I’m sure you’re well aware of the cliché that culture oscillates in 20-year cycles, which makes it absurdly fitting that many of 2012’s most notable rock bands adhere to a style whose final year was documented exactly 21 years ago. That generation’s essential indie-rock document — a 500-page tome titled Our Band Could Be Your Life, written excellently by noted journalist Michael Azzerad — extensively covered thirteen bands springing up from America’s basement venues and into the canon of indie-, college-, or alternative-rock, depending on whose lexicon you prefer.
There was a storm brewing around this time last year involving heavy, crashing drums and guitars that sounded like they were siphoned directly from Jesus Lizard bootlegs. And unlike the last major strike of loud guitar music, the insurgents weren’t from the garages of idyllic stoner/junkie/hippie haven San Francisco. The conjurers in this case rose from everywhere; the lofts of Brooklyn, the bedrooms of Cleveland, the abandoned warehouses of Vancouver, British Columbia. None of them were fully-proven war heroes like Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer or Sic Alps’ Mike Donovan, musicians with almost two decades of discarded beer bottles and stomped-out spliffs under their belts. Most of them were young or young-ish punks, adopting the do-it-yourself lifestyle that’s been the lifeforce of underground rock music since the beginning.
Throw in a few immensely enjoyable albums, a workmanlike touring regimen, and a shitload of a charisma, and you have yourself the new vanguard of (mainstream-ish) indie-punk music.
Attack on Memory is reportedly Baldi’s sharp middle finger to the concept of audience expectations, his way of saying, “Fuck what you’ve heard before.” There are song titles like “No Future/No Past,” and “No Sentiment,” but also ones like “Stay Useless.” The central lyric of the nine-minute “Wasted Days” is “I thought I would be more than this.” Baldi is clearly attacking more than just preconceived notions of his band. He’s simultaneously setting fire to his own past, dwelling on personal mistakes and failed relationships and trying to wipe the proverbial slate clean. Ironically enough, Baldi does so through a medium primed for nostalgic remembrance. Regardless of whether the future or the past is getting burned down, Attack on Memory represents rallying against an ideal; the attack is far more important than the memory.
It’s easy to see the appeal, though; playing like a louder, faster, and far less literary version of the Hold Steady, each of Celebration Rock’s eight songs are beer-lifting anthems for people too busy actually drinking beer to make the umpteenth pass through their dog-eared copies of On the Road. The album’s lone cover — a blistering take on the Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy” — is tailored to the LP’s fit; instead of the jittery, nervous vibe of the original, Japandroids do for it exactly what they do for their own work, turning it into a balls-out, 90MPH drive through a neighborhood street. If you’re looking for rock songwriting with subtlety, nuance or even a little more brains than brawn, you probably shouldn’t have hit the play button on an album called Celebration Rock in the first place.
It’s safe to say the catalyst of getting the wider populace of indie-rock fans to care about this style of music again was last year’s Leave Home, a brutal, visceral masterstroke from a quartet of Brooklyn punks born in the Reagan era who sought influence from bands piling into vans throughout the George Bush Sr. era. For Leave Home, the Men seemed to made a reimagined compilation of all the greatest moments of legendary indie labels like Homestead and the aforementioned Touch and Go. They had their second breakthrough in a row when they shucked those influences and tried their hand at distilling the influence of mid-1980s SST.
It’s difficult to say whether Our Band Could Be Your Life ends up proving to be the Holy Bible of alternative-rock culture, or if fans wind up putting it back on the shelves in favor of Rip it Up and Start Again in 2013. Whichever way underground alternative culture goes, many acts this year certainly proved there could be additional documentation of the influence asserted by those 500 pages written many, many years ago. Who knows? Maybe their band could be your life someday.