The last couple years have seen indie rock coverage fall victim to some of the laziness and shortcuts that are plaguing mainstream news coverage of election season: namely, the reliance on easily digested, occasionally trite narratives to drum up interest in certain bands, instead of deferring to the substance of their work. “Music sites deciding it’s okay to like jam bands” is like pop music’s Tea Party. Or Bieber might be. Either way, it can be a drag.
The problem with this parallel is that figuring out where one stands on political issues and then deciding who or what to vote for is a complicated process. Stories can make it a little easier. Listening to a song and deciding whether or not you like it isn’t. Or shouldn’t be. Time was, the only story a band needed was “Artist X toured relentlessly, built up a small but fervent national audience and released masterpiece after masterpiece, only to be outsold by [era-appropriate platinum-selling artist yet to receive their allotted critical reassessment]”; an occasional flourish could be had with the addition of a casual/unhinged genius-type in the band (Mascis, Malkmus, Mangum, to start). Now, you need a story not only to garner hype (see: Bon Iver), but even just to get shit upon (Wavv…no, scratch that, let’s go with
I only bring up a fairly well-trod point because I’ve been half-surprised, half-disappointed by the reaction thus far to the new Abe Vigoda, Crush, an album by a band that has very little reason to receive as little attention as they do. Their last full-length, Skeleton, got a ton of positive notices. They’ve been touring relentlessly, often with acts like Love is All and the prom kings in Vampire Weekend. They’re part of a noted local scene-gone-national, namely the one in and around The Smell in LA. And, most importantly, they just put out a really great album.
The success of their Smell and Post Present Medium confreres is what throws the relative quiet around Crush into such stark relief. Like a lot of those bands, they started out with a way more abrasive, way more traditional LA punk sound, only to slowly evolve into a simultaneously weirder and more accessible new beast in the last couple years. They just haven’t got as good of a story, or at least, if they do, they’re not using it to push records.
Crush finds the band moving away from the “tropical punk” stylings of their earlier work, and with good reason: it’s a phrase that never denoted an exciting new genre so much as it indicated that they got their guitars to sound a lot like steel drums. Those guitar tones are still there, and remain fantastic, but they’re bolstered by a host of synth flourishes and a stronger presence from singer Michael Vidal that make the songs twice as catchy and add some nuance to the texture of the music without losing any of the sweat and propulsion that made them so thrilling in the first place. It’s more exciting than your standard album from a band in the middle of a transition; it’s an album by a group confident enough to just try making the transition in one fell swoop. That they succeed is almost beside the point.
They’re not the scene kingpins, risen from the ashes of a beloved hardcore group and starting labels in an effort to put LA punk back on a national stage. They’re not immediately releasing a remix album for each proper album they put out and opening for Nine Inch Nails. They’re not Best Coast. They’re just a good band that’s gotten a lot better. And this isn’t to say the album’s been completely ignored or nobody knows who they are—most news sources worth your time have been keeping their readerships abreast of the goings on with Abe Vigoda. This is just, a couple hundred words later, a reminder to check out Crush.