Featured Artist: Oberhofer
Oberhofer sent me a rugged-edged demo a few weeks back, and being a sucker for nasty wild-boar sensibilities in rock (think Frog Eyes – longtime favorite), I was all over it. Unfortunately I was on an extended trip home and the article slipped through one of the many leaky fissures in my mind – so I was, in turn, relieved and then scared when he sent me a reminder email with cleaned-up versions of his tracks. I was scared of “cleaned up” because the messy charm seemed to be the whole point, but thankfully, the tracks nouveau had all of their wild intact. Score one for the DIY side of things:
And now it’s time for prosaic whiplash, as is always the case whenever there’s a point to be made, and mine is the scattered mind that makes it.
We’ve seen a lot of thrashy, all-mess-preserved acts cropping up lately. No Age comes to mind as the band that triggered the latest wave of retro-punkers, and I always thought they (plural) were pitching their acts with a Mona Lisa smile: “I’m paying homage and I want you to know it, and aren’t we having a grand old time?” There’s a reason the audience for this micromovement heavily concentrated around the 20-something demographic, and it’s because anyone older was around to experience lo-fi crazy culture the first time around, and imitations/revival movements are infinitely easier to digest if you never lived through the period to which they’re paying homage. I’m 22, so I’m also an outsider, but I’m old enough to know that when Pitchfork says “new,” they mean “hasn’t been done in the past five years.” No one’s really at fault here, it’s just that our collective short-term memory and itchy nostalgia finger might be what keeps the music industry alive.
Oberhofer isn’t a punk artist, not even remotely. But it brings up a point about genre. All the legitimate music I’ve encountered stems from something intrinsic – you can’t make art by replicating the surface of what you idolize. You can’t paint yourself blue and call yourself the fucking ocean. Aesthetic exists to reflect the core of artistry behind it, and copping the aesthetic while dropping the core – no matter what someone does to “make it fresh” – is not interesting. Here’s why I like Oberhofer: he isn’t the first, or best, to do what he does. But it plays like it’s coming from him, and no one else. He has character, rather than an image – the latter of which results from an actor pantomiming the former. This manifests itself in subtle ways (frustratingly subtle, as someone who wanted to review him – took me an hour to find this example) – when “I Could Go” punctuates its hectic repetition with hesitant steps forward in lyrical content, it’s the sound of a singer trying to figure himself out in song. When the artist is – all at once – lost, confident, jittery, messy, simple, and open about really being confused as fuck – the music should be all of the same. And in this case, all of those traits carry through. Pick it up, put it down, you know I’ve been living low within the ground, in the ground, in the ground, in the ground / and I don’t have a clue what that look on your face is all about, all about, all about, all about / and I could walk for miles – I don’t know where to…
It’s not lost on me that I have the pleasure of “breaking” Oberhofer, a guy who I believe could gather a following with the right publicity machine behind him, and it’s also not lost on me that that pleasure tends to lure critics into exaggeration. I know that I am speaking in absolutes, that I am perhaps lionizing his importance. But if you know me, you know that I am a man who is built for absolutes. In the face of a generation and a cultural movement that specializes in detachment, I want to be the type of person who praises what deserves to praised, who feels in wholes, even if it means my peers perceive me as an idealistic fool. Oberhofer is by no means the first artist I’ve admired for authenticity, but he’s the one who set off this essay: so that’s worth something.
Here it is: sometimes you go to a bar and run into a vain bitch, like the hundreds of vain bitches you’ve condemned in your mind before, but this time you tell her the fuck off at the top of your lungs while the whole bar is watching, because she tipped you over the edge, and she fucking deserved it. And sometimes you walk down the street and pass a gorgeous woman, not unlike the hundreds of gorgeous women you’ve passed before, but this time (for some reason) you posses the courage and spontaneity to start up a conversation, and you end up in the most glamorous relationship (the type you’ve idealized for all these years). There’s no difference between this time and the rest, except this time you’ve acted – and I know that Oberhofer’s the catalyst for an opinion I’ve been trying to mold into words for a long, long time. So, Bradley Oberhofer: enjoy your pedestal, however wobbly and tiny it is. You’ve got a long way to go as an artist, and you’re going to have to battle some wicked forces to preserve your authenticity – but if you can manage the balancing act, the pedestal is yours to keep.
- Phillip Taylor-Parker