Song of the day – 536: Naomi Punk
Huh. Now here’s a thing.
I agreed with pretty much everything Erika Elizabeth wrote about this young bunch of Olympia WA would-be misfits the other week.
Naomi Punk are in town from Olympia, WA, playing a show in the dining hall at Hampshire College to a crowd of college kids, most of whom I’m guessing were born in the 90s. Naomi Punk’s musical palette is also squarely situated in the Bill Clinton era, and it might seem unfair to single them out for their derivative flannel-flying, given that there’s hundreds of young Naomi Punks out there inspired by the same bands that were first inspired by the SST Records back catalog as we speak. I’m friends with quite a few of these bands, and even that’s not really enough to get me excited about warmed over Dinosaur Youth riffs.
My thoughts as Naomi Punk play their first song (which I think is ‘The Spell’, but don’t quote me on that): It’s fine. Nothing about it is offensive, but nothing about it is inspiring, either. Unoriginal fuzzed-out indie guitar rock competently played by dudes with funny haircuts in over-sized T-shirts. I love plenty of bands that have mined that same formula to success (boy, do I ever), but the difference is that something like 20 years have passed since that might have been a novel concept, and with that much time between then and now, we’ve seriously had long enough to bring something extra to the table by this point. And I’m saying this as someone who was born in the mid-80s, so it’s not exactly like I was there for everything in the 90s the first time around, either. Sometimes when you remove things from their original context of place and time, you lose a lot in translation.
Thing is, while I was embedding videos and checking over her post, I naturally had a listen to the songs. Especially as they were songs from a band charged with being the latest variant of Emperor’s New Clothes.
Thing is, I really liked what I heard. Dull, laconic repetition. Three words that are not insults in my book. Heavy on the fuzz and distortion and cutely (dis)affected boy-boy vocals, sure. Some harmonies stolen from whatever place everyone else steals their harmonies from. Some monster distortion. Felt that the following song was way better (and noticeably so) than the aforementioned ‘The Spell’ and obviously didn’t have to suffer any broken guitar strings or bands shuffling off stage 15 minutes into a hotly anticipated appearance, but I’m with Tobi Vail here, in that I also didn’t spot any obvious parallels with the shit I *did* hear in the 90s (and the 80s) (and, to a lesser extent, the 70s) first time round, mainly because this sound has so obviously gone through a post Times New Viking, post-drone rock filter from the 00s. ‘Course, I can’t speak for them live – and you know I’m in total agreement with Erika Meyer when she talks about the best way to judge a band is on their live show (in the comments section to Erika Elizabeth’s post)… but, you know, that judgment call has always been more than a little problematic when it comes to different styles of music and indeed bands. Context.
Thing is, could just be simple nostalgia on my part liking this… but you’d think my filter would be advanced enough to shrug such shit away? (I have no answer to this.)
There’s no fucking way I’m a-gonna be seeing Naomi Punk in the near future, so there’s no way I can be disappointed by shoving this song on my iTunes mix-tape and having a listen or 10. Does it bother me they might suck live? Why should it? The song is what matters. Always. (Always? Of course not.)
I’ve never had a problem with music press hype. How could I, when I’ve been responsible for so much of it during my life? Adds to the spice, the conversation. Yes, even around the fucking Vaccines.
Anyway, I reckon Naomi Punk sound way more like homies Unwound than Dinosaur Jr. They also remind me of some of the stuff I’vebeen enjoying out of Brisbane the last few years.
Whatever. The conversation’s still going on around Erika’s article. Let’s have a listen in on Facebook:
Kenneth Sean Slade
Agreed. What’s the point in playing a show when you have no idea how to play a show?
Everyone should be born a consummate professional? That’s not what I took away from this article.
There’s so much going on in Olympia all the time that has nothing to do with hype – mostly it works against you here if you have that going on – so really I have nothing to say about this group. Ask me about VEX, The Moon, Госкино!
nick and neil (originally from the seattle area, currently living in olympia for school) from naomi punk used to be in another band called masters and johnson when they were 16 or 17. at the time i was 19 and in another band going on tour with them. the tour was kind of a flop, and nobody cared, but from what i know about those kids, they aren’t doing it for the hype and for the attention. as far as i know they don’t even really listen to 90s bands, they are genuine music geeks listening to all kinds of weird stuff, and even now they seem to be somewhat ambivalent about all the attention they are suddenly getting. it’s interesting that they’ve been picked up by a hip label and are getting pretty popular, and their music doesn’t blow my mind, but i can pretty much guarantee you that “90s nostalgia” is not their goal. they’re just doing their thing, man. not to mention, “average” bands being more popular than truly great bands isn’t a new phenomenon, is it?
Music is the new geography. Someone explores strange new aural landscapes, and someone colonises the new found lands. I know that some new and amazing sound is just around the corner- a sound that is usually built on the discoveries of those that came before, like the difference between being the first white man on Australia and the first one to go deep inside and find Uluru. I rarely love the derivative band as much as the one that broke new ground, but we can’t all be Captain Cook. Some people go far out and bring back new fruits and some of us take those seeds, plant them, and sow them. We all gotta eat.
I think I kind of addressed this in my comments on the article itself, but basically, I understand & sympathize with the fact that these dudes might be really awesome/genuine/eclectic in their tastes, but all I had to go on was my impression of the live performance, which seemed really hollow & dull to me. They might be huge Phillip Glass fans in reality, but the music strikes me as ’90s flag-flying with obvious grunge influences, so that’s how I described it. I never said this band was “doing it” for the hype & attention, but hype & attention have become repercussions of what they’re doing, which is often a consequence of creating art, whether or not you go into it seeking recognition – when that happens, I feel like you can either push yourself outside of the boundaries that have been placed on you, or you can just coast by on praise. It’s too soon to say what will happen in the aftermath of the buzz these dudes have racked up, but my piece was merely meant to be a commentary on how hype can often blow things out of proportion & set up expectations that maybe shouldn’t have been there (“THIS BAND IS AMAZING & GROUNDBREAKING” versus “This band was pretty cool”).
I don’t think they sound like a 90’s band …at least not one from the NW… I don’t really see it at all to be honest.
People used to tell me my old band sounded like Flipper (a band I never listened to or cared about), so I totally understand how what one person hears in a band can be completely subjective & biased. Am I projecting onto Naomi Punk the fact that I’m a child of the ’90s & their music reminds me of a lot of things I listened to when I was twelve or thirteen? Maybe. But I think denying that those are SOME of their influences is going too far in the other direction.
Every generation complains about new hyped bands being derivative of the great bands they listened to in their day. I guess it is inevitable. As is being influenced by sounds that already exist. I might bitch about it on occasion but mainly I just spread the word about great music I see or hear and let the underwhelming stuff wash over me.