Criteria has a new record out, and what was once a solo project (for ex-Cursive guitarist Stephen Pedersen) that expanded into a four-piece band is now a four-piece band that's damned impressive. Their new album When We Break notches surprisingly high on the rockin'-out meter, and when they roll into town on Saturday, Oct. 1, with Minus the Bear, anyone expecting some sort of sad-eyed, sub-Cursive bummer will be mightily disappointed, yet mightily rocked.
But as I'm thinking about the new Criteria record, I can't help but notice a stack of stuff on my desk that includes When We Break, along with a new album from Broken Spindles (Inside/Absent) and a DVD called Spend an Evening With Saddle Creek. Honestly, these things all ended up together by accident, linked more by their shared release date (Aug. 23) than by the obvious fact that they're all Saddle Creek-related. (The two CDs were released on Saddle Creek, while the DVD, oddly enough, was not.)
Many gallons of ink have already been spilled on the Omaha indie-rock phenomenon, so there's no need to revisit that story here. But what's most interesting to me about this little stack of stuff isn't that some indie label in BFE managed to turn a supernova of hype into a surprisingly long run of success. No, what's interesting is that Saddle Creek hasn't turned into Sub Pop.
Remember back in the post-Nirvana days when Sub Pop suddenly started signing bands from all over the place, none of whom sounded like a "Sub Pop band"? Remember how almost every single one of them sucked and how it was years before Sub Pop regained their credibility? Saddle Creek is flirting with no such disaster. Although the sound of the label is quite diverse, it's always been that way. Why? Because Omaha, despite the requisite jokes, is a town full of diverse musicians, many of whom have interesting ideas about what "independent rock" should sound like.
That doesn't make Omaha special, because there are dozens of similar cities with similarly interesting musicians scattered around the United States. But watching Spend an Evening With Saddle Creek, I can't help but be moved by what does make Omaha special: a shared loyalty among musicians with disparate styles. As Conor Oberst once told a reporter: "I'm most proud about Saddle Creek and all my friends as a whole, more so than any other individual band `I've been in`. It's our own thing. I could do anything and these dudes would support me."
Can you imagine a statement like that coming out of Orlando? A town with a music scene fractured by internecine strife, easily bruised egos, deep-rooted superiority complexes, years of resentment and, most importantly, no sense of common mission? The pseudo-arena rockers clash with the nü-metallers, who, in turn, revolt the indie rockers, who can't stop sniping amongst themselves long enough to listen to each others' records.
I'm not saying that everyone should force a smile and pretend that we're all best buds believe me, that's not in the cards for me. Such facile posturing would be pointless. But why is it that even among bands with similar (though not identical) philosophies, there seems to be a never-ending need to debase each other? Can one band not succeed without it being on the back of another's failure?
I'm sorry to be so pedantic. But with the Anti-Pop Festival around the corner, I'm struck by the rumblings from certain "scenesters" about how this festival is "anti-FMF," or whatever. Of course, said "scenesters" are usually protecting their own interests (or at least the momentary inflation of status that FMF affords them). Anti-Pop is completely different than the Florida Music Festival, because there's more than one way to present large-scale musical events.
There's room in this large city for people with different creative views and ideas about what it means to be a "local band." Some bands want to be signed to a major label and get tips on putting together an awesome package to send to an A&R guy. That's part of living in an area with 2 million people. Other bands understand that the music they make is commercially marginalized and want to maximize the impact that it has on their potential audience, because they believe in their creativity. And those are two different ways of thinking about music as a career.
Me? I wholeheartedly support the latter. I would love for Orlando to be known nationally as the home of a large audience of intelligent and discerning music fans and, more importantly, home to a clutch of awesome bands. I'd love to read glowing reviews on Pitchfork about how Band Marino's second album really moves away from the overhyped Orlando sound or how Summerbirds in the Cellar had to cancel the last half of their 40-date U.S. tour because they got asked to play some festival dates in Europe.
Perhaps these things will come to pass and people around town will be able to cheer the success of a band without thinking that it somehow subtracts from their own potential fame. That sort of zero-sum thinking is why this town is mired in petty arguments and filled with backstabbing, greedy assholes. The day that I read in any publication that an Orlando musician or "industry person" puts the success of this city's creative class as a priority above his or her individual enterprise, then I'll know that we've got a chance.
Until then, I'll just watch this DVD.