The Generation Gap Splitting American Indie

Arcade Fire and The National might deal in escapism like US slackers such as Best Coast and Wavves do, but Laura Snapes reckons there’s a divide opening up

Now the music divides us into tribes/Yeah my old friends, they don’t know me now”, sings Arcade Fire’s Win Butler on ‘Suburban War’. And he’s right, in the sense that his band’s phenomenal new album has widened the growing gap between the two most prominent sides of US indie, let’s call them the slackers and the adults.

To me, it’s a division that’s a direct result of the two very different economic climates in which they both began making music.

Arcade Fire

On one hand, you’ve got Arcade Fire and The National, who have been toiling away at the big time for years and are just making it now. These are career bands who have only recently been able to stop struggling and who now occupy the rungs beneath classic major leaguers such as Springsteen and REM.

These bands grew up when the idea of a simple life of working hard in order to own a house and car wasn’t a pipe dream – as NME’s Emily Mackay pointed out in her recent review of ‘The Suburbs’, Arcade Fire’s album is full of allusions to a full family, the stability of home and car, and the hard-earned possibility of escape.

The National’s latest record, ‘High Violet’, was heavily grounded in a comfortable but tense suburbia straight out of a Richard Yates novel, with its most escapist track, ‘Lemonworld’, describing sexy swimsuit parties in a creepy abandoned mansion. As far as escapism goes, both bands play it pretty safe and stable, but to folk of their age and experience, feeling safe is the reward at the end of the career gauntlet.

On the other side of the US indie scene you’ve got younger slacker bands such as Wavves and Best Coast, who sing about lapping shores and getting baked, and who live in a fantasy tropical paradise as brilliantly idealistic and clichéd as the illustration on a carton of Um Bongo.

What they want is light years from the dream of a home, a station wagon and 2.4 children because they came of age in a time when hoping to have that stuff by your thirties is about as reasonable as hankering after a moon igloo and spacebuggy. As such, their ethos seems to be: why fantasise about the impossibility of Volvos and spare bedrooms when you could waste your time dreaming about awesome stuff like cats and surfing?

Each to their own and all that, but what’s interesting is that bands like this who wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as actively political are subconsciously making music that reflects the way things are right now. Win said in our cover interview last week, “The more escapist element of what we do, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, is all an attempt to connect with something true.”

That’s the beauty of these bands – without even trying to pin their lyrics to any doctrine, they’ve all ended up painting a wider picture through their unabashedly truthful introspection.

This article appears in the August 7 issue of NME

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