Indie rock in the 21st century has been a weird, funny creature. We went from the first wave of alt/college rock, in the early '80s, through the punk/metal hybrid of grunge and the weird and warbly world of lo-fi, only to have these strange slack sounds catch on globally.
A lot of the sounds and styles that would eventually settle into today's guitar-centric indie rock came about due to financial restrictions and geographic distance, in out-of-the-way pockets of the globe like Aberdeen, Wa. or Dunedin, NZ. The sounds were slack, disaffected, individualistic, as truly no one gave a toss about these bands, leaving them to perfect their wares into sublime sculptures of static, feedback and fuzz.
As indie supergroups like Modest Mouse or Pavement caught on, people began aping their style, as an example of what "indie rock" was supposed to sound like. Here's where things get weird. Instead of being slack and unconcerned with what people think, too many indie bands in the 21st century care TOO MUCH about what people think. What was once gentle, mellow and distinctive became commodified and generic - the sonic equivalent of trying WAY TOO HARD to appear cool.
Ironically, Middle Mountain - a group of young, talented musicians from Pleasant Grove, UT. - probably weren't even alive when the first wave of indie rock was kicking off. Fortunately for us, and for indie rock as a genre, these mellow balladeers seem to inherently understand what makes this genre great.
You can even see it in their list of influences - from The Head And The Heart to The Beatles. Even a few years ago, you'd see influence lists of the indie flavor of the minute, like The Arctic Monkeys or TV On The Radio. They'd only been a band for five minutes - how did they become so influential, so quickly? Instead, Middle Mountain tell us they're returning to basics, focusing on creating artful and distinctive art pop.
Middle Mountain have utterly succeeded, almost to a fault. This Again is like Nuke from Robocop 2 - a distilled, refined, utterly addictive take on folk-infused indie rock.
This Again is almost criminally short with four gentle, glistening mid-tempo ballads, strong on vocal harmonies and memorable, melodic guitar riffs. There's the wonderfully warm, chorus-like harmonies, like on "Friendly Fire,” that we all were so obsessed with, with early Modest Mouse, and just the right amount of distortion and reverb. It's dirty in all the right ways, and clean where it counts - intelligible, sing-a-long vocals and clean guitars. It's truly the best of both worlds. This Again by Middle Mountain is to indie rock what Tame Impala is to '70s psych rock. A rarefied, refined take on an under-appreciated genre.
With This Again, it's almost tempting to hang up my reviewer's cap, as we seem to have finally solved the nostalgic/retrophiliac argument that has occupied critics for most of the first quarter of this century. For a long while, it seemed musicians and producers (myself included) were seeking a magic "chill button" - some virtual plug-in to make your music stand-out, to achieve the sounds we're all obsessed with. If only there were a shoegaze or early Industrial presets? But alas, there is, and, frankly, we're all better for it. The message is clear - the tools are there at your disposal, it's up to you to wield them in an interesting way.
Middle Mountain is wielding their tools in interesting ways, make no doubt about it. They're also not trying to appeal to some formula or idea of what indie rock should look or sound like.
Get this short, sweet, addictive EP immediately, and have your faith in guitars and chord progressions restored. Middle Mountain, I'm stuck on you too!
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