nothing more than a surface-level gloss of emotional depth, the rest of the music must be made without any real direction or purpose. Thankfully, Harvard of the South’s Miracle EP stands as a textbook example of this genre. Oddly described as a “supergroup” and accurately described as a “side project” by the band’s Wikipedia page, this mix of three members of Blue October and the lead singer of 2000s indie rock outfit Longwave. The band came about because of Blue October’s infatuation with a Longwave album, and the marriage results in everything predictable that the two bands individually exemplify.
The oddest incorporations throughout Miracle is the electric guitar thrashing that opens and closes the release and pops up unexpectedly. Not that these tendencies are inherently bad, but the copy-paste formulaic strategy on opener “All Our Ashes” is the lone song where such a vibe extends consistently and elicits slight subconscious foot-tapping. After one song, the Miracle EP proves itself not a necessary listen, but at the least, a tolerable one. The title track, however, is where the Disney commercial rock proves the baseness of Harvard of the South’s formula.
Knock-off Bloc Party vocals tripping over an unchanging guitar line and stagnant drums cries the commercial-bait “Along the way / I’m holding out for a miracle”. No emotion, no basis for this deific stance. As if they understand the music external of this chorus won’t pay the bills, and the short length of this EP acknowledges that the lowest overhead possible maximizes profits.
And so it goes over the course of five songs... the stray guitar jams, a short spot for raucous drumming to drown out the half-whispered vocals, the strange inclusion of jubilant mallets peppering the album’s most pleasant section, the instrumental beginning to closer “Heart of Stone”. Sadly, that potential is immediately erased when the album’s most uninspired vocals kick in, a forced brooding “I’ve got a complicated heart, and a complicated soul”. If Harvard of the South contains such complexities, Miracle EP is not the place to discover them. But it’s not all for a loss. Grizzly Bear was the subject of a notable essay discussing the financial limbo many great indie bands exist in. As they’ve perfected passable Disney commercial rock, I’d be willing to bet that they’ll at least recoup their investment.