Words by Brian Salvatore
One of the great parts of what is commonly called ‘indie rock’ is that it is a big tent. Bands are influenced by almost all corners of the musical landscape, from 80s guitar theatrics (Marnie Stern) to experimental jazz (Deerhoof) to bluegrass (The Avett Brothers); seemingly nothing is off limits. Over the last two or three years, we have seen dance music become a more prominent influence on the indie landscape, and bands are incorporating elements of club-ready dance music to their sampler platter. Eventually, when something like this happens, bands begin to cross over from ‘dance influenced indie rock’ to ‘indie influenced dance music.’ Keep Shelly in Athens is more the latter than the former.
There isn’t any judgment in that statement, just fact. Now I’m Ready has far more in common with pop music and DJ culture than it does with a traditional four piece rock band. The term ‘chillwave’ has been tossed around the band, and that’s a fine enough made up word to describe their sound. There are drum machines that snap and pop in ways that real drums can’t, ethereal vocals, washes of synths, and some very well placed (and well played) electric guitars. Occasionally, as on “Hunter,” there are elements such as DJ scratches brought to the mix, but overall, the sound is relatively consistent through the record.
The songs on the record don’t exactly grab you upon first listen, but, rather, are a slow burn. There is an intensity to the record that seems counterintuitive to the relative lightness of the production. The drum machine-focused production, at times, recall the FM pop hits of the late 80s/early 90s that I grew up hearing at roller rinks and girls’ birthday parties, but there is a dark underbelly to even the sweetest of the tracks. “Fractals,” the lead single, wouldn’t have sounded out of place at any point the past twenty years, but the audience for the track has greatly shifted. What is now the area of middle aged music bloggers was once a playground for teeny boppers with disposable income.
Now, this isn’t to say that the songs are as vapid or uninspired as many of the songs the vibe evokes, but this is what I was saying earlier about a big tent. The intention and the personality of the performer are now the arbiters of genre, not the sound itself. Keep Shelly in Athens grew out of an online scene built around mp3 blogs and Tumblr shares – that is almost more important to their classification than anything in one of their songs. Does this represent growth in the music industry? Does it mean that we have lost what we really like, and are left only with what gives off the shadow of something we love? I’m not really sure – and I don’t quite know why this record is forcing me to ask these questions.
But that is exactly why you should give it a listen; maybe you’ll wind up asking yourself something interesting in the process.
‘Now I’m Ready’
Friends of Friends
© October 16th, 2015
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