The Digital Contagion of in Cadeo (a Review)
The Digital Contagion of In Cadeo
Like most good bands, In Cadeo manages to make new songs sound elemental. The delicious yet distorted structure of their songs seems rooted in older indie giants like Guided By Voices, Built to Spill, The Pixies. This isn't surprising. Most of the successful indie-rock bands that surfaced in the last ten years, like The National, The Strokes, and The Hold Steady seem most successful when they forgo the more avant-garde experiments of those older and famous catalogues and return to the raw structure of garage band pop. On a song like "Communist Lecture," In Cadeo perhaps most resembles The National – the deep voice, the sparking second guitar, the circular and foregrounded percussion. On other tracks, though, it's possible to hear another branch of In Cadeo's origins. Somewhere back there is Pavement's "Range Life."
The songwriters from these bands invent sonic melodies. They're guys that write licks. Their speech rhythms fall in and out sequence with the carefully arranged harmonies of the chord progressions. This is one reason the Pixies / Nirvana / National song structures are in part structured around quiet verses with blinking, echoing riffs. In places where a more straightforward vocalist shows off their vocal range, a band like In Cadeo rattles its instrumental ammunition. The guitars crunch, the percussion spits, the layers of the guitar etch back and forth like you're jerking the zippers on a hoody. Think Dinosaur Jr.'s "Feel the Pain." Then again, on the song "Vultures" I dare you not to think of Elliot Smith when, during the chorus, they sing "all I really got is nothing / to lose."
One cannot really listen to In Cadeo and dissociate them from this particular genealogy of rockers. It seems certain that in the edges of their social circle at this very moment there are people listening to Neil Young or Thurston Moore. And thus, on In Cadeo's five-song EP, one can hear this constant desire to shred away the catchiness of the hooks, just like their musical uncles sometimes do. This melodic thrashing is as close to an American rock'n roll song-writing tradition as might be said to exist (especially if one sees Neil Young, rather than Bob Dylan, as the key). This is another kind of Atlantic than The Smiths, Radiohead, and Bloc Party.
You might remember that this struggle for distorted hooks is perhaps the problem faced by any band looking for enough commercial success to finance their creations. Those hooks used to mean radio play. Now, of course, the current logic of contagion has filtered past the DJ. Simply put, if people are going to 'pass' your songs to someone else those songs need to be memorable within a few minutes. No: they need to be memorable instantly. In fact, they should probably only last a few minutes. It's already a truism to say that the death of the album is the re-birth of the song. Think even smaller. Think songs within songs. In Cadeo lives there.
On "Vultures," you can hear those gears shifting every fifteen seconds, as if each hook was a bridge to a completely different song. This is one reason In Cadeo rocks: in the urgent schizophrenia of extremely rapid progression changes, one can hear more than one song. It's not too much to maybe call it hyper-text. This is what surfing the internet sounds like: this is music built after Myspace, or maybe necessarily for it. This is what the Neil Young / Pavement / Modest Mouse tradition has become.
What's less understood about the new digital era is just what the death of the album means. The competition to simply 'be heard' has become intense. Bands have had to shift the entire album narrative from 45 minutes into a story that takes less than five. In other words, people used to rip albums and now they rip songs – the tape-mix culture of the 1990s has actually become the elder form for digital music. And even that's too old now, if you can believe it. The "mix" has shrunk into something else. 90 minutes is simply too long (think of that: tapes are too long). It means the range of skill and emotion that used to occur in an hour now must occur in five. Every song has become a micro-opera. One can easily hear this in any Arcade Fire song. Today's indie-rock is arguably more dramatic than the previous generation – you can trace this evolution, if you want, in the songwriting of Modest Mouse. Or, if you really want to scare yourself think about the Foo Fighters.
You also might remember that this need to write contagious music is in part how Kurt Cobain justified his suicide. One heard the word in his most famous song: "I feel stupid and contagious." All these traditions and their discontents inform the presence of In Cadeo. One of the most surprising things to hear on the EP is way the band links these two problems together – the problem of contagious music, and the existential crisis it seems to invite in certain artists.
One can imagine the second song on the record, "This Side of the Grave," as almost directly intervening into this conversation. The song's vocalist Jared Scott makes an association between his life as an artist and the problem technology poses for it. "This static won't stop," he sings, as if we've traveled back to the pre-digital era of antennas or radio, "and it's the only channel I've got." The fuzz is haunted – this story foretells a bad history to come, with us "rotting in graves" or "burning in flames." The apocalyptic trope is certainly part of an underground zeitgeist (think Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running). For In Cadeo, this end-time is collapsed into the moment of song-writing.
"I'm stuck on this page," Scott says. The we get the falling trail of melody: "Will you ever / do the things you wanted / to make sure were / done in the end?" Carpe diem rushes. "It's all up for grabs," he sings, us thinking war, song-writing, the music industry itself. And yet this song is strangely about life: "only suicide is no friend of mine." In between the sly and contagious la-la's of the following bridge, there is a chant from the new testament: "first is last and last is first." And as the songs ends, "you better cash that check / before nothing is left / this side of the grave."
This is a song about life, about ways to live. We have the great theme of seize the moment, but not in the context of courtly love. This isn't a romantic rationale between new lovers. The beginning of the song is quite clearly about the problem of listening and writing, of hearing the fuzz and trying to write. It's Scott talking to himself as a musician, but he's talking to his friends. The game has changed: first is last and last is first. "You better cash that check." Use your life. Spend your life.
It's the old economics of bohemian artists – like the Beats writing in the shadow of the Bomb. There is production for its own sake. We make art because we can. We we're not working at jobs for the sake of buying shit. This is the pioneer America: we build what we use, our work is our life. In Cadeo isn't thinking about the top. They're thinking about the grave. There is an enormous difference in style when you think this way.
As the economics of music changes, the ethics of music changes. Song-writing returns to the roots of the troupe: the medieval music makers who travel from town to town. Here's the new musical economy: cash the check so you can write more. This is what money can mean for someone without a lot of it. It's a means to live when you already have a reason to be.
"All I really got is nothing / to lose."