Net Result: Why Blog Rock Is Finally On The Make

2008 is the year blog bands threw their homework into the fire, put their dancing shoes on and went out into the big wide world. But what did everyone else think?

Last Tuesday saw a paradigm shift of such earth-shattering proportions as to give hope to millions of disenfranchised people the world over that the arc of history might finally be bending in favour of a brighter, less conservative future we can all believe in.

Yes, this year’s NME Cool List has proved an illuminating saga alright. For the newly-appointed First Lady of alternative chic is skulking Canadian and singer with cantankerous glitchcore duo Crystal Castles, aka Alice Glass. Where, you might well be thinking, is the significance in all that?

Well, Ms Glass belongs to that shadily outlined and oft-derided category of music sometimes referred to with a dismissive wave of (generally ink-stained) hands as ‘blog rock’ or ‘blog indie’. For the uninitiated, traditional blog band practice typically involves carving out a respectable niche for yourselves among the bedroom-bound literati of the online community, being ‘the next Arcade Fire’ or Modest Mouse for a couple of years and generally selling bugger all records.

But where previously blog rock was the preserve of mealy-mouthed melancholics with a Pavement fixation and an abiding interest in all things alt., recently the genre has been transformed in the image of hipster retailing outfit American Apparel to go suddenly extrovert in splashy colours and the ubiquitous hooded tops which Ms Glass and her ilk model so well.

Weirder still, some of them have actually been selling records.

Bloggers’ delight, 2008 style… and the old model

Let’s have a quick recap of that NME Top Ten – at number three, Andrew VanWyngarden of Brooklyn duo MGMT, whose catchily infuriating ditty ‘Time To Pretend’ was a Top 40 hit following its appearance on the finale of E4’s try-hard teen drama Skins. Of course, it does them no harm that Wyngarden is also basically pseudo-hippy wank fodder for Mizz readers gift-wrapped in a day-glo headband. But the follow-up single, ‘Electric Feel’, went in at 22 and was actually very good indeed, making a reality of those hackneyed ‘pop for a perfect world’ epithets normally reserved for the blog-band likes of The Shins and of Montreal.

Striking back for the Brits in a traditionally Yankee-dominated genre are Late Of The Pier’s Sam Dust and MIA, in at numbers three and eight respectively. The former’s cartoonish, Numanoid pop had been slavered about online for what felt like an age before the debut album made its belated appearance in August. LOTP haven’t had a bona fide hit single to date, but then, neither had neon lycra-clad e-vixen MIA, until ‘Paper Planes’ wafted into the number 19 spot on the breeze of publicity generated by the track’s prominent placing in recent Judd Apatow goonfest Pineapple Express. Result!

Outside the top ten and there’s a number 16-shaped triumph for Vampire Weekend vocalist Ezra Koenig. Demure and tasty as a four finger Kit Kat but also twice as ideologically suspect (Nestlé innit), this ‘net-beloved bunch of Ivy League afro-poppers haven’t quite been the commercial smash some might have predicted, but then again, a number 15 debut album is not exactly to be sniffed at.

Most or all of the above look like they shop at aforementioned genre talisman American Apparel, a retailer whose saucy – and come might add cynical – adverts take pride of place on many of the websites our so-called bloggists like to call http://home. With recent acquisitions in Bristol and Liverpool the retailer is finding fertile soil on an increasing number of metropolitan British high streets – further evidence, we would humbly submit, that what might once have been dismissed as merely a ‘hipster’ or web-omenon now has commercial clout as a youth movement the kids feel they can own.

As tastemakers, NME would no doubt claim they’re still putting gloves to balls, but the 2008 Cool List at least represents a shifting of the goalposts that suggests they’re nowhere near above sniffing at whichever way the winds of yoof culture are blowing. And that’s a blow struck for democracy whichever way you look at it. Altogether now: yes we can…

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