There's a hilarious bit from the comedy duo Scharpling and Wurster about the fictional rock band Mother 13. In the role of singer Corey Harris, Jon Wurster explains how his fledgling major label rock band sounds like a cross between The Clash, the Who, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M. and some other well-regarded, A-list rock bands. However, when he plays his band's single, what one hears is lifeless rock only remarkable for how generic it is. Scharpling is incredulous, accusing Wurster of mentioning those bands as an attempt to use their credibility for his own gain.
I couldn't help but think of this "cred by association" when I heard Dirty Projectors covering Black Flag's Damaged album. Well, they don't exactly "cover" the songs but rather offer a reinterpretation from memory. This canny stunt would bring the Brooklyn band lots of attention, which culminated just a few months ago with the release of the follow up to the Rise Above project, Bitte Orca. The album received nearly universal acclaim and has made the band into one of the bigger names in the indie community.
The problem is Dirty Projectors are more or less the exact aesthetic opposite of Black Flag: studied, precious and overly intellectualized. There's absolutely nothing visceral or immediate about their music, which evokes nothing other than how clever its composers must be. Forget about hitting the listeners as hard as a classic punk tune. They don't even have the impact of the average top 40 pop song (Those songs tend to have hooks). I have trouble imagining Dirty Projectors as music that someone "enjoys." It's music that one appreciates if one convinces oneself that is for the best.
The Dirty Projectors never met a vocal affectation or sharp timing change they didn't like, employing them whether or not they serve the tune. Weird for the sake of weird, as Moe Szyslak would say. Old school rock fans may deplore modern bands like Vampire Weekend and MGMT, at least those bands have a backbeat and seek to move the listener. Dirty Projectors just pile on the quirk and hope it adds up to something. When the band strips away their more histrionic tendencies, such as on the single "Stillness in the Move," the results approach listenable. This happens far too rarely on Bitte Orca for the album to be of use to anyone but those who'd rather marvel at a band's "ingenuity" than be engaged by their music.
The Beets, on the other hand are almost ridiculously simple. The band's Spacemen-3-meets-Beat-
However, I think the root this band's particular hype comes from intentions that are sincere and well-meaning. In the film Ratatouille, the character Anton Ego gives a speech about the role of the critic, concluding that the critic's ultimate purpose is the "defense of the new." "The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends," he states. I think that often people, particularly if they are in some kind of gate-keeper position, will see a band like the Beets and realize they've got something going even if they have not quite figured it all out yet. So they try to give the new some friends and talk up the band to status they may have not quite achieved as of yet. Of course, there are bandwagon-jumpers who will immediately take to a band like this as they are the sort that relish in being able to say they were into this awesome shit before anybody else. Suddenly, the band has a following and those on the outside are scratching their heads saying "What the hell is big deal about these guys?" It's sort of like a single A-prospect being brought up to the majors and everybody wondering why he's hitting .220.
Of course, in these accelerated times, bands can achieve a modicum of fame much more quickly than they could years ago. In the past the above process might have taken three years, in which time the band may have matured and developed to the point of definite potency (or they could have broken up and that would be that). Now, this process could take three months. Bands are hyped to the heavens and then quickly discarded for not living up to perhaps unreasonable expectations. There was great quote in the 2006 Pazz and Jop poll wherein a critic notes (I'm paraphrasing, I can't find original quote) "The first time I heard of Cold War Kids was when I heard that everyone is sick of hearing about Cold War Kids." That about sums it up.
The Beets may well have a great record in them. Let's not write them off before they can accomplish it.