The climate of the music industry in the mid-to-late-90s shows the kind of concentrated weirdness that can only happen at the end of a decade; nay, the end of a century. I mean, this was a time in music that gave us boy band rivalries, funk metal, and third-wave ska soundtracks for every movie, all at the same time. What it also gave us was a sort of achingly genuine style of sunny pop-rock that we haven’t really seen since. See, after Kurt Cobain’s untimely suicide, everyone pretty much decided that they had had enough of the doom and gloom of the early 90s, and figured that the rest of the 90s should just be one big overcompensating happyfunpartytime. Remember Third Eye Blind? Remember Smash Mouth? Remember Len? These were all bands that looked like rock bands – they played guitars, sometimes even with distortion – but were so inoffensive, so optimistic, so lacking in any sort of grittiness or dirt, that they could only be considered pop bands. Some of those bands, many of whom were one-hit wonders, created the catchiest pop tunes ever made, and as a child growing up in that era, it was hard not to feel supercharged by the fact that every band just seemed so…happy.
But then post-grunge happened, bathing the early 2000s in washed-out colour palettes and dark misplaced aggression. And then the garage rock revival happened which brought back the sublime simplicity of rock music in full force, but came with it a sense of detached irony, and an ambivalent attitude that has taken over indie rock since.
In comparison, Newsmen feel like a relic from a previous era – a time when it didn’t matter if your songs were full of bouncy piano that wouldn’t sound out of place in a musical theatre performance, when it was totally okay for your singer to be a nerdy white guy who sounds suspiciously like Ben Folds, and when it was perfectly acceptable to sound totally earnest without being laughed at by on-lookers obsessed with distanced “cool”. What Newsmen, a Toronto rock band whose core members are two brothers, represent is an antithesis to the dominant form of rock music today – and while it’s easy to take a listen to their first EP Wild Histories for thirty seconds and dismiss it as too poppy/annoying, it’s exactly this sensibility that makes them so refreshing. I mean, the second song “Building Blocks” is about the wonder of being a young child, and ends with a repeating refrain quoting the Sesame Street theme song. It’s about as far from “cool” as you can possibly get.
It’s not like the album doesn’t have any darker tones within, it’s just that the parts that do – most notably the ending bit of “Longest Day of the Year” – do it in such a way that it never feels dangerous or gritty at all. Newsmen aren’t concerned with the aggression of rock music; rather, they’re all about the enthusiasm, and that distinction makes all the difference. But it’s the fact that Wild Histories contains some of the catchiest tunes of the season that it all fits together so well. It’s not a perfect debut – the sound will undoubtedly be too genuinely optimistic for some, and the lyrics have a tendency to be wordy and awkward to the point of obtuseness – but it’s a confident, well-written palette cleanser of an album, and a perfect cure to the sometimes-grating disaffection of modern indie rock.
- Lucky Days
- Building Blocks
- Longest Day of the Year
- 4am and Coffee Pots
- The Holes in Your Ear