I feel like each year some publication declares the death of the hipster. Ironic detachment and slackerdom are no longer all the kids have to strive for, they say. Hope and compassion are in. Meta-cool is out. And every year, these publications are wrong. The thing they keep forgetting is that it’s cool to be cool. And detachment is cool. James Dean perfected it in the fifties. Styles do change (some), but attitudes rarely do.
All of this comes down to power and age. Youth are, often by their own admission, pretty powerless. They have come of age, realized how fucked up the world is, and, seeing no way to positively engage, responded (appropriately) with cynicism and contempt. With no real way to change broader social structures and mores, young people instead take ownership of the only thing that they truly own: their youth. With no power and no responsibility, we become self-possessed and disaffected. We remain like this until we earn enough responsibility to warrant a reshuffling of our priorities.
Which is not to say that young people do not want to belong to communities. On the contrary, it is as youth that we tend to develop our closest friendships. We seek out communities of like minded people through new media, because again, we can own it. And we create. We collaborate. With so much time to think about ourselves, we have no choice but to contemplate a unique way that we see the world. Sometimes this is startling. Sometimes, it’s grotesque. The art we create as youth draws the generation closer together by being different than the art of the preceding generation. We define ourselves by this difference. Enter Rich Aucoin.
He’s not the first of his kind. Since his record We’re All Dying To Live was released in late October on sonic records, a quart of pixellated ink has been spilled about the similarity he has to the Arcade Fire (which is true, at least sonically). But the cycle is short. Arcade fire have graduated to a different echelon of pop music. The orchestral pop they perform is no longer in the bars and basements where independent rock is vetted, where Rich Aucoin has been making his mark. His situation is more akin to a band from the previous generation: The Flaming Lips. Both acts do this in a kind of musical short hand. The Flaming Lips were able to attract a huge following at the height of the nineties slacker culture by writing songs not about human disaffection, but instead about aliens and machines. They wrote songs about interplanetary travel and pink robots, but a million teenagers knew they were really singing about the kids. And Wayne Coyne the messiah figure was born. Aucoin is playing the same bars as the lo-fi barebones indie rockers, but he’s asking these fans to dance, and chant his life-affirming lyrics along with him. And the kids are doing it.
Live, Rich Aucoin delivers an interactive, multimedia marathon of cathartic belonging. Aucoin sings songs that are literally about life and death, but the larger message is about remembering that you are a person, with a body, and there are others like you. All the biggest bands in the world have been able to tap into this as well, but Aucoin does it with sonic arrangements that are best understood by this generation of listener, who has the whole history of pop at her fingertips.
Brian Wilson is A.L.i.V.E. begins with a wordless call-and response melody that evokes the titular Beach Boy before moving into a Micheal-Jackson-by-way-of-Justice verse replete with buzzsaw synths and a killer backbeat. Did I mention that this tune is a banger? The chorus, sung by children, of remember what you’ve been given harkens back to both You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II. Elsewhere on the record you can hear everything from Chris Martin crooning to Dirty Projectors-style math-y melodies and harmonies. Somehow it all works. And it had me singing along to my headphones while I rode the subway.
Rich Aucoin Plays the Drake in Toronto this Friday.
Also: Rich Aucoin has made a youtube series of videos that his songs apparently all sync up to out of found footage from public domain films. Check them out on his website!
(photo by brian banks)