As of recently, I've come back to the idea that bands that are derided for imitating other, more influential, bands can, on occasion, be better than the influential band.
I got the chance to listen to Yo La Tengo's first three records - Ride the Tiger, President Yo La Tengo, and New Wave Hot Dogs. For the fact that Yo La Tengo would later on go to define indie rock for a generation of indie rockers - whatever those are - they started out somewhat unsure of themselves. They had the embryo of their later sound - their combinations and recombinations of loud and soft, soft and loud, if you will - from the beginning, but where the skeleton failed to hold the developing musicians, they got support by aping the Velvet Underground. So, it could be argued that at the beginning, Yo La Tengo were merely a clone of the Velvet Underground, complete with the simultaneous leanings towards simple folk melodies and arty, abtruse noise.
Thing is, New Wave Hot Dogs is ten times better than anything I have heard by the Velvet Underground. I know; it's heresy. I should be executed, and I accept that. There's no question that the Velvet Underground are the more influential, but what Yo La Tengo did is took the formula and perfected it.
I recall talking about this way back in 2006 - more than three years ago - after excitedly buying the rerelease of Spoon's Telephono and noting how the female backup vocalist that followed Britt Daniels in those days could have passed for Kim Deal. And the template was, as every unobservant music critic following in the vein of the late Captain Obvious notes, a hybrid of Wire and the Pixies. But if you give Telephono a second spin, you'll realize: sure, it's a Pixies clone, but Spoon are doing a million things that would not happen in Black Francis' mundane, pedestrian, rockist songwriting. Again, I should be executed there - but I digress. Britt Daniels throws in unconventional rhythmic patterns, odd time signatures, abrupt and twisting song patterns - two of those straight from Wire's songbook - with effects that neither Wire nor the Pixies could have dreamed of.
There was a band called Sammy back in the middle Nineties. If you look on the Interwebs for them, you won't find much. Amazon sells their records used for a penny. There are two videos of their songs on Youtube - one from each of their records. But the few hits that come up give a decent idea of who Sammy was. Apparently they formed from the '90s noise rock act Girls Against Boys and somehow scored a major label deal at the time when all the majors were descending upon Seattle and searching for the next Nirvana. But here's the thing: they're one of those alleged Pavement clones. The two songs of theirs I have heard sound, well, like Pavement minus all the experimentation and originality. There's a Pavement member who is on record as saying Sammy is the blandest of all the bland Pavement
But somehow, that's what's attractive about bands like Sammy. For all we cry about Archers of Loaf being a Pavement soundalike, they were on an entirely different plane than Pavement ever were. Sure, there are stylistic cues on Icky Mettle straight out of Slanted and Enchanted - and sure, you could argue that there's something about the song sequencing that elicits that the Archers studied Pavement's classic song order - but the Archers are aggressive where Pavement is witty; they are hardcore where Pavement is laid back.
And it's the same with Silkworm. We tend to think of Pavement and Silkworm in the same breath - but again, they're off on different wavelengths. Silkworm, to me, seem more like the Archers of Loaf than Pavement: from their music, they both seem to be unpretentious - workingmen, if you will: islands in the sea of indie elitism.
I've been putting "Pavement Clone" into Google and seeing what bands people come up with. And even if they don't sound like Pavement, they still provide an argument that guitar-based indie rock is alive and well. I'll end this with a few of my finds. Maybe I will convince you that these bands are worth listening to.
Mass Solo Revolt: Mass Solo Revolt seem to draw from the dry, noisy, mid-90s Matador records sound. Their songs make sonic and verbal references and jabs off Silkworm's dreamy walls of guitars, Sonic Youth's angular noise, and the ping of the ride cymbal you always hear on Versus (though the latter is technically not a Matador band). There's also the very prominent '90s indie bass guitar sound, but let's save that for another post.
Minmae: Minmae seem to be the most eclectic - and the most established, with ten years of recording behind them - of the three bands I found. The songs go from more of the dry, angular, Matador-style fare to alt-country that resembles Guided by Voices rendezvouzing with the Silver Jews. I still don't hear the Pavement. Perhaps you do.
Wet Paint: Now finally, here's a band that, when they aren't pandering with TV-show-friendly quasi-emo-pop, are aping Pavement down to the vocal delivery. Out of the three, easily Wet Paint are the least memorable, but their straight-up interpretation of Pavement is certainly amusing.