Pop Scene Mucked in Unfitting Smarts

    Young Folks,”” the lead single off Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John’s newest U.S. release, is a fantastic pop song, with rattles, bongos and a guest chorus from Victoria Bergsman (of the Concretes), providing welcome relief from Peter Moren’s oft-grating whine. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is noticeably weaker. “”Amsterdam”” continues the single’s whistle motif but ultimately lacks any form of melody to hold the song down, instead opting for synths and spacious guitars that desert the aforementioned charm.

    More than an attempt to play devil’s advocate against an album with heaps of good press, I wish to point out a pattern forming within the contemporary indie-rock scene: mediocrity, dressed up in shimmering bells, handclaps and overglowing reviews.

    If simply by definition, popular music was designed to appeal to the average ear. But the carefree conditions of 20 years ago (“”Girls Just Want to Have Fun”” was danceable and, well, fun — no questions asked) have given way to a modern demand that pop somehow transcend its own nature, asking for mass sophistication and thoughtfulness. As a result, songs are being churned out referencing existentialists and modernists — or anything that can pass as literary and sophisticated — mostly because the growing hordes of indie connoisseurs want to impose meaning and complexity on music that doesn’t have any. They’re looking for key words, patterns and phrases as if there was a musical equation for superiority — and the more homemade or artsy, the better the music. It’s sad, but the plight of the pseudo-intellectual has worked its way into the musical mainstream.

    Of course, this is not to say that no music of quality is released anymore. In contrast, many artists have bested themselves in recent years — but the major problem lies in the people who are getting their hands on it, and the simultaneous rubble in which it gets buried and often confused. Joanna Newsom’s Ys is intricately arranged and executed, featuring complex string compositions by Van Dyke Parks and expert storytelling by Newsom. Despite this, its mainstream reception was a farce, praised for its odd track listing and song lengths, setting contemporary musical criterion that revolves around an easily imitatable “”uniqueness”” that fails to get at the essence of the musical content it heralds.

    Take the typical neighborhood band, who two years ago were bashing out emo hits by Dashboard and Blink 182, but now cover Joy Division and reference David Bowie and Brian Eno as inspiration. Despite the obvious upgrade in musical quality, it was almost better when kids would stick to already-maimed genres like pop punk and nu metal. Now, instead of shaking off adolescence and finding Ziggy Stardust, teenagers mimic it as carelessly as they would the Offspring or Staind.

    Bands like Peter Bjorn and John, who thrive off indie rock’s muddled mediocrity, prove that if there is any hope left in reviving the music scene to the focused hierarchy it once was, pop music must see a return to form, to what its universality once stood for.

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