Nov 052013

I had an unfortunate experience on Monday morning. I’m sure it was exacerbated by driving to work in heavy traffic, and thanks to Daylight Savings, right into the sun. I was tired, I was cranky. And I made the mistake of listening to The Lumineers. A colleague lent it to me, and stupid me, trying to be open-minded about new music these days, decided to give it a listen.

I made it through about two thirds of the album before switching it off. I had to put on the Mamas and the Papas to get the bad sound out of my ears (tangent: “Shooting Star” is such a goofy and weird track that it always puts me in a good mood).

But back to The Lumineers. This band is the epitome of many things I am hating about a current trend in popular music. What is that plinky-plonky sound? Oh, it’s the arrangement of multiple acoustic instruments. What is that echo? Perhaps it’s to make us think that that wash tub bass is being played and recorded in a barn. What is that horrible whining sound? Yessirree folks, it’s the nasally, earnest voice of the lead singer.

And then I looked at a video:

You don’t want to hear their cover of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).”

Monday evening, Mr. Royale listened to my rant and came up with an interesting analogy: The Lumineers are like Haircut One Hundred. Instead of artfully-draped sweaters, we have suspenders. No more classic haircuts; we’ve moved on to facial scruff. Created for style; substance is of limited value. The recipe has been changed up, but the intent is the same.

But my question to you is How did we get here? Why is faux folk played on acoustic instruments by bands most likely from an urban hub so popular now? Is this Retro Retromania? Don’t tell me that Fleet Foxes started it. Say what you like about their beards, but those bad boys can sing. Was the start of this evil trend Arcade Fire, the band that tried to temper their bombast by telling everyone that at least the recording was made in an old church? I really liked that first album of theirs, but I’m guessing that if I listened to it now, I might feel differently. Help me, and please explain what happened.

And you can not tell me the answer is menopause.


  20 Responses to “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

  1. The happiness those people are sharing is sickening.

  2. Deek Langoustine

    Hey all, it’s been a while. I think the problem is that over 80% of music now days is created by people who want’s to make a living from it primarily, instead of having a genuine passion for music. music, like political activism, counter-culture lifestyle etc. are just a fashion accessory nowadays. was listening to some late 60’s Miles Davis and Frank Zappa yesterday and followed up by watching a couple of documentaries about them; I then watched a documentary on CCR followed by “Beware of Mr. Baker”, my conclusion is that those were different times to now full of different people. “why did it happen?” because music is just another commodity like cornflakes or coke, so they wrap another whining, skinny-jean beardy-weirdo in faux-retro outfits harking back to a time that is dead and gone so that the “kids” can feel like there living in the world the 60’s cultural revolution built instead of the corporate-culturally barren- distopian nightmare that is the modern. JMO. Nice to be back by the way

  3. 2000 Man

    I can’t stand that song! Their outfits look like they’re taking cues for their look from Dexy’s Midnight Runners (in that they want to look “old fashioned”). Next thing they know, they’ll be looking like the cover of Kevin Rowland’s My Beauty, and I really can’t wait for that day to come. The Lumineers look and sound like they’re made to just be like a color that’s in style right now that no one will wear next season. What’s worse is they look like they’re good with that. I think Mr. Royale has hit the nail right on the head here.

  4. ladymisskirroyale

    Hey Deek, I’m in total agreement.

    But my question still remains, why THAT look? Is it the Anti-Zombie apocalypse? Is it nostalgic longing for “the good ol’ days”?

    I’m hoping that Mr. Royale will chime in later today: he said that he refuses to listen to this stuff because his high school students play it all the time. He is going to gather some data as to why a bunch of extremely high achieving, multicultural students would continue to sing this stuff to each other.

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    Mod, I’ve crossed over to your cranky side of things on this post.

  6. misterioso

    Welcome to the dark and cranky side, M’lady! First, I agree with you entirely and I nearly lost my breakfast when the plinka-plinka of the mandolin kicked in. That said, it is a fine line not only between clever and stupid but also between “authentic” and “phony.” (Sometimes not so fine, but whatever.) I mean, I’m a Dylan guy. What makes me accept his endless shape-shifting as “authentic” (even if highly deliberate) and these dopes as “phony”? Hard to quantify, but I think Deek L. above more or less hit the nail on the head. What’s the difference between this and the Basement Tapes or the early Band records (or, someone, rescue me and come up with a more recent example!)? Only everything.

  7. Part of me is thrilled, while another part of me is horrified. Don’t get too cranky!

  8. Good point. I look at authenticity very personally. I reminds me of what Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter said about pornography — “I know it when I see it” — or in this case hear it.

    I listen to a lot of “roots” music and I’ve just never taken to The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars, for example. That said, I’ve liked First Aid Kit, Those Darlins, Slaid Cleaves and many others who tend to embrace elements of old-timey music — they just seem to be more honest about what they’re doing.

  9. misterioso

    Absent actual authenticity (supposing there is such a thing), you’d better be able to do a good job faking it. Or, if not, if all else fails, try being interesting! Clearly, these people are pulling an oh-fer.

  10. Deek Langoustine

    it’s all over baby, we at the RTH are all that is left. boohoohoo

  11. cliff sovinsanity

    I like The Avett Brothers, yet I can’t seem to explain why they seem to be more authentic than Mumford and Sons or The Lumineers. I’m guessing that years of listening to a WIDE variety of good and bad music over the years has fine tuned our “bullshit-meter”.

  12. Well, my hipper students call it “TumblrCore”. And I love that.

    I have a hard time telling these bands apart (see: Mumford, Local Natives, The Dodos, Train…)

    Other than it being a touch Haircut 100/Dexy’s, I think this phenomenon is a mixture of things. In no particular chronology or percentage: Weird Old America and the Basement Tapes, Anti-Skrillex Authenticity, the earnest legacy of Devendra Banhardt/Sufjan Stevens/Iron & Wine, the lust for all things Vintage and Retro, stoner Colorado bands like The Samples, and the whole Brooklyn No-Shave lumberjack thingie.

    This makes me think of a recent Johnny Marr interview where he said: “I also find this kind of folk with guys in Wellington boots and washboards not good to listen to. That music is one step away from barn dancing as far as I’m concerned. Anyone under the age of 60 should not be wearing Wellington boots on stage.”

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    Welcome back, Slim!

    Tumblrcore! Ha!

    And right on, Johnny Marr.

  14. BigSteve

    God, you people sound older than me. If you think Cream or Dylan or The Band or Miles or Zappa didn’t want careers in music you’re dreaming. Have you listened to yourselves? “Kids these days….” “In my day the musicians had a passion for music.” Please. You sound like what parents said to me when the bands I liked came on TV.

    When everyone was bad-mouthing Arcade Fire recently I was reminded that I used to see them playing fiddle and hurdy-gurdy and now they’re singing about alienation accompanied by synths. So maybe that’s’ what will come of the Mumfords and Lumineers of today. After all the idea that mandolins were more ‘real’ or ‘human’ than synths is how music got lumineered in the first place. Maybe those bands will have a change of heart (or head).

    And btw I finally got to hear Reflektor, and I don’t really care what he’s singing about but it *sounds* fabulous. James Murphy can produce me anytime. Maybe we’d even sample some plonky mandolins.

  15. I don’t think you can compare bands like Local Natives and the Dodos with the Mumfords and Train. For one, music by the former two just sounds way better. I also don’t so much see the Dodos in particular as over-earnest. For me, their appeal is that their drumming is cool and their songs are pretty catchy. There’s a very big difference, musically and in this respect, between them and the Mumfords or Iron and Wine or Fleet Foxes.

  16. Reflektor is by far my least favorite AF album. Which doesn’t make it bad, it was just really hard to beat their first two and to a lesser extent The Suburbs.

    Other than that, this post is excellent.

  17. ladymisskirroyale

    BigSteve, there you go being smart and logical about things. Although you curbed my rant, I see your points and am glad that you could bring some reason to balance out my initial bombast.

    But darn it, you had to mention James Murphy, which meant I had to listen to the new Arcade Fire title track, which I grudgingly admit to liking. And it’s a pretty neat video, which shades of Tarkovsky (and that photo from the old Time Life Book series of the comet that came close to the earth and knocked down all those trees in Russia).

  18. Hey, you can count this old fart out on the “authenticity” stuff that some people have gotten into. I simply think the song blows and the people dancing around in that video are in serious need of a rock wedgie.

  19. misterioso

    BigSteve 1, Straw Man 0. We have a winner!

  20. trigmogigmo

    LMKR, I am with you on the plinky-plonky. Mandolin reeks of cutesiness. It’s half-way to ukelele. Add to that the strung lights, the old house, the particularly wardrobed chanting, and yuck. I think I saw these guys on SNL a while back and had the same reaction.

    I would also note that I find it a bad sign when a guy is playing an acoustic guitar strapped way too high. Your rock quotient is lowered if your guitar is slung at chest height. Bass players get more leeway on this measure.

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