Athens, GA: 2005-Present
Since I still live here I should probably issue a disclaimer and let everyone know that their inclusion on this list in no way shape or form reflects how I feel about the quality of their music, or the quality of them as individuals. Remember, this is first and foremost an article about misguided hype and buzz in the music industry. It isn’t about whether your band deserved, or still deserves, to be a household name. It’s about the weird way people, particularly in the local media surrounding a scene, become convinced that success for a given band is inevitable. Everyone here is special, talented, and deserving of success.
Hope For Agoldensummer – 4th Night
A couple of months after I moved to Athens, the local alt-weekly Flagpole put these guys on the cover with the headline ‘Best Band in Athens’ or something like that, which is a pretty bold thing to say in a town like Athens. So I rushed down to see the show, but when it was over I just felt a little confused. I thought it sounded like CocoRosie only with way less interesting sounds and lyrics, or a bit of a Cat Power thing with harmonies, so what was the big deal? This wouldn’t be the last time I wondered if people in Athens paid attention to music currently being made by people outside of Athens (they don’t — not the music writers anyway) or if they didn’t realize that NYC/Los Angeles/Chicago is packed full of hundreds, if not thousands, of bands who are also emulating stuff that was popular last year (they don’t realize this — especially the musicians). There’s nothing wrong with that, but as we have seen, thinking a band is going to be big because they sound like a type of music that is already currently big, or even worse, was big two years ago, is a really bad way to predict future success.
The Whigs – Right Hand On My Heart
Next came The Whigs. They had a decent power-pop three piece thing going, kind of like The Replacements or Tom Petty only not as good with the hooks. Then they got signed to a big label and went on tour with Kings Of Leon, at which point their sound morphed into ‘kind of like Kings of Leon only not as good with the hooks’. The lesson here as always: If you want to be a successful rock band, you need to put some really good hooks in your songs. People like hooks.
Dark Meat – Intro/Freedom Ritual
I take back what I said earlier, I have listened to Dark Meat for pleasure a few times. I just got tired of it real quick. The band fancied themselves a cross between The Stooges and Albert Ayler (they even dedicated their first album to the departed jazz legend, an honor he has yet to reciprocate), and as we can see in this live clip, they occasionally got kind of close to that in maybe their best moments. But on record it sounded more like a cross between Mudhoney and my high school marching band. These guys got picked up by Vice Records, the label even sprung for a bus, and despite their lovably chaotic freak show, at the end of the day people are going to get tired of you unless they have a great record to listen to at home. Which is pretty much what they did.
Modern Skirts – Pasadena
R.E.M. had these guys open some European shows for them. Mike Mills even produced one of their songs. Flagpole covers, packed shows, a fervent college-aged fan base, these guys seemed to have everything going for them. So what if their music sounded like a less-edgy Ben Folds? They could have been stars, I tell you. Sadly, they never got signed to a label when they needed one (getting some bad reviews outside Athens didn’t help), and their last album heralded a lo-fi, experimental change in direction which, when you actually listened to it, sounded nothing at all like Guided By Voices or Can — to say nothing of Tall Dwarfs or Alvin Lucier. Instead it just sounded like Modern Skirts recording on their own Pro Tools instead of somebody else’s. Regardless, their audience either decided they didn’t want to hear this ‘new sound’, or — and this is more likely — they finally graduated.
Reptar – Sebastian
As the most recent Athens buzz band to head out into the world, these guys have already popped up a couple of times on Collapse Board. After building a local fan base and getting the kind of hype in Flagpole that bands would kill for, they went to SXSW and got raved about by the NME. They enlisted Animal Collective producer Ben Allen, signed with Vagrant (a tremendously bad idea — their sound doesn’t mesh with the rest of the label and Vagrant hasn’t wielded any hip credibility in at least a decade). The week their album came out they were on the cover of the local daily paper (the local reviewer pronounced it a future classic — I’m pretty sure this didn’t happen the week that Pylon/R.E.M./Vic Chesnutt/Neutral Milk Hotel/Olivia Tremor Control released their first albums… something to think about) in addition to Flagpole. Tastemaker radio stations like KCRW and KEXP put the band in rotation and things were heading up, up, up.
And then Pitchfork weighed in with a 3.0. Regardless of our feelings about the ‘fork, we have to admit that Ian Cohen made a pretty solid case and got off some good jokes in the process. From a commercial standpoint, things haven’t really been the same for Reptar since this review came out — the aforementioned stations dropped them like Chipper Jones fielding an October ground ball. But the band’s still out there touring, and Vagrant willing, they might even get the chance to make another album. My Bloody Valentine made an unimaginative debut album that everybody laughed at too. Come on Reptar, make them all choke on it.
Grass Giraffes – Better Alone
We’ll close with the current local buzz band — their Flagpole description even includes the phrase ‘buzz-worthy’, which must mean every other band in town is ‘buzz-worthless’ (if this were 1977 and we were all forming punk bands, I would definitely be changing my name to Buzz Worthless). Everyone in town is predicting big things for these guys, but if we’ve learned anything over the last 2,000 words, we know that predictions are bullshit. Success involves a combination of talent and luck. The more talent you have, the less luck you’re going to need.
And I wish these guys all the luck in the world.