Language can only go so far while describing music. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a three-minute composition is worth at least three times as much.
Music journalism relies on a set of recycled buzzwords that lump bands together based on superficial qualities. Phrases such as Slacker Rock and Riot Grrrl not only undermine the originality of contemporary artists but also bind their success to the standards held by the bands of yesteryear.
In an article published earlier this year, I wrote at lengthabout the travesty of the Emo Revival; a movement defined by a broad brushstroke of a term. Genres serve as a convenient way to categorize the vast catalog of recorded music. With the exception of the all-encompassing umbrella genres of rock/pop/r&b;/hip-hop/jazz/classical, the way we talk about music is always changing.
It is criminal to strip today’s artists of their individuality and originality by binding their hands with the same terms that were used to describe past movements and scenes.
In 1991, Pavement released “Slanted and Enchanted,” an album that would go on to serve as the archetype for what become known as slacker rock. More than 20 years later, Mac Demarco, Kurt Vile and Parquet Courts all have been touted as Slackers on more than one occasion. In fact, Parquet Courts tallied up more than52 instancesof journalists referring to its band as slacker rock.
Never mind that Parquet Courts is less slacker rock and more southwest-tinged post-punk with a tasteful hint of austerity — 52 is a heinous number. That 52 individuals thought it a good idea to describe a band using the exact same word choice demonstrates a complete lack of creativity in the media. Parquet Courts’s unique Texan-by-the-way-of-Brooklyn take on post-punk merits its own applauds and recognition, definitely transcending the half-assed label of slacker rock.
The only ’90s term more frequently abused than the slacker label is Riot Grrrl. To set the record straight, every band with a female lead singer and loud guitars is not a Riot Grrrl band, let alone a feminist band. Riot Grrrl refers to a specific sound, a specific place, a specific time and a specific movement. To blindly label a band as Riot Grrrl based on the gender of its members is a sign of culturally embedded sexism and ignorance.
Over the past few years, there has been a new wave of female fronted bands making incredible music. Speedy Ortiz, Joanna Gruesome, Potty Mouth and Perfect Pussy all come to mind. Yet, with the exception of Potty Mouth, which borrowed its name from the Bratmobile’s classic album, none of the above bands anything to do with the Riot Grrrl movement.
Speedy Ortiz’s intellectually driven rockers effortlessly blend styles ranging from krautrock to noise and bear little resemblance to the music made in Olympia 20 years ago. Joanna Gruesome’s 2013 album, “Weird Sister,” is an anger management patient’s take on a twee album. The sonically enveloping noise that define Perfect Pussy’s nearly perfect “Say Yes to Love” bears no resemblance to the fuzzed out blues riffs of Bikini Kill.
That said, Speedy Ortiz and Perfect Pussy are two of the most original-sounding bands to have released records this year. For journalists to restrict the artist’s acclaims by including cheap comparisons to the heroes of yesterday in write-ups and reviews is insolent, to say the least.
Meredith Graves, thecharismaticfront woman of Perfect Pussy,has statedthat the Riot Grrrl label being thrust upon her band is the product of the “less than thoughtful mathematical equation of a female-fronted band making aggressive music.”
The year is 2014, not 1991. There are new artists doing new things and to compare their success to their predecessors is a slap in the face. Every journalist knows that word choice matters — so why do so many describe music in terms that are not only lazy and uninspired, but also outdated?
Artists such as Pavement and Bikini Kill are still influential to many bands, and they are more than deserving of all the praise they receive. But it is time to let the great works of the past influence the music scene, not dictate it.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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