Beards, Blazers & Glasses: The Broken West or Silverlake is the new Hollywood
Silverlake is trendy. This obvious thought rang through my head loud and clear on a windy Monday night as I stood in a line that snaked arond the block, outside of Spaceland, waiting to catch new Merge signees, The Broken West, in the midst of their monthlong January residency. And it wasn't just the bone-chilling wait that caused this idea to pop into my head, but more the people I was standing with: dressed to the nines Hollywood club carpetbaggers slumming it on the Eastside to catch the new trendy "indie" band.
Don't get me wrong. I know my two cents aren't the stuff of ground-breaking revelation. Particularly after the likes of Spin Magazine and the LA Weekly have spilled thousands of words trying to explicate the who's, the what's and the why's, to varying degrees of success. But make no mistake about it, standing in that god-forsaken line, observing the primped girls and the designer sport-coat clad guys with a delicate two day balance of facial scruff made me feel a little uneasy. As the scene that was set up to be the antithesis of the Hollywood scene has metamorphisized, infiltrated by the flow of Hollywod club kids oozing east. Rapidly. To the point of where getting into Spaceland on a Monday night seems to require almost as much of a commitment as bickering with some doorman goon outside of the latest Hollywood hotspot.
I'm not suggesting that the LAPD ease up on the community policing that has turned formerly gang-infested spots like Silverlake and Echo Park into a yindie Xanadu. Heaven knows how much the Silverlake Wine and Cheese Club crew would bitch about its impact on property values. But I wouldn't be opposed to anyone putting the kibosh on the influx of luxury condos, apartments and boutique hotels that are popping up in the area like organic shitake mushrooms after a springtime rain. (A trend that reportedly began in Brentwood). Sure, laugh now, but I guarantee you every hipster worth his beard, blazers and glasses, will be up in arms two years from now when Silverlake Boulevard takes on the sanitized yuppified feel of West Hollywood.
If It Ain't Broken (West) Don't Fix ItThe line relented and I made it into the packed club, dipping through the teeming crowd, finally finally standing in front of a twitching crowd of hipster males presumably uneasy with the encroaching scenesters prowling for hipster woman. (Like Puffy said, it's about the leggings, baby....or was that Pat Benatar?). Either way, if you could deal with the fact that the show was as crowded as any Spaceland show I've ever been to, it was pretty easy to get sucked into the Broken West's band of jangly pop.
In many ways the Broken West seem the New Pornographers-lite with Broken West front-man Ross Flournoy playing the role of A.C. Newman, pilfering Newman's shiny power pop and big hooks with aplomb. Its certainly more than a little derivitive, but music is like screenwriting in that concept can take you a hell of a long way. Even at their most unoriginal. I'll take a bunch of third-generation power-popsters crafting benign tuneful, soothing songs anyday, over a band of hairy hipsters citing Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Klezmer music as their primary influence.
The Broken West don't make music for the critics. They make good ol' fashioned thoughtless summer BBQ music that anyone can and probably will enjoy. Their Merge debut, I Can't, I'll Go On is a solid, unerringly pleasant record, worthy of the B that Ian Cohen gave them yesterday at Stylus. As usual, I co-sign his sentiments that led him to declare that "it's not a perfect record, but it's perfected, about as good as the debut from a band that traffics in this kind of music can be at this point."
But in the meantime, they remain a promising young band worth noticing. Obviously Merge Records agreed, inking them to a deal, making them the only Angelenos on the label's roster. Clearly, Merge must've wanted in on the Silverlake scene too, as The Broken West's Merge bio reads "over the last several years, LA has once again become a fertile proving ground for many young musicians and bands. Not since its psych-pop heyday in the late 60’s or the punk explosion of the early 80’s, has the volume and variety of great music emerging from southern California been this diverse. The Broken West hail from the Echo Park and Silverlake neighborhoods that serve as an epicenter of this new LA “scene.”
But with all the benefits that accrue from being able to see good young bands on the cheap in tiny venues close to your squalid Silverlake apartment, come the negatives, as scenes can only remain a scene so long, with Johnny and Jane-Come-Lately's looking for a piece of the beard, blazers and black plastic glasses action. Oh well, maybe The Broken West's Beckett inspired album title has some truth to it. (If) I can't (get into Spaceland on a Monday night), I'll go on (to Atwater Village).
MP3: The Broken West-"So It Goes"
MP3: The Broken West-"Down in the Valley"