Friday, August 28, 2020

Trash talk

So, that Vice article on the "greatest landfill indie songs" - where to start? Probably with the points made succinctly by Simon Price: "the list's main problem is that the ones that are good (Maximo Park, Glasvegas) aren't landfill, and the ones that are landfill aren't good."

On that first point, the boundaries drawn do seem somewhat arbitrary. Why specifically exclude The Subways and Jamie T, for instance? Why declare that Franz Ferdinand are art rock and therefore "too innovative" to count, but include two songs by Maximo Park, a band who contributor Zing Tsjeng admits existed in a "weird hinterland", whose debut album (at least) is just as sharp and creative as Franz Ferdinand's and who were signed to Warp? How dare they besmirch The Futureheads by association! And as someone who has just been listening to the new Young Knives album, I find it utterly preposterous that they might ever be considered landfill indie, even at the time of Voices Of Animals And Men.

On the second point, "landfill indie" is a pejorative term, so it seems perverse to be claiming that some of the absolute dross that features in the list can be considered to be in some way "great". Is this just another case, then, of young Vice journos trying to be edgy by defending the indefensible?

Perhaps, though, we should be more charitable. As becomes clear, the contributors are actually quite conflicted. On the one hand, they can see and are happy to call out the scene's creative and political conservatism - hence the semi-consistent tone of sneering judgement that seems to have put a lot of people's noses out of joint. On the other hand, though, they also share some genuine (if, to me, mystifying) fondness-verging-on-love for songs and bands that soundtracked their youths, even if only as guilty pleasures. Call it Stockholm syndrome if you like, but who among us can say that they don't look back at the period during which they fell in love with music through rose-tinted specs? When Emma Garland writes of landfill indie "We have no choice but to embrace it", she's talking about her generation. Me, I'll happily maintain social distancing.

What has been largely lost in all of the heated online debate is that the article is a thoroughly entertaining read. Dorian Lynskey had a point when he commented "I forgot music writing could be this sharp and joyful". I couldn't help but chortle at Helen Thomas' quip about Maximo Park's Paul Smith's hat screaming "I will corner you at a party and talk about why we shouldn't judge Morrissey for being a racist" (something he's since declared he wouldn't do), at her claim that the Wombats played a critical role in "the formation of Dark Fruits lad culture", and at Jack Cummings' reminder that Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong had the decency to make NME endure and review their album before retracting it ahead of release.

(On the subject of NME, landfill indie is the true legacy of Conor McNicholas and his "good hair, good shoes policy", regardless of what self-aggrandising bullshit he'd have you believe.)

One final thought: landfill indie claimed a lot of casualties, but a very few select band members managed to make it out alive and move on to better things. Daniel Blumberg, for example, started out in the execrable Cajun Dance Party, then progressed to Yuck, and is now putting out stunning solo records that could hardly be any further away from the dump. Do yourself a favour: avoid Vice's landfill playlist (even if you're tempted for nostalgic reasons) and check out Minus and On&On instead.

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