Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Freaks come out at night

The freakiest thing about this NYTimes story about the freak folk scene (that I discovered through this Boing Boing item) is its overall premise that this ultramarginal movement is So Two Years Ago and yet is now entering a second wave. I find this freaky because it seems safe to assume that 99% of America has never heard of Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsom, and here's the nation's newspaper of record performing the twin tasks of
1. telling mainstream readers about those two, and also
2. hinting that they are now old hat, and there's a whole bunch of new superobscure folks to pay attention to instead. (Remind me again: when did the Times become N.M.E.?)

The story has a strong element of instant nostalgia--specifically, nostalgia for a music from 2004 that is itself grounded in a nostalgia for a completely mythologized version of the late 1960s based on records nobody listened to the first time around. Freeeeeaky! I learned a whole lot from the story, including these freaky fun facts:

1. Devendra briefly dated Lindsay Lohan!
2. Vashti Bunyan's lovely, delicate 1969 ballad "Just Another Diamond Day" is now in a T-Mobile ad--making her this year's Nick Drake, only she's still alive!
3. Both Cibelle and Juana Molina can be considered freak folkies (?)! Cibelle even theorizes it's an outgrowth of tropicália! ("It's not about genre, this new state of mind. Even if musicians don't know tropicália by that name, they are still making music that way, by intuition, without rules, following their own uniqueness.")
4. Sellout/backlash alert! "Virtually every major indie-rock label has embraced the style..." (Freak folk, meet emo. Emo, this is freak folk. I'm sure you two have a lot to talk about....)
4. Neil Young digs it, while old punk rockers don't!

As an old punk rocker and Neil Young-digger myself, I am of two minds about this phenomenon. Some of the (admittedly little) FF-identified music I've heard sounds like crap you could have heard at any open mike in a bar over the last 30 years or so and would never have paid a second's attention to without the name "freak folk" slapped on it. Let's just say songcraft is not always a high priority--self-editing, even less so. And, come on, neohippies have been with us since right around the time the original hippies got their first fulltime jobs. (The Times dubs 2006 "Summer of Love 2.0," which I guess means I must have hallucinated all those previous Second Summers of Love, like the one I read about in the mid80s, and then the one at the height of the rave era.)

On the other hand, I am really enjoying some of the stuff I've listened to, like 5-6 songs out of the 20 or so on each Devendra B. album I've heard so far. (God, I am coming across truly snide here, aren't I? I'm sorry, it's just my longstanding neohippiephobia. Though I must remind myself that, as someone in the article points out, true neohippies--the annoying ones--listen to Phish, not this stuff.) And I want to hear more. And a lot of the musicians quoted in the story have smart stuff to say. Oh, and don't miss the really nice slideshow featuring narration by the article's author, Will Hermes, images of several of the artists, and audio clips.

I recognized several of the up-and-comers Hermes mentions (Espers and Vetiver, for instance) from their appearances at Soundlab here in Buffalo over the last couple of years, and I've missed all of them, dammit.

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