Last week, I detailed the bizarre self-titled third LP of MGMT and the way it aspired to repel mass audience, even those who considered themselves fans of the band. MGMT chose to flee to the confines of constructed anonymity rather than face the burden of being popular or, worse yet, sounding popular.
While many artists have taken similar routes, such is not the case for all. The music scene is littered with bands not above crafting their songs to appease as many people as possible, ignoring critics and their own self-respect in the process. In rare instance, though, you stumble across a band that makes pop music out of actual enjoyment, not just market aspirations. Enter Grouplove.
If you polled a hundred people on the street and asked them what the best pop rock album of the past three years was, I’m thinking near ninety of them would say Some Nights by fun. Aided by a car commercial aired during the Super Bowl, fun. seemed crafted out of some pop rock tall tale. “We Are Young,” “Some Nights,” and “Carry On” chewed through the charts like an old stick of gum and hijacked every music awards show in 2012. For every statuette accumulated and every lame joke told by Nate Ruess behind his unsettling pixie smile, fun. was able to veer attention away from the truth: outside of those three songs, their album kind of sucked.
A significantly better indie pop album from the past three years is Never Trust a Happy Song, Grouplove’s first full length LP after 2010’s self-titled EP. The album is not groundbreaking. It is not insightful. It is not heavy. It is not dark. What it is, though, is twelve well-crafted catchy-but-not-vapid, speedy-but-not-chaotic, fun-but-not-stupid tracks, one right after the other. And for all the shortcomings that could be easily pointed out, I never feel a need to because the album is such a damn joy to listen to.
Grouplove released their sophomore effort last week. The daunting second album has tripped up even the most highly-regarded musical acts (see: The Strokes, Interpol, The Arcade Fire), so the possibility of novelty burn out was definitely on the table. While I don’t see it having the legs Never Trust a Happy Song did, I’ve rather enjoyed Spreading Rumours. The tunes have definitely gotten a little harder and maybe a bit less conventional, but they are still pop down to the marrow. Only the opener lasts much longer than four minutes. There’s nothing that needs to be sped up and bleeped out. All of these were born for the radio, even if none of them get the airtime.
Whether you like Spreading Rumors as much as I do or if you think they’re a derivative poppy mess is irrelevant; the conscious decision to make this type of music is what stands out to me. Critics have shown that they love a novelty the first time around, but if you go to the well for your second and third outings, you become boring and inconsequential in a hurry. Take the band Cults, for instance. Their self-titled debut was a pop masterpiece, lauded by everyone, even the almighty wardens of art at Pitchfork. While their follow up is yet to be seen, the duo quickly created chatter with news of a rap mixtape and a departure from their signature sound. One album of noisy 60s pop is brilliant; two is démodé.
This is precisely what makes Grouplove so intriguing to me. They are not an arena band. Their music is not conquering airwaves. They are still on the low to middle card at indie rock festivals. Their quest to make digestible pop music would seem arbitrary to this point. While one of their songs has recently popped up in a car commercial, they’re hardly treading the same path as Phoenix.
So why then go the radio-friendly route? Why not take a page from MGMT’s book and push yourself further and further from convention in pursuit of that ever-elusive “Best New Music?” Well, frankly, they don’t seem to care. It would seem that there are people in this world who dig the radio hits, even if they’re not on the radio. On “Hippy Hill,” they gleefully sing, “I’d rather be a hippy than a hipster.” It’s still defiance, just defiance with a smile.
This is not a music revolution by any means, I just happen to take particular delight in someone, anyone giving complete disregard to the Pitchfork’s of the world. Neither of Grouplove’s albums have even been reviewed by Pitchfork. I doubt they care.
Nothing will change from this. I will continue to enjoy Grouplove’s albums. Pitchfork will continue to ignore them. The hipsters that are running indie music’s pious segregation of worthy music from bubblegum will continue to do so with condescending album reviews. Music certainly functions better when it has context and emotion. Sometimes that emotion, though, is happiness.