The Mendoza Line
Herman Düne and The Broken Family BandEdit this event
- The Arts Cafe, Poplar »
Genre Music is more interesting when it is made by people who do not belong to the culture associated with the genre. No, think about it. Abandon all your notions of "authenticity" being urgent and key in music; they are wrong. The best Prefab Pop is not made by well-tanned teenagers from Florida, it's made by Japanese kids with laptops. Velvet Underground impressions are better left to stoners from the East Midlands (see Spacemen 3) than real, 'genuine' Lower East Side trustafarians like the Strkes. And is the best rap *really made by kidz from Da Hood, or by middle class escapees with access to the technology which makes the production values of Timbaland and the Neptunes possible?
See, "staying true" and "authenticity" may make for better examples of a particular genre, but it doesn't make for better music. Truly genius music comes from mixing and matching and cross-pollination and a wilful disregard for convention. The best way to get something right is to get it so wrong that you come up with something fresh and original.
See, I come from a place where they play both kinds of music: Country and Western. I wouldn't have been caught dead listening to it back when I lived in the States. It's too loaded with fear and loathing in Middle America and high school memories of being chased by baseball-bat wielding rednecks in pick-up trucks. I only love Country Music when it's made by people from other countries.
"I know all the answers and I know where they come from, I just don't know why they get to be so twisted by the time they reach my ears..." sing the Broken Family Band, and this is the secret of their genius. They are from Cambridge and they are polite, over-educated, self-effacingly charming and Indie with a capital I - about as far as you can physically and culturally get from Nashville or Texarcana. Yet they play country music. Over quicksilver slide guitar and lonesome harmonies, the lyrics are wonderfully, delightfully off, dipping from wry Ray Davies household observation to Robyn Hitchcock freeform flights of fancy and back. Utter mundanity mixes with surrealism in a way that no Space Cowboy Southern Californian would ever think of. The bottle runs dry with fading love, space aliens strafe fields of barley, behind the chapel either girls are murdered or boys are stood up in spirals of self deprecation, you never really know which.
Herman Düne are two brothers from Sweden and a French drummer fuelled by twin obsessions with country music and the Velvet Underground. In the America of the 60s, this combination would have been unthinkable - the VU were regularly beaten up on tour by Hank Williams-loving rednecks. But this is what makes them brilliant - the unexpected combinations. Every song has that shuffling Velvets beat, but it's mixed with a spidery silvertone cowboy guitar crawling across the songs like a spider one minute, and a minimalist jazz filigree the next. Their vocal harmonies are gorgeously not quite right, and everything is a little bit off, a little bit wrong, from their 'Indie Rabbi' fashion to the singing, recorder-tooting chick of uncertain national origin. It's like the naive, non-drug-taking Jonathan Richman hanging out with the Velvets and making dronerock that celebrates eating ice cream instead of heroin (As if to prove my point, Herman Düne proceed to cover a Richman tune) except much, much better. There are songs about wishing your friends were monkeys so they'd have prehensile feet, and possibly the most advanced display of Singing With Fag In Mouth seen since the last time Elastica graced a stage. They are weird, gorgeous, haunting, off-kilter, alienated and not-quite-right, but oh, so much better for it.
But it's The Mendoza Line that the indie rock royalty are out in force to see. (Look! One of Stereolab! Her out of Heavenly!) And it's The Mendoza Line that leave me strangely disappointed. Their music is slick, beautifully presented, well played, but it's shiny and pristine where I want my Country to be well worn and slightly frayed, like a favourite pair of jeans. The first song starts with pedal steel and the best Dylan impression I've heard in years, and the next song features girl and boy singing in perfect Gram and EmmyLou harmony. There are genuine sweet Southern accents, rippling Kansas cornfields and Joshua Tree desert sun aplenty, but it's too accurate, and suddenly I'm back on the school bus with WGNA - Today's Best Country playing in the background as I try to avoid the twin perils of the ex-trucker bus driver and the glue-sniffing BO-tards in the back seat. But is it authentic? One song sounds like Mazzy Star, one sounds like the frigging Eagles, and yet another sounds like Gld-fucking-rsh. Narrow, blinkered, genre-specific homage music, and I have a sudden urge to run home and put some Duran Duran on.
But, as the song goes, two out of three ain't bad.
Keep watching for the rest of the week, as we follow the continuing adventures of the Track and Field Winter Sprinter... Tomorrow it's neo-psychedelic indie-pop with Of Montreal, and the following day, it's screengazing guitar rock with Capitol K.
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