Deconstructing: Deafheaven, Disclosure, And Crossing Over

It was damn near impossible to breeze through the music internet last month without tripping over Deafheaven and Disclosure. The two acts, both duos, just released landmark albums that are catching on outside the genre niches from whence they came, though not without some consternation from certain genre purists.

Deafheaven hails from the Scandinavian-born school of extreme sonic terrorism known as black metal (kind of). Per Michael — who co-writes Stereogum’s metal column, the Black Market — the band’s sophomore LP, Sunbather, “absolutely, passionately embraces black metal, and explores possibilities of the genre that have been opened up by such visionary masters as Agalloch and Amesoeurs: It’s expansive, melodic, blinding, textured, dynamic, and moving.” It’s also being embraced by people like me who’ve never listened to Agalloch and never heard of Amesoeurs, people who (gasp!) might not even know the difference between black metal and death metal.

Disclosure revives the turn-of-the-millennium UK dance genre 2-step garage (kind of), although, as Tom Breihan pointed out, debut full-length Settle “has a bit of a pan-genre sweep to it. A handful of tracks are straight-up four-on-the-floor house, and a few others are the sort of diffuse, bottom-heavy bass music that the Lawrence brothers were making when they first showed up a couple of years ago. And this isn’t an album of DJ-bin tracks; most of these are full-on songs, with guest vocalists of some repute, structured with verses and choruses and memorable riffs.” Settle is catching on with people who had never heard of UK garage kingpin MJ Cole until he started getting name-dropped in Disclosure reviews — again, people like me.

Why are these records reaching so far outside their genre ghettos? Partially due to quality, but also due to accessibility. Indie rockers can identify with the shoegaze and post-rock aspects of Deafheaven’s album — again, not a Burzum stan, but I’m guessing most black metal LPs don’t have interludes straight out of a Trail Of Dead record or fadeouts that could be mistaken for U2. Meanwhile, R&B fans can get a grip on Disclosure’s stellar songwriting and knack for hooks; few dance acts have one single as melodically charged as “Latch” or “White Noise” or “You & Me” in their careers, let alone three of them on their first album. By blurring genre lines, each of these crossover stars give outsiders something to connect with.

Of course, the outsiders have to hear this music in order to appreciate it, which is where the deafening din of critical-hive-mind hype comes in. Certain records accumulate so much buzz that anyone interested in keeping up with the critical conversation feels the need to have an opinion. That opinion tends to positive; once a few key tastemakers rave about a record, the rest of the internet usually falls in line. A self-fulfilling feedback loop of conventional wisdom develops, a central core of acclaimed albums that may or may not reflect most listeners’ genuine tastes. That’s certainly been the case with Sunbather and Settle; it seems fair to assume that come year’s end they’ll be the token metal and dance records on Pazz & Jop and other critics’ lists. As someone once said, “When a fire starts to burn, and it starts to spread, she gonna bring that attitude home.”

Those exact factors are why certain genre partisans find Deafheaven and Disclosure so irritating. What your average Metacritic gusher sees as pushing forward modern music, purists see as a betrayal of sacred (profane?) tradition, be it Deafheaven forsaking the lo-fi “necro” sound or Disclosure favoring compact, melody-driven pop singles over stretched-out, beat-centric club tracks. (Ironically, ultraconservative black metal zealots decry their crossover stars for being too progressive while evolution-obsessed club kids clown theirs for being too retro.) When buffet-style dabblers opt not to dig deeper than the big buzz release, the genre acolytes resent seeing so much similar, equally worthy music going ignored. Yesterday on Twitter, a user by the name of @bfordelokoxvx posted regarding Deafheaven, “they rip off wolves algalloch [sic] Alcest envy etc super hard. Idk everyone thinks they are doing something innovative and they arent.” Last month, another tweeter named @mcviper rattled off a bunch of old UK garage producers: “I reckon disclosure is made up secretly of Wookie, mj cole, artful dodger, zinc, Jameson and Karl brown.”

Metal and club music are worlds apart aesthetically, but it’s easy to find some common threads. Both rely on relentless pounding rhythms designed for physicality and catharsis; both are havens for outsiders or people who view themselves as outsiders; both are vast universes to themselves containing a litany of carefully codified subgenres. Most importantly for our purposes, both groups have been infiltrated by armies of ideologues ready to passionately defend the gates to the fan club. And defend they have — sometimes with bizarre insults (Metacritic user finnigan37 on Settle: “If you dance to this you are a terrible dancer”), other times with threats (the charming @chudblunter on Twitter yesterday: “How many Deafheaven kids do you think I can fit in the trunk of a 1998 Buick LeSabre”). It’s worth noting that most of that rhetoric has been relegated to social media, message boards, and comments sections, because the overwhelming majority of music writers are attempting to present themselves as open-minded omnivores. In professional coverage of Sunbather and Settle, you’re much more likely to find disparaging references to purist backlash than actual purist backlash.

As someone who’s writing professionally about those albums right this second, and who is frequently guilty of scouring a genre’s critical-consensus fringe without bothering to plumb its depths, I can’t help but wonder: Is that so bad? I resonate with William Bowers’ defense of dabbling in his concert-review-as-treatise last year: “A few of us dilettantes overestimating Liturgy, and then maybe checking out some other black metal bands’ releases and shows, isn’t ‘doing’ anything to your precious ‘true’ black metal.” Sure, Deafheaven doing “the exact fucking opposite of what black metal bands do” is probably trolling the trolls as Michael suspects, a deliberate attempt to inflame. And sure, Deafheaven’s forebear in the “hipster black metal” designation, Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, is up his own ass a bit with that brilliantly pretentious manifesto. But which Fenriz fanboy was prevented from enjoying some limited edition cassette because of it? And who’s really suffering for my sins of Agalloch omission besides me? Cue Bowers again: “You happily torture yourself practicing lifelong monogamy to the ‘true’ black-metal strictures, and let Hunt-Hendrix write any oracular PowerPoint exegesis he wants to, while others of us whore out our iPod space to whatever comes along and seems halfway interesting.”

Still, a part of me sympathizes with the authenticity police when they call out interlopers like myself for branching out only when it’s fashionable — not because there’s anything wrong with attempting to stay on the cutting edge, but because when you’ve staked your identity on something, it stings to see other people so casually co-opting it. We all structure our worldview around some center; we all define ourselves according to some core identity. For a certain sect of people, that identity happens to be “super kvlt.” They probably relate with a commenter named TheWolf who spewed venom back in May when the metal blog Invisible Oranges posted Deafheaven tour dates: “Thanks for encouraging hipsters who treat metal like a fashion of the week or a garnish to place on top of their indie rock main course.”

I’m the guy with the garnish, but I totally see where the TheWolf is coming from. As someone who defines myself first and foremost as a Christian, you would not believe how much it galls me when people crib elements from my faith as a fashion statement. Examine it, sure, but at a certain point you’re either in or you’re out. Who on Earth wants to see his entire lifestyle reduced to an accessory? Certainly not a gay suburban teen who found himself in house music, only to see the latest wave of EDM exploitation encroaching on his scene. Definitely not a woman who claims “Black Metal Saved My Life.” Even Michael, a passionate supporter of Deafheaven’s quest to redraw the borders of black metal, felt antagonistic toward the party-crashers at the band’s New York show, if only temporarily.

Provincial thinking is tied to music more often than I sometimes realize. It’s easy to mock a guy who gets his corpsepaint all tear-smeared over a Williamsburg Starbucks-sipper discovering “Dream House” via NPR, but every chosen identity comes with its codes of conduct and its fear of ill-willed intruders. Consider other, more widely embraced musical genre archetypes: Blake Shelton’s “Boys ’Round Here” runs down a pavlovian laundry list of country cliches including ice cold beer, trucks, tobacco, red dirt roads and God; when A$AP Rocky suggests, “Pussy, money, weed/ It’s all a nigga need,” he might as well be playing gangster rap Mad Libs. You’d better believe those are codified identities rooted in a musical style. People aspire to be that, and to protect that. How many songs are there about fake country or fake hip-hop? Maybe those who think of themselves as underground music experts can relate: Does it grate on you when Taylor Swift sings about “dress(ing) up like hipsters,” or when your teenage cousin uploads selfies wearing horn-rimmed glasses hashtagged #indie? What about when Jay-Z borrows lyrics from Nirvana? (Speaking of territorial pissings…)

It would be ludicrous to suggest that there’s something wrong with Deafheaven painting black metal in pastels or Disclosure scoring the kind of Top 10 smashes James Blake could not. We’re all lucky to have Sunbather and Settle available to us this summer, even if our journey into their sonic territory never progresses any further than the end of each respective tracklist. Anyone who takes offense at such harmless musical mix-and-match ought to take a long, hard look at their priorities. That said, don’t just mindlessly ingest this stuff. Make an attempt to digest it too, and if it doesn’t sit right, don’t hesitate to spit it back up. Along with this new spirit of genuine critical thought could come a new motto for the gatekeepers: Death to false middle.

Comments (62)
  1. Deafheaven is such a party girl band now. I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward them or their success — it’s deserved after making a great album — but their crossover success reminds me of that of the emo bands I loved when I was a teenager breaking through to an audience that wasn’t quite in it for the same reasons as I was, and how going to their shows sucked for awhile. There was that cheerleader walking down the hall wearing a Thursday shirt and soon enough, she and her pack of friends were going to their shows because they wanted to scream at the lead singer like he was a member of N’Sync. I Instagrammed the cover to Sunbather over the weekend, and I was surprised to see how many female friends who are more Bon Iver than black metal hit the <3 button. They all got crushes all of a sudden on George because he's boyishly handsome, has a dangerous yet classic haircut, wears fashionable dress clothes and is emotional.

    You know there's truth in what I say when even Deafheaven original fan from the start and Stereogum's own Michael Nelson is tweeting out “Deafheaven crowd making me hate Deafheaven.”

    • Yeah…that is definitely a hard part about such crossovers. Crossover crowds.

    • I’ve been really enjoying this Deafheaven album this summer, so much that I went to the show in Cambridge last week. Since then, I’ve been listening to the album a lot, as well as checking out other bands like Wolves in the Throne Room that have similar sounds. I would think that purists would be happy that someone like me who would never think twice about black metal would get into it, even a little bit.

      That being said, I know exactly where you’re coming from, michael. It’s tough when a band like Thursday is so important to you and how you feel and how you self-identify and how you express your emotions, and you see it become the “cool” thing that was everything they stood against, in your mind, in the first place. It’s like hanging out at a very fun party and a bunch of people who weren’t invited show up.

    • Have you ever considered that they just like the music? As palatable as Deafheaven is, as far as black metal goes, it’s still pretty hard to digest for even the more acclimated listener. I just have a hard time believing there are people out there committing to like something basically because it’s the “in” thing to do. Granted I have no experience with the indie scene as I live in my own indie bubble.

    • Thank you for bringing up Thursday, and therefore forcing me to put on Full Collapse.

    • I went to their DC show and I felt this way… until the music started. Yeah, there were a lot of fake-ass people there, and the back half of the crowd looked like they’d never seen a moshpit before, ever. In fact, they looked like they must have thought someone was going to die when the pit started.

      But honestly, the front half of the crowd was just fucking madness all night long. Deafheaven are heavy as shit live, and people fucking loved it. Not in a there to be seen way, in a forgetting yourself in the music way. I’ve seen more “credible” metal shows before that didn’t go off this hard at all.

      Whatever reasons people may have for going to a Deafheaven show, it’s obvious that many of them are there because the music has struck a really deep emotional nerve with people.

      • I went to the Deafheaven show in DC too – and honestly hated it. Never mind the crowd, I mean I hated the show itself. I just couldn’t take the lead singer George Clarke preening around onstage, making ridiculous facial and arm gestures, extending his arms out, encouraging the crowd to grope him, and even crowd surfing on his back in the Jesus-pose.

        When I wasn’t rolling my eyes at this bullshit, I was cringing and embarrassed for this guy and the fawning dozens who were lapping this shit up in the front rows. “THIS is the new hot ‘metal’ band everybody’s raving about? Fuuuck this!” I thought to myself.

        So, am I a “metalhead” or not? Insider or outsider? I dunno. Being a young teen in the early 90′s, the heaviest stuff I was into was probably Helmet, Prong, and the Melvins (later Zeppelin and Sabbath became solid pillars in my musical world).

        I took a pretty long break from rock in the late 90′s (getting into electronica, hip-hop, and funk/soul pretty hard), but got back into heavy rock gradually with bands like Deftones, Queens of the Stone Age, At The Drive-in, and eventually more explicitly “metal” stuff like Mastodon, Kylesa, High on Fire, Torche and lately Ghost, Kvelertak, Pallbearer, Black Breath and pretty much anything produced by Kurt Ballou. Some might call these latter bands “hipster metal” but fuck it, I really think there’s a true renaissance in heavy rock happening at the moment. . . .

        I just honestly don’t think Deafheaven is part of that and it really annoys me that they’re getting so much adulation and press. To me they come off as faux, angsty emo-rock for the “Hot Topic” set. Have you read their lyrics? Have you seen the stage show? I welcome all the new evolution and cross-pollinations in metal, but this is just baby-tantrum emo bullshit masquerading as art-rock. Metal can be a lot of things, but it should never be any of those.

        • their stage show and the antics of george clarke as a lead singer are simply classic hardcore stage goings on. deafheaven more than anything else remind me of a hardcore band, like late 90s style hardcore scene in their live performance and energy while their sound-scape is more of a ambient black metal. however even in the way the songs are developed and the energy pulses back and forth, playing very much with rhythm and dynamic, that is very reminiscent of hardcore as well. it doesn’t seem ‘emo’ to me at all, although i admit i was never quite clear on what that meant other than as a term haters would throw around when they didn’t understand something.

    • Ears still ringing from Deafheaven’s Seattle show last night, and I can only imagine that the roomful of (mostly) stiff, chin-stroking diletantes looked a lot like Brooklyn (you’d think they’d only even HEARD of the word “mosh” in a cultural anthropology class or something)

      Oh, and speaking of co-opting identities for fashion… Daria anyone?

  2. What a fantastic read! I absolutley loved the theme, meat, and presentation of this article. Packed with plenty of outside links and all.

    While Disclosure was fairly easy to jump onto because of my love for quite a lot of dance music, I find myself scouring the outer rim of metal a lot like you. I’m still trying to digest Deafheaven. But I also find myself simply not interested when I go too deep into the genre. I like what you said about these particular albums getting the attention because of their different/somewhat conservative approach to the norm of their respective genre’s. One may see that as a cheap sell tactic, while other’s may see it as making an otherwise “unbearable” genre bearable (speaking from my own opinion here). There are very intentional reasons these original genre’s don’t appeal to the masses and those reasons sit at the core of their motives. So when an artist comes across with something that does appeal, the purists hatre, and the haters learn to love.

    Anyway, great article, interesting conversation.

    • I havn’t posted on these boards since our last convo. Been enjoying being the stereogum avatar reinvention of being a non troll. As always KidChair, most of your posts are the ones I like and agree with most. We’ve talked on these boards many times without me wearing the Corky mask. We both like me better that way :) Cheers

    • As a big fan of old dubstep, UK Garage, and future bass music, etc I was confounded at Disclosure’s success. Not at all negative about it, it’s a good album, but I was mystified at why they crossed over. When friends asked me for similar recommendations, I came up with over 150 (posted it below). That’s I realized it wasn’t the music but the format. Disclosure embraced the album format and saved their best output for a major label release. Almost every other peer of the genre sticks with 12″ vinyl, many even insist on white label dubplates and radio exclusives. For example the huge club favorite of 2011 “Sicko Cell” wasn’t officially revealed as Joy Orbison for almost a year. Bondax and Koreless, who both put out excellent music very similar to Disclosure in 2013, released EPs.

      The success of crossing over is the only true similarity. Musically Settle is not novel, it’s belated mainstream acclaim for UK Garage music, whereas Deafheaven pushed boundaries in their genre and scenes. Deafheaven has far fewer peers (Boris, Jesu, Ulver, Alcest, Liturgy, ANgelic Process, WITTR) all of whom sound quite unique.

      Glad to have found this article, even months later. Few outlets discuss crossing over and “hype” like this, they just reiterate the phrases.

      http://open.spotify.com/user/1255714607/playlist/26g7h2DlgfYr7zkqBDEaV9

  3. Very interesting article. Well-written too!

    It kinda reminds me of my old high school music teacher, who was a Jazz musician at heart. He loved the genre, but he was a purist. My classmates and I would joke with him “hey, turn on the radio and put on some smooth jazz! put on some Kenny G!” and he’d get very defensive saying, “there’s no such thing as ‘smooth jazz’!” Looking back, his jazz was probably Davis, Brubeck, Monk, etc. etc. and he would love nothing more than for that classic sound to continue, untainted by the mainstream. Last thing he would probably want is to be at a jazz club and some kids yelling request for Amy Winehouse.

    A person like me, however, has no such allegiance towards a certain genre, so I don’t mind cross-overs one bit; in fact, I encourage it. I believe creativity shouldn’t have limits. But I can certainly see why people would be protective of a genre they call their own. This protectiveness is part of what makes music so special in the first place.

  4. Burzum stan, Burzum slam. tomato, tomahto.

  5. For most of the aughts, indie music culture was seemingly obsessed with wimpy indie pop and neo-new wave. Now that enough time has passed since the embarrassment of nu-metal and post-grunge, folks are finally hungry for music with some muscle and danger again. This means a revival of the early 90s grunge/alt-rock sound as well as an increased interest in metal for the slightly more adventurous. Unfortunately for “true metal fans” this means lots of indie kids suddenly peeking into “their” scene and going “Ooooh wot’s all this then?” Naturally, most indie folks aren’t going to dive right into Voivod or Carcass or whatever, they’re going to start with something that sounds a bit more like what they’re already into- shoegaze, post-rock, etc.- and they’re probably going to try and avoid some of the cheesier metal iconography like blood and guts and Satan and corpse paint because that stuff already gets made fun of so much (even a little bit in this article!).

    If I were a kvlt metal fan (and I must confess I am not, I can appreciate Voivod and Carcass and other troo extreme metal every now and then, but I don’t listen to it regularly) I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Most indie fans are fickle and will move on eventually to something else.

    • I think it’s that dilettantish fickleness that is most frustrating to the purist. I have a theory somewhere in here that needs to be untangled from a nest of random feelings and observations but BASICALLY it’s not the presence of “outsiders” that makes “insiders” uncomfortable; it’s the presence of “outsiders” who just sort of come inside, wander around for a few minutes, point and laugh and leave. I think “kvlt metal fans” KNOW “most indie fans are fickle and will move on eventually to something else.” And I think that’s the cause of a lot of psychic damage and defensiveness.

      • To be totally clear, as someone who writes about metal sometimes, I’d much rather open the gate to outsiders than guard it.

      • Perhaps, but is indie culture momentarily invading metal really worse than bro culture momentarily invading metal in the late 90s/early aughts? Eventually the bros moved on to EDM and other stuff, and now Slipknot and Limp Bizkit are just jokes. Maybe it’s annoying that bands like Liturgy and Deafheaven are getting lots of critical praise, whereas nu-metal was never taken seriously by critics (outside of maybe SOAD and Deftones)?

        • This is a tough one to answer! In part because I’m not comfortable trying to speak for “purists” when I’m part of the “problem” but mostly because that comparison is FUCKING INSANE. There was never — NEVER — anything worse than nu-metal. It was the worst thing to happen to metal, ever, in the genre’s history. Deafheaven are an incredible band; they are advancing the genre; they are GREAT for metal. Fucking Limp Bizkit truly nearly killed metal.

          • Hmm is nu-metal worse than scenester metalcore a la Attack Attack, Asking Alexandria, etc? I’m not sure if I’m willing to do the research to come to a definitive conclusion. At least the shitty metalcore is only marginally popular…

          • Just out of curiosity sake, Michael…what is your opinion on Deftones then? I only ask because I agree with you in regards to nu-metal, despite actually being into it at the time (hey, we can’t all be proud of the high school years, can we?)…but I still absolutely ADORE Deftones, now more than ever. In fact I always thought it unfair that they were even lumped in with the nu metal scene by association, because their music always had much more substance and depth. As far as the genre goes, I’m not sure they classify as metal technically…but as a “heavy” rock band, they are definitely one of my all time favs.

          • @KiDCHAIR I agree with you about Deftones. I admit I listened to a ton of nu-metal shiz back in the early 2000s and I think groups like Deftones and SOAD still hold up. And it may be my nostalgia here, but I still think Korn’s Follow the Leader does so as well (even though Jon Davis is a total douche), with the exception of All in the Family, where Jon Davis’ “rap” battle with Fred Durst is pathetic at best.

            Sidenote, my first concert experience was in 7th grade. Linkin Park, Adema, and Cypress Hill on the first Projekt Revolution tour… it was awesome.

          • Yeah man, SOAD was really sick too. Just a really great band. Ddevil? You kidding me?

            I’m waiting for the Nu Metal resurgence. Feels like the only music left that isn’t discussed seriously nowadayz.

            Can we get a 15th anniversary Korn Issues story ‘Gum??

          • Scenester metalcore is a total joke but it’s culturally irrelevant and I think it at least has the potential to be an OK gateway for kids to discover good music. Nu-metal was truly destructive on a global scale. I was never a fan of Deftones or SOAD but both bands had unique ambitions and visions, and were victims of nu-metal more than they were perpetrators. I’d even say Slipknot weren’t the worst thing in the world, just way too cartoon-y to be taken seriously, and way too bland to produce music of lasting value. The rest of them deserve to be burned alive (not literally, except in the case of Limp Bizkit).

          • Limp Bizkit was probably the only one of those I never really bought an album of. Although I do now have their “Best Of”, for laughs. I put most of that stuff on my iPod for personal irony sake and I like showing my kid brothers (who are 12 and 15 years younger than me and too young to remember that era) what my high school days sounded like, for better or worse. They literally laugh themselves silly when I play it.

            @world_on_a_string, that was 7th grade for you?? Damn. At least you had a good excuse, being so young. I saw Linkin Park live back then too, and though I wasn’t expecting much, they actually put on a great show. Good enough I saw them again a couple years later haha.

          • even though they had a pretty different sound, i’d throw incubus into the “victims of nu-metal” category as well. i always thought they did some pretty cool, outside-the-box things. still dig ‘em.

          • Good call Ben.

          • Yeah Incubus was good too.. might throw on A Certain Shade Of Green today.

            Yknow Hed P.E. and Kottonmouth Kings were the shit too…
            what’s that?.. i’m pushin it now?.. ok, true lol…really did like an album of both bands’ at one point tho.

          • In college, like many here I’m sure, I had a handful of friends that were also obsessed with music. Each tended to lean toward a specific genre for the most part (mostly guitar driven stuff), but one group we all agreed on unanimously was Incubus.

            Thumbs up Ben!

      • Here’s the thing for me… metal may have a reputation for being hostile to outsiders, but metalheads have consistently been among the nicest people I’ve ever known and they love to talk about the music they listen to. If you want to have a real conversation with somebody about a band you like, they’re probably happy to do that, even if they know that’s not what you normally listen to. But there’s a perception of people just namedropping bands or wearing t-shirts to be fashionable, and that is certainly a source of resentment.

        Also, metal is basically the least ironic genre ever… I think the mannerisms a lot of indie kids have, and the fixation on self-awareness and self-effacing jokes, are frustrating to people who’ve put a lot of honest hard work and care into a community. It comes across as condescending. But the upshot of this is that metal does often feel like a more warm and genuine community than most indie rock scenes. I’m pretty sure your average Wolves In The Throne Room fan has a relationship with music that’s on a level most LCD Soundsystem listeners can’t even imagine, and I think that’s cool.

  6. Great article. People should be more welcoming. It’s just music after all. The more enjoyment and value people get from it, the better.

  7. Solid article.

    I think you basically got to the heart of the issue when you noted that because of the Internet’s whimsical, echo-y feedback loop, certain things — even things that might have previously been considered “fringe” or “outside”-y — become part of the conversation, and everyone feels the need to have an opinion. Since most people don’t have the requisite context for developing an opinion on a black metal album, they take their cues from the tastemakers. The herd then develops a consensus, and so on and so forth, in that fashion.

    This conversation actually reminds me a bit of Arrested Development Season 4, which happened thirty years ago in Internet Time. It’s impossible to say this without sounding like a douche, so bear with me, but I watched the show when it was on the air. I loved it. I told all of my friends, and, of course, they never watched. So it was really just kind of bizarre to see the Internet (my friends included) in an uproar about this thing that I once loved but that (seemingly) no one had ever seen before. Now it’s entirely possible that the show would’ve been wildly popular if it existed when social media were more of a thing, and I’m happy it’s found ex-post success, but still: The fact that it was the talk of a town for about a week, only to disappear into whatever the next conversation happened to be — Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail, the Mad Men Season Six finale or whatever — is still very strange to me.

    And don’t get me wrong! I love the Internet. I am currently writing my thoughts and people are going to read, react, and maybe even reply to something I didn’t say but that they imagined I said: That’s awesome! And I also think it’s also awesome that it’s opened up these fringe-y worlds (black metal, dance music, mid-aughts comedies, etc.) to so many people. I mean, it’s almost certainly opened up all the weird music we like to a wider audience. In so many ways, that’s great I think it’s never a bad thing when someone’s world is changed because he encountered something that in the past he likely would have needed to seek out.

    At the same time, and I’m probably long past the point of being on topic, I really don’t like “The Cult of Now” aspect, since I think it necessarily makes it harder to form lasting (and important) critical impressions. The constant churn results in things reaching a massive audience, but never really becoming part of the cultural cannon.

  8. TIL: I’m a buffet-style dabbler. I really don’t have enough time not to spread myself thin in this way. My tastes are far too broad.

  9. How many songs are there about fake country or fake hip-hop? – Are you kidding? There must be a song about “fake” hiphop being made every nanosecond!

  10. There is something to be said about people who “Enjoy a genre/type of music” and people who “Enjoy a specific band” in music.

    When people ask me what type of music I listen to, I can’t give them a good answer. The best I can do is just list off my favorite bands, and even that doesn’t really do it justice. I end up just saying I like “festival music” meaning bands and artists that would show up on a festival line-up are typically bands I’m listening to. If you want to recommend a new band to me, your best bet is to name other bands that are similar and hope that one of those is something I enjoy.

    I’ve never been into genres as my taste is far too eclectic. These purists that were referenced in the article seem to me to be in the former category I listed at the top. I KNOW there are tons of people out there that just love EDM and could really care less who made the song, what album it’s from, or what the name of the song is. Example: the people in the Sahara tent at Coachella that don’t go anywhere else.

    Or metal fans, who I think (guessing) pride themselves in how deep they go into the genre. They’re knowledgeable of all the different sub-genres of metal and geographic differences in metal bands (still guessing). So if one of these people overheard me talking to one of you guys at a Deafheaven show saying, “Yeah, I like some metal music,” and then list of bands that don’t really even qualify, I could see how that would make a purists skin crawl.

    Of course there is nothing wrong with being into a specific genre. If you know what you like, then godspeed! Somebody has to do the deep digging to find out who is truly doing something special in specific genres. That’s why I listened to Deafheaven. I figure Michael Nelson knows a thing or two about metal music, and if he’s saying this is some quality stuff, then that’s my cue.

    Genre for me can act as a helpful guide. Imagine if I went into Deafheaven’s album expecting hushed My Bloody Valentine vocals? Yikes! But I knew what I was in for, so when I heard it, I could address it on its own terms.

    Because at the end of the day, I just want to listen to a badass motherfucking album. Top to bottom, pure awesomeness. That’s all. If I can find a great album, then maybe I just found a great band. Even if they only have one or two albums to their name, I got a new band I’m cheering for and will keep an eye on in the coming years. Or in the case of Yo La Tengo’s new album “Fade” that introduced me to an entire catalog of fantastic music that I’m still sifting through.

    Maybe it was my festival upbringing, but I’ve always been into supporting specific bands over genres.

    tl;dr Good article, let’s talk about it more.

    • I can very much relate to your second-to-last paragraph there.

    • I can relate, but I think the question a purist might ask is “if you like everything, how can you LOVE anything?” I find myself wondering that sometimes too.

    • I can relate, but I think the question a purist might ask is “if you like everything, how can you LOVE anything?” I find myself wondering that sometimes too.

      I mean, I was never a hardcore metalhead so I can’t speak to that… but I can certainly remember the period of my life when almost all of my listening time went to four bands, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Porcupine Tree. And I knew everything about them, even posted on Nine Inch Nails message boards. That was a totally different way of experiencing music from my current, Stereogum-commenting life.

      • Good observation. It’s really not that different in the long run though. A genre purist probably loves just as many bands as I do, only they all fall under a certain umbrealla. I love lots of bands, but throw them in a pot and you get a pretty big variety of mixed greens. I don’t think investing in different genres at once affects how much you can love certain bands.

    • The reason I think the “band over genre” approach is more problematic for things like dance music and metal than it is for music that scans as “indie” is that all of the different things that come under the fold of “indie” are essentially lyric-based popular music – nothing is codified, and for the most part, its greatest bands don’t have imitators who could ever be mistaken for the band itself. Radiohead and Modest Mouse and Animal Collective are great because (among other, band-specific reasons) no one sounded like them at their prime and no one has really sounded like them since (not for lack of trying, of course).

      Metal and Dance, however, DO have a sort of codified aesthetic within each subgenre – when a “badass motherfucking [metal] album” is created, we’re talking about relatively small and gradual deviations from the normal parameters. The deviations might result in music that is more (Deafheaven, Opeth) or less (Portal, Anall Nathrakh) accessible on average than bands operating within the template, but the innovations are really only meaningful to people who know what the template IS and have some kind of love and knowledge of it. This is different than saying that the music itself can’t be meaningful to outsiders, of course, but any opinion of theirs other than “I like this” or “this moves me (because ___)” wouldn’t really hold a lot of credibility.

      I can’t speak for dance, but I think metal is relatively unique this way. In other genres, it’s perfectly reasonable that there might be this singularly great band who outsiders can listen to without having any reason to go deeper (experimental pop => AnCo, psych rock => Tame Impala), but when the critical media claims (or even gives the impression) that this is true for some metal band, most metalheads will call their bluff. I think Deafheaven are Great and Innovative, but not Peerless the way an 8.9 might make you think.

      PS: Tom Ewing talks about this phenomena pretty succinctly and insightfully in a Poptimist called “The Heart of the Crowd” – definitely worth a quick read

  11. I like deafheaven, and their new album a lot. If you happen to like black metal, shoegaze and post-rock in somewhat equal amounts, this isn’t a terribly far fetched notion. Not every deafheaven fan is a massive hipster or 21 year old girl. Some of us are on the uncool side of 30 and have not a single pair of skinny jeans in their dresser. Sorry haters.

  12. the difference between Deafheaven and Liturgy is that Deafheaven’s sound itself ‘indie-rock-gentrified’ (and I don’t mean that pejoratively) whereas Liturgy are an average current black metal band that were overhyped by people who apparently have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to metal and just took the band’s word for it that they were putting some post-baccalareate artistic sheen on a genre that the ‘AnCo/LCD-worshipping set’ otherwise assumed to be the province of backwater meatheads.

  13. Is there an official board to go to that decides who is a hipster band? I think i’m doing something wrong, i was under the impression that if the music is good then that is all that matters.

  14. I’ve never listened to black-metal, or an exhaustive amount of alt-country, or shoegaze, or acid house, or whatever hot name tag you’d like to put on a certain genre. Some bands simply are greater than genre tags. Wilco was more than alt-country, My Bloody Valentine and Ride were more than just shoegazers and Happy Mondays meant more to certain people than their genre tag. I remember reading something Jeff Tweedy said, and I’ll just paraphrase because I don’t want to get caught misquoting him, he said that when you go to a music store, you have these genre tags to make it easier for someone to find something they think they might like. I happen to love both of these records very much. I read Stereogum, Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, etc to learn about the music that is making the rounds in the world nowadays. I don’t live in Brooklyn or L.A. or Manchester. I live in rural Maryland. I like these groups because they make very good music. These groups happen to make my life in small town America more fulfilling and I thank them for it.

  15. Bands that make good music get exposure. It is a damning thing and a wonderful thing. Both Disclosure and Deafheaven exist outside of the parameters of the “genres” they supposedly belong to. The one thing they have in common is that they are of the moment, wildly popular and immensely talented groups. Vital music finds an audience.

    • …or the three things they have in common.

    • Disclosure makes some great music but it’s hardly groundbreaking. What’s remarkable is how they did the opposite of most UK garage and dubstep success stories: the put out forgettable singles and EPs then worked on a worthy LP for a major label. Producers like Skream and Benga put out less acclaimed albums when they got big. James Blake and Zomby changed their musical style tremendously.

      Disclosure succeeded by abandoning the UK garage scene with it’s dubplates, radio exclusives, white labels and other forms of anonymity. Joy Orbison, Jacques Green and Mount Kimbie all made similar music but only through EPs. Genre wise Disclosure didn’t push any parameters, they just got more exposure. As a huge UK garage/future bass fan it was interesting to see them blow up this year.

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