Critical Backlash: A PSA re: Seapony, twee and blog-fi

Here’s the funny thing: Seapony is a twee band. For all intents and purposes, they play the same music of Allo Darlin’ or Very Truly Yours or Pants Yell! or Pains of Being Pure at Heart or, to go all the way back, Tiger Trap and Go Sailor. A handful of open chords played always with that wonderful strumming pattern, a lead guitar playing melodic lines and a fey, winsome singer going on and on about some doomed/exciting romance. The beauty and danger of the genre is that doing it right requires a mold that doesn’t necessarily draw much attention to new bands outside its existing comfort-food fanbase, myself included. And yet! Seapony went through a pretty typical twee evolution, releasing a free EP, getting posted on places like Skatterbrain and Eardrums which care about this sort of thing (and on Rawkblog shortly after), but then the cool kids started paying attention. Gorilla Vs. Bear premiered their video. They’re on Pitchfork’s Forkcast. They’re all over Hype Machine. Here are some press quotes:

Seapony – “Dreaming.” Fitting in so well with this Best Coast-y, 60′s lo-fi surf music era we’re in right now…

Seapony makes the same type of angular beach indie that’s been at the bleeding edge of music…

EXCEPT THAT THEY DON’T! But it’s easy to see why the mistake’s been made: lo-fi. The band’s songs and performances are no different (and, while good, generally less memorable) than their oft-ignored peers, but like Pains of Being Pure at Heart, they chose to play with a thick layer of distortion (not, crucially, the genre’s typical jangle) amid the soft-focus reverb favored by garage-pop revivalists from Tennis to early Best Coast. Personally, I hate this sound: Production is a tool just like any other, and unless it adds some new/great flavor to your music, it’s a wasteful one — except as a cynical, careerist means of getting yourself written about on blogs that favor it.

Best Coast, it should be noted, has transcended her roots and made a medium-fi grunge record; there is nothing particularly lo-fi or garage-y or surf-y or mock-girl-group about it. It’s a Hole album. “Boyfriend” sounds like “Malibu.” And that’s awesome!

However, for bands like Tennis (or the Vivian Girls before them), who write nice but insubstantial songs, all that matters is the presence of signifiers: “Girl-group,” “’50s,” “garage.” This is generally enough for blogosphere/Fader/P4k buzz, quality be damned; but these influences, as en vogue as they may be, have very little to do with Seapony or 2010 twee, despite the band’s insistence on a trendy sonic wardrobe. This may not be true for long: the thin walls between underground pop genres, though, seem to be breaking apart, distressed by the endless onslaught of shitty-sounding guitar amps. Let’s evacuate the building.