Apparently time and Portland have not been kind to Wooden Indian Burial Ground… at least that is what one pundit would have me think after she blasted me for this blog entry. As you can see in the comment, it’s not immediately obvious that she really paid any attention to what I said, but was tarring with a brush that had been used for some other reviewers. And was perhaps a wee bit sensitive… and why? Well, with but a click of the ol’ button, it turns out that of course, she’s in a band. Now, in my response to her tirade I feel I may have come off as a bit pompous when I really just wanted to show that I too am an artist with feelings. This blog will be an attempt to show that all along I was never picking on anyone, just commenting on the state of the music scene.
But in the age-old tradition of tall daisies being hammered down and standing-up nails being cut, we need an example… so thanks, Adrienne, for offering up your band, Autopilot Is For Lovers, for scrutiny.
So what do we see first… the band is a boy/girl duo. Ouch. Now, there’s nothing wrong with duos. I’m in a duo… but the boy/girl thing is perilously trendy (Mates Of State, Raveonettes, Talkdemonic, White Stripes, WOODEN INDIAN BURIAL GROUND just off the top of my head). Posing in front of some hideous orange thing that might be the Canton Grill? Ignoring a question about your influences? Come on, people!
All of this is tangential, though it will return to my eventual point. What about the music? Well, not surprisingly, it’s quirky indie folky songs. Surprisingly, in the same vein as WIBG (“In the morniiiing…“) they’re quite good. Though of course in a field crowded with the stuff, I can’t say that they’re exceptional yet. Yet. I’ll wait to see them live for that… so wow me, Hatkin. The female vocals lead, which I find to be the more successful configuration for this style. Makes me wish I had hung around Numinous Knot long enough for Jolene to be our singer. The song “Shadows” jumped out at me most… it was more Liz Durrett than “Juno,” which was a nice change of pace. The band definitely sounds like it needs a little road grime on them… they need to weather a few things musically to gain some gravitas, which could make them a damn good band, which they need to be if they want to last beyond the current crop of fashionable pairings. See Faith Purvis for an example of how indie is done right.
In one sense, I’m glad that there is ample opportunity for people of a certain musical persuasion to get out there and play their songs and get recognition. Adrienne and Paul or Justin and Judy get to go out and express themselves, enoy themselves, in front of people who are appreciative. Their style of music, and their fashion, is the style and fashion right now, so they have a place ready for them, so that’s why I don’t understand the complaint that Portland doesn’t recognize honest music. Perhaps wanting to scream your ideas and the urge to make cute animal cutouts and the desire to have clever wordplay shouldn’t overshadow the simple creation and execution of the music.
That’s why I don’t get turned on by Death Cab or “Juno.” Undeniably, there’s talent and creativity behind it, but they so desperately try to be clever and endearing that it’s pathetic. Like someone produced a weapons-grade isotope of Adorno’s definition of kitsch. That’s why I persist in liking Morrissey despite the world’s categorical hatred of him. He has sliced away so much of himself from the content of his music, that the empty spaces of what’s left speak volumes. I feel there is a similar power and authenticity in the cryptic lyrical approach of Steely Dan or the vagueness of Morphine, neither of whom are ‘cool’ to the kids these days.
In the end, what do you do? You do what’s right. For me, that’s admitting that an indie retro lo-fi americana band is good, despite my preconceptions. It also feels right to continue to call bullshit on the stylistic pretentions of their otherwise talented frontman. Scale it back, dude! This is not a kneejerk reaction on my part. I have long objected to this sort of shenanigan. I think the criticism of my original blog was a hurt spur-of-the-moment reaction and I understand it. Being an artist makes you vulnerable, so I think we should understand that ultimately we are all on the same side, and can coexist despite differing approaches. Portland is the perfect town for that.
So from one artist to another, I would like to offer up this helpful hint: “Masters of War” is played in variations of Em, and the chorus is D and A. We did it with two guitars- one traditional folkstyle, the other electric, distorted in drop D with palm muting. Then, at the end, I threw in a brief motif of “Smoke On The Water” and a rawking pick slide. You’re welcome.