Photography by Pavla Kopecna

Recently I read a feature on The Line of Best Fit about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s latest record ‘Belong’. It’s an easy album to love, full of dizzy hooks, love-touched warmth and that miniature twee delectability of a bygone era. They also wear their cross-Atlantic influences on their sleeve, literally – frontman Kip Berman always dons a Suede pin on his jacket. Naturally that makes them a pretty easy target for the chronically shifting indie-sphere, especially where the international press is concerned. Within the first two paragraphs of this review (which was admittedly advertised to be contrarian), John Calvert uses phrases like “Urban Outfitters”, “eyebrow-deficient vegan”, “Rudy Giuliani”, and of course, “Anglophiles”. It’s the latter term that is most frivolously tossed about when discussing American bands, but just how often is a just criticism?

I’m talking primarily about the NME-core, but to me it seems like the bands christened with alt-rock, stadium-smashing blessings overseas always subscribe to some core tenant of traditional American rock music, rather than ripping off the Brits. The surrogate adoption of The Strokes is the most blatant – a hip quintet of New York stereotypes, playing grimy, urban and immediately iconic music in their city of origin’s niche. They skyrocketed overseas, representing an idealised, Technicolor version of New York; something that was easier to sell to those who were willing to believe the movieland fantasy. In Nashville, Kings of Leon erupted in popularity throughout Europe much before they transcended their yuppie-indie stigma domestically. Sure, that partially has to do with the critical thrashing they received (and continue to receive) from American critics, but their gussied-up southland swagger speaks for itself – traditionally and identifiably from the heartland, but void of all the nastiness and prairie dust. Lynyrd Skynyrd never made it across the ocean, not because they weren’t as catchy, but song titles like ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ are a little too real. In a sense, this philosophy is a lot more Anglophelic than The Pains of Being Pure at Heart doing Britpop impressions. It filters out a surface-level hovel of American music while devoting all their hype to their own kin, most of which are drawing influence from a much larger pool than certain publications care to cover.

It seems to me that American music is often delegated to fit these archetypes, and when they embrace influence outside of their oceans they find themselves struck down as imitators. Be purebred, and be tasteful, or risk being stuck as an anglophile.

Recently I read a feature on The Line of Best Fit about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s latest record ‘Belong’. It’s an easy album to love; full of dizzy hooks, love-touched warmth and that miniature twee delectability of a bygone era. They also wear their cross-Atlantic influences on their sleeve, literally – frontman Kip Berman always dons a Suede pin on his jacket. Naturally that makes them a pretty easy target for the chronically shifting indie-sphere, especially where the international press is concerned. Within the first two paragraphs of this review (which was admittedly advertised to be contrarian), John Calvert uses phrases like “Urban Outfitters”, “eyebrow-deficient vegan”, “Rudy Giuliani”, and of course, “Anglophiles”. The guarded notion of Anglophilia is something that’s pilfered through the intrinsic musical relationship between the US and the UK – we borrow, we influence, and we exchange, but the division remains forever in place.

I’m talking primarily about the NME-core here – but to me, it often seems like the bands christened with the alt-rock, stadium-smashing blessings overseas always subscribe to some core tenant of traditional American rock music. The surrogate adoption of The Strokes is the most blatant – a hip quintet of New York stereotypes, decked in leather jackets and Velvet Underground shirts, playing grimy, urban and immediately iconic music in their city of origin’s niche. They skyrocketed overseas, arguably topping even their homeland in terms of adoration. They represented an idealised, Technicolor version of New York, something that was easier to sell to those who were willing enough to believe the movieland fantasy. In Nashville, Kings of Leon erupted in popularity throughout Europe much before they transcended their yuppie-indie stigma domestically. Sure, that partially has to do with the critical thrashing they received (and continue to receive) from American critics, but their gussied-up southland swagger speaks for itself – traditionally and identifiably from the heartland, but void of all the nastiness and prairie dust.

Lynyrd Skynyrd never made it across the ocean, not because they weren’t as catchy, but song titles like ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ are a little too real. In a sense, this philosophy is a lot more Anglophelic than The Pains of Being Pure at Heart doing Britpop impressions. It filters out a surface-level hovel of American music while devoting all their hype to their own kin – most of which are drawing influence from a much larger pool than they’d care to cover.

Again, we’re talking about the old guard here – these statutes of cornering American music in its location and pre-conceived sonic definition is something reinforced by the long histories of the commercial-minded English press. The underbelly, like FACT, and TLOBF, and Clash, and (yes) Loud And Quiet don’t buy into this archaic mindset, and criticism is a lot better for it. I just wonder if these divisions will ever go away. Pop ought to be universal after all.

By Luke Winkie

Originally published in issue 29 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2011