The big time "indie rockers" come to town

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

•July 25 — Interpol w/Calla •August 15 — Modest Mouse w/Band of Horses, Love as Laughter •September 8 — The Killers ($39???) •September 13 — Bloc Party

Some thoughts after the jump...

So what do we call these bands, anyway?

The co-option of indie or youth culture is nothing new; as Thomas Frank would tell you, it's been going on for decades. And in the current context of bands like The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie rising to widespread fame, the topic has been done to death. I'm not up for such a discussion today anyway, but I am hella ready to talk semantics. Recent conversations with my friend Bret the hardcore fan, who can't stand the cognitive dissonance of calling major-label bands "indie rock," have reignited my frustration with the uselessness of the phrase.

The word "indie" used to mean independent; that accounted for the broad palette of bands that fell under the indie banner. But now "indie" doesn't mean anything. It has become the most nebulous word in music short of "rock." This normally doesn't matter because I—and, I suspect, you, dear reader—operate for the most part among peers that understand what "indie rock" means in all its various incarnations. But what about when I'm trying to explain to my mom or my friend C.J. the 19-year-old hip-hop enthusiast what indie rock means? There's nothing I can tell them in any expedient fashion, except perhaps directing them to All Music Guide (if they can get the page to load). Let's see what ol' AMG has to say:

In the sense that the term is most widely used, indie rock truly separated itself from alternative rock around the time that Nirvana hit the mainstream. Mainstream tastes gradually reshaped alternative into a new form of serious-minded hard rock, in the process making it more predictable and testosterone-driven. Indie rock was a reaction against that phenomenon; not all strains of alternative rock crossed over in Nirvana's wake, and not all of them wanted to, either. Yet while indie rock definitely shares the punk community's concerns about commercialism, it isn't as particular about whether bands remain independent or "sell out"; the general assumption is that it's virtually impossible to make indie rock's varying musical approaches compatible with mainstream tastes in the first place. There are almost as many reasons for that incompatibility as there are indie-rock bands, but following are some of the most common: the music may be too whimsical and innocent; too weird; too sensitive and melancholy; too soft and delicate; too dreamy and hypnotic; too personal and intimately revealing in its lyrics; too low-fidelity and low-budget in its production; too angular in its melodies and riffs; too raw, skronky and abrasive; wrapped in too many sheets of Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr./Pixies/Jesus & Mary Chain-style guitar noise; too oblique and fractured in its song structures; too influenced by experimental or otherwise unpopular musical styles.

That's a decent explanation of why indie rock is such a catch-all term, but it doesn't give Bret a name for bands like Modest Mouse and Interpol that have upended AMG's conventional wisdom about indie rock's mainstream appeal. And it certainly doesn't account for bands like The Bravery that seem designed as a marketing ploy yet still get slapped with the "indie" tag.

Should we just call these bands "alt rock" because they have gained wide acceptance? What about "mindie rock," or maybe "Mindy rock" as a nod to the buxom brunette in your dorm who can't wait for the Postal Service to tour again? Do you have a better word for it?