There is a sincerity in slopiness, a realness in mess, that can’t be faked. A friend once explained to me that in anthropology circles the term “authentic” is referred to as, “the A word.” Dirtied by over use, and reduced to meaningless by cultural subjectivity, “authentic” holds little real weight. This meaninglessness is reinforced for me as I try to decide where in Manhattan to eat; the A word is worn out, across signs and in Yelp reviews. I feel similarly about the term “raw” when attending gallery events in Bushwick. The “rawness” of your phalic rusted steel sculpture somehow loses its power contrasted with the “rawness” of your kale smoothie.
At the risk of ruining another great word, I’ll point out that I’ve recently come to appreciate “realness.” I began to appreciate the quality of realness during a short trip I took with my girlfirend to Colombia. Somewhere between the plumbing breaking for entire city blocks at a time, restaurants making no attempt to hide their fishermen unapettizingly gutting your freshest of fish next to your patio seat, and the constant Zika virus threat, we came to the conclusion that Colombia was real. Really really real. At times, too real.
Every country is authentic, but is anything “too authentic?” I submit it is not, similarly nothing is “too raw” either. Raw is generally already too raw. So for representing a spectrum of appreciation, “realness” seems to capture the sincerity/authenticity/rawness that is so often sought when describing something accurately representing the context from which it came. McDonalds food is not real, and HDTV, that’s too real. Using a spectrum instead of a binary label allows for greater clarity. On the flip side, “real” is an overloaded word used in many ways. Still, I believe that concern is orthogonal and a solved problem.
Sioux Falls’ released Rot Forever, their debut album, on Friday. I had never heard of them until maybe a couple days before when people on a music forum I frequent started asking about it. This sprawling album is packed with sloppy, heart on your sleeve emotion. This album feels real.
On the first pass it scratches a nostalgic itch for me that has layed dormant until recently. The band feels like they would fit in nicely with the early works of northwest neighbors like Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, only 20 years later. This for me is huge, as Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West is probably an all time favorite, but I was too young to appreciate it when it was new enough for anyone to care. Rot Forever has a very simliar feel, pulling from a Pixies-esque quiet/loud dynamic and pairing overly emotive singing with a tight rhythm section.
Still, Sioux Falls stands out beyond their influences. Rot Forever is a big album, by today’s standards it’s long. Coming in at 73 minutes, “it’s too long” is the most likely criticism to be lobbed at the album. But to me that is only more convincingly that the emotions are real, and the style is more than a bad cover. Pumping out over an hour of 90s style indie rock is no easy feat, and they seemingly clear that hurdle with ease. And while the album covers a lot of emotional ground, it tends to gravitate between anger and melancholic joy.
Lyrically, the album is hard to decipher but between the shouing and whispering, the topics I can make out resonate with me. Songs range from trashy romance stories, watching your friends grow old, your team losing the superbowl, and of course the pain of dinosaurs dying. I feel like I’ve been waiting since college to have an album like this. One where I feel like I was there, not yearning for some cool music from the people that were cool before me. Rot Forever delivers that for me, and while it may not go down as one of the all time greats, 3 days in it already feels intimate and real.