Exile produces silence more often than cunning. After two months of not publishing a single rock review (this should change very soon) and compensating by listening to more indie than ever, I've left amused by the suspicion that as the market for rock writing collapses the polarization between the pop world and indie expands. It's a strange world when Flo Rida and Animal Collective debut high on the same chart, separated by sales of a few thousand, and their partisans can't shake hands across Flyoverland. This is a landscape in which Billboard confirms the hegemony of the Pitchfork ethos. I know colleagues who drool over Ghostface or Lil Boosie as much as they do over Animal Collective or Dirty Projectors. They're smart enough to note their differences and intentions, yet unwilling to examine what accounts for the championing of artists determined to make clear statements to a recognizable public and artistes who speak for and to a cult that won't look past its own biases.
Spending fruitless hours agonizing over Fever Ray, Grizzly Bear, and the increasingly paradigmatic Animal Collective was instructive. That age is much more than a number explains only the half of it. In the case of Animal Collective, I hear a half-understood but determined effort to approach the guilelessness of the young adult sensibility. AC wants domestic bliss to resonate like the unmediated wonder of thirteen-year-olds making sense of their bodies. But a twentysomething isn't a pre-teen, and if you're still having trouble figuring out the difference, you need to find another analyst. I expect bands to realize that confusion is sex -- as X, Springsteen and Yo La Tengo's own explorations uncovered. But they didn't dumb down their approaches to get at higher truths; if anything, their albums showed that human drama often can't accommodate them. For artists ideals are fine, but they're a burden too, maybe a luxury, and an economy increasingly hostile to the pursuit of venalities puts a greater demand on clarity than Animal Collective are prepared to give. As for the other two, Grizzly Bear and Fever Ray live in a world I don't recognize: it's retrograde in a hostile way. Fascinated by their adolescent grievances, they perform a shadowplay illuminated by a light that's dim and wrongly colored, intended to show their music in the most attractively disfigured way.
It isn't so dire though. Fumbling through Dirty Projectors' predictably named Bitte Orca, I heard a lot of too-pretty harmonies and ambitious, not-quite-there arrangements and not enough of the peculiar androgynous subtexts that impressed me when I saw them at Pitchfork Festival last summer (it's as if Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie took turns changing into one another and took turns harassing an equally protean Lindsey Buckingham) . Then, in "Two Doves," Amber Coffmann or Angel Deradoorian, I can't tell whom, lets this out: "Your hair is like an an eagle/ your two eyes are like two doves/But our bed is like a failure." Buttressed by fingerpicked acoustic guitar, foiled by string swells, these are pretty good verses, especially after the girl demands an open-mouthed kiss at the beginning of the song. Bands uninterested in expressing emotions are often perplexed about how to express them; here's an example of how to do it right.
Anyway, Christgau's review of two new charity comps helmed by indie/Pitchfork all-stars articulates the dilemma of how to size up songs of experience performed as songs of innocence. To put it another way, it's the best example of how an old guy, with characterstic good humor and common sense, scrunches his eyes real tight to evaluate an ideology as alien as Arianism.