Begging for Metaphors
If you’re heavy into the San Francisco music scene, then the name Stripmall Architecture probably conjures up images of a local dream-pop act headed by Rebecca and Ryan Coseboom. You probably already knew about their latest album, Suburban Reverb, and you were probably looking forward to it. If you’re not part of that scene, then your mind probably spat out a picture of cheap stucco store-fronts lined up in neat rows. Depending on your point of view, Suburban Reverb could be either a great new album, or a strangely apt comparison to the cheap stucco facades that the name Stripmall Architecture describes.
Technology has done both terrific and terrible things to music. The advent of synthesizers created a whole new realm of sonic possibilities. While that well of possibility isn’t even close to dry, the capacity for musicians to tap into it seems to have faded. Many musicians like Stripmall Architecture pay tribute to the innovators of the past without bringing very much to the table themselves. For instance, “We Are Not Cool” sounded too familiar to be original, listeners might spend the rest of the record trying to decide if they’ve heard it before from another artist. Synth-pop is, in a way, turning into the new punk. It’s created a new wave of bands making music, and it doesn’t require much in the way of actual musical ability. This is not to diminish the artists’ efforts, but technology has made song-crafting so easy that, with the right equipment, almost anyone can do it. The MicroKORG is the new power chord.
The other, less promising reflection of punk in this wave of bands is that they all sound practically the same to anyone who isn’t submerged in the scene. Suburban Reverb is a fine album full of good songs, and Stripmall Architecture is obviously a band of talented artists, but the words that best describe them would be the same words to describe anyone from Crystal Castles to The Knife. This is a sound that, on the whole, feels like its getting cheaper every day. Cheap is great, but only when it has character. That’s the problem with Suburban Reverb: there’s no grit to it. It’s bright and clean, and there isn’t really anything unique about it. Just like a strip mall.