(This piece is in response to Ben Beaumont-Thomas's article "Blog rock lacks a political edge" in the Guardian.)
It's not easy to talk about politics. Ever. It's even harder to discuss politics inside of music, an art form that, for better or worse, means something different to everyone who listens. There are a few major bones I'd like to pick with Ben Beaumont-Thomas's article in the Guardian. His use of the term "blog rock" immediately deems this piece unworthy of being taken seriously, but any editor worth his weight in hit-count/comments, knows this is a good way to get a rise out of readers. Either way, this piece seems void of any real focus, as if its sole purpose was to call out American musicians for being politically lazy, whatever that means.
BBT, as I'll refer to him, claims that American "indie-rock" musicians' "fascination with the pastoral and apolitical is augmented by the other major strain in the US underground: nostalgia." Having probably downloaded the Underwater Peoples comp and a few Ducktails bootlegs from MediaFire, it's easy to see why one would come to this conclusion. Childhood; summer; fond memories many of us have of life before, well, LIFE. On the surface it's all nice and well and good; and nostalgic. But its much more than that. Living in a world fraught with corruption, scandal, seemingly endless wars, a universal health-care initiative that political red tape is holding up, states that are bankrupt and mounting unemployment, it's ignorant to claim that these young musicians are not only apathetic, but completely misguided. If anything, the sound BBT criticizes is completely reactionary, providing an outlet for those who don't want anything to do with bourgeois economic and political value system. BBT seems to think that all these musicians are living comfortably off-the-land, and hence-forth, feel no need to "rage against the machine." To be honest, having heard a lifetimes worth of Joan Baez records, Bono pedestal sermons and anti-whatever songs by Arcade Fire, why would anyone want to make the same sort of redundant, cliche protest/politico music? It's boring and often, I believe, comes from an even greater place of privilege (aka liberal guilt), rather than the heart. (Bob Dylan knew this. It was why he stopped writing "finger pointing songs.")
In response to BBT's claim that "blog rock lacks a political edge," I'd like to think about the sociology of how all this music was created. Julian Lynch, an acquaintance, dare I say friend, who was mentioned in the article, may be one of the best examples of a young artist "attacking the system" through the backdoor, without a foundation (slush fund) or a "Fuck You Bush" sticker on the back of his Prius. The fact is it's been over a year since the Bush-era ended, and not much has changed. If anything, there is even more reason to be disillusioned at the current state of the United States government, as many of the political promises Barack Obama made have not, and seemingly will not be fulfilled. Any young voter who found hope in his message is probably scratching his/her head, wondering why our fractured Congress can't get it together for the good of the people.
Point is, Julian Lynch has been making music since he was a child. His music is often homespun, recorded in his parents basement when he lived with them, and now his bedroom in Wisconsin. It is homemade. BBT claims analog recording "is now often merely retro, or used to signify reality." He's wrong. It's much deeper than that. For years the forces that be have been championing digital life as a positive way to take us into the future. First it was the CD player. Then the Internet. Etc. And while digital devices have created a lot of good, they've never solved any problems, rather created an entirely new series of problems on top of those already established. In Field Notes, a piece in the first edition of The Report, Emilie Friedlander tackles the idea of technology leading to a utopian future, which, she notes "the advent of the analog synthesizer once promised, but somehow never delivered." Much of the same can be said about digital culture, limitless technology that was "supposed" to solve our problems, but, in the end, those promises were left unfulfilled. (The same could go for political promises as well. But that's an entirely different piece.)
The use of lo-fi technologies, be it recording straight to a 4-track or 8-track cassette recorder, or simply recording directly to GarageBand through a computer microphone, is simply the easiest and cheapest way to record. If an artist, any artist, wants to make a statement, be it political, or just to start a dance party, the democratization of the tools needed to create allows them to do just that. It's a means to an end. Even further, they can send their works off into the world for others to enjoy without having to deal with the corporate foundations that control the media. No, Julian is not Ian MacKaye, but I'm pretty darn sure as a former-DC resident some of MacKaye's anti-corporate, anti-political, pro-Human/artist ideals have crept into Lynch's foundations. If there is a nostalgic trip in Lynch's songs, which there surely is, it's due to the genuine nature of his work, music that is unapologetically pure. Unlike many of his peers (post-collegiate 25 year olds, such as BBT himself), rather than continue to stabilize the status quo, Lynch's work stays uncorrupted, unphased by political scandal and hopeful for the future. For some it may seen childlike, but I think that's a superficial criticism. Unlike many, his work is simply not hardened by the corporate overtones and political unrest of the time. He is not pissed off. He is not commenting on Huffington Post about the latest Sarah Palin scandal outrage, or firing some cheap blows at tea-baggers. In a complete reaction to all the political bullshit, Lynch simply creates hopeful transportive, and often transformative music that crosses cultural boundaries, and does what is arguably the most important thing any musician could do: it makes us think.
Why rage against the machine, when you can organically build a "new world" within America outside the status quo? A social revolution unconcerned with Abbie Hoffman/Black Panther antics and more concerned with treating people well would be incredibly more effective than barging the New York Stock Exchange or Congress, or a bunch of privileged NYU students taking over the library. It's cliche, but the treat your neighbor like you'd want to be treated analogy is apt. And in this day and age, treating people with respect and dignity is about the most political thing you can do.
PS- Listen to Woods cover of Graham Nash's "Military Madness" on Songs of Shame.