by Sam Houghton
In case you were wondering whether or not the indie movement of Brooklyn has come to a stale, inbred orgy for bootlicking groupies, it has not… not completely. Not yet. But alas, there have been overt gestures made by some folk at threatening this sub-culture, this successful niche carefully carved out in venues like Glasslands and 285 Kent and Monster Island Basement that has been gradually moving on to the wider conscious because of sheer good music (I hear the hip kids in Idaho wear vintage sweaters and listen to the TV on the Radio). Orgy may be to too strong a word - the indie folk are a soft people - and I do not mean to pick out Ducktails as a sole troubadour in the dumbing down of the music (they/he are not the only ones), but Ducktails will work for now.
When one pays 15 bucks for a show, they expect to be whisked off to some higher place, or to at least be entertained. Perhaps Matthew Mondanile from Northern New Jersey (sole performer in the band) had swallowed some bad acid, perhaps his big box of electric equipment and remotes and pedals and buttons, looming at center stage like some foreboding alter, were not properly functioning. Either way, the loud, psychedelic ramblings ricocheting off the walls of the Bowery Ballroom last Saturday evening were without direction and passion and significance – they were merely noises, seemingly thrown together without calculation. At long moments, the drum machines would solo, playing simple beats for excessive periods of time while Mondanile figured out what to do next. There were noticeable gaps in the music, hardly any melody and certainly no harmonizing. As a one-man show, he seemed more like a DJ than an actual band, which was awkward for the Ballroom. These were not dance heavy numbers, but kind of like chill-wave, summer mood anthems: lo-fi to the chore. As a result, the crowd seemed lost as to what to do. Do we chat or wait for something to happen? Do we try to dance? Instead of paying attention, phones were looked at and conversation was heavy – bad cues for good music.
Mr. Mondanile is the leader of a heavily promoted band in the Brooklyn area called Real Estate. They are from New Jersey, part of the Titus Andronicus brigade, and have been signed with the Woodsist label for a few years now (recently signed to Domino to put out a new album in September). Woodsist is a highly regarded label from Brooklyn (at least residing here), created by the guys in the psych-folk group Woods. Much of their work I have much respect for, including their own music and the production of a new band in the area, Widowspeak’s debut album. Even Real Estate is a good band. But Ducktails, signed by Woodsist as well, I cannot get behind. Perhaps the recordings are a different species, but to promote a band this heavily for a live act that lacks this much in inspiration is a borderline abuse of power. It’s reckless. The show at the Ballroom was packed to the gills. The Woodsist label packs an honorable following and to be fair, the rest of the bands (Widowspeak, White Fence, and Woods) were quite good. But the loyal following will not last if they continue to back such bands.
So I warn the indie movement to not fall for bands simply by who signs them or by how big their audiences are. It will only lead to bad music. And bad music will only lead to unhappy times.
This kind of music comes from a very stale decade of rock ‘n’ roll. Kids want something that they claim as their own. There is nothing wrong with that. The 00s were a dry spell and we want to change that. Bands are trying desperately to create something new, and people are also listening to things that maybe should not be listened too, simply because it sounds progressive. We want movements – another CBGBs or Woodstock which is commendable. But only genuine music will do that, not just new.
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