Saturday, July 14, 2012

OPINION: Indie Music and Reverb

[Yesterday, Danny Spiteri Jr., Your Personal Opinion Is Wrong's insightful docent for electronic music and all-around musical polymath published a review for DIIV's debut album, Oshin.  The crux of his review was the Beach Fossils' side project's excessive use of reverb robs their album of any potential.  Mr. Spiteri's sentiments are shared by many in the modern indie community but reverb is not without its loyal supporters.  In fact, the issue is surprisingly divise, splitting indie music fans into two camps.  This opinion piece is part thoughtful rebuttal and part declaration of support so the powers that be will be able to place me in the correct platton for the inevitable reverb-spurned civil war that will tear indie music apart.  Good times.]

It is my understanding through years of watching viral disaster movies that in the event of a catastrophic pandemic, the primary objective of pathologists is to identify patient zero, the discovery of which will reveal vital information that can be used to combat the particular vector.  While not a universally accepted notion, it is generally agreed upon by Internet-based music academia that Panda Bear's Person Pitch is patient zero for the gratuitous reverb that has become so popular in modern independent music. Chillwave (e.g. Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memory Tapes) and the surf music revival (e.g. Best Coast, Real Estate, The Drums) would see their rise and fall a few years after Panda Bear's momental release and while the two genres don't seem to share much with Person Pitch on the surface, they all share the same reverb-drenched aesthetic.  But where Panda Bear used reverb to enhance his phantasmagorical psychedelia by giving it a sort of spiritual resonance, a countless number of artists employed the effect in a far less artistic way.

Essentially, reverb became a crutch for mediocrity.  Vocals that couldn't be bothered to show any signs of life were drenched in reverb in order to give them a false sense of sophistication.  Instead of taking pride in their simplicity, songs with rudimentary structures were infused with the cheapest reverb available in yet another attempt to add illusionary layers of sophistication.  At the height of its reign of terror, from bedroom producers on SoundCloud to buzzed indie bands, it seemed like reverb saturation was absolutely inescapable.  Those were dark days indeed, comparable to the bleakest fourteenth century European plague.

But here's the thing.  Like most tools (artistic or otherwise), reverb cab be used poorly as well as magnificently.  Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak employ reverb to great effect, giving frontwoman Jenn Wasner's trademark mumble a sort of haunting weariness.  Funnily enough, Danny mentioned that DIIV lacked a defining trait that made the legendary dream pop and shoegaze memorable when both genres have experience tremendous renaissances post-Person Pitch.  Bands like Beach House, Craft Spells, and Exitmusic and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers, and Whirr have proven that reverb and revivalism can be fucking fantastic.

The take away from this rambling collection of words is that while we might have Noah Lennox to blame for everyone with a Macbook Pro and a $40 reverb pedal thinking of themselves as brilliant musicians, reverb is an effective tool in the hands of an artist with true musical ability and discretion.  A sculpting chisel can easily become a shiv whilst retaining its artistic efficacy.  Let's just hope that artists choose not to attack our precious ears with far too much reverberation in the future.

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