Quirk Overload: A Preponderance of Twee

I haven't counted the number of times the word "quirky" appears in NPR music reviews, but I'm guessing it's a lot. It's not that we lack imagination when describing bands; it's that so many bands now are incredibly cutesy and kooky. Listen to just about any episode of All Songs Considered and you'll hear it.

The quirk aesthetic dominates indie pop and rock, and I admit to loving it. I think, in general, it's a sensibility that's inspired some wonderful creativity. Listen to Jens Lekman or Dan Deacon. But the preponderance of quirk does have me thinking some of it is disingenuous, or cutesy-kooky for the sake of being cutesy-kooky.

There's an interesting article on the effects of quirk on pop culture in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly. Among many other points, author Michael Hirschorn notes that "quirk, loosed from its moorings, quickly becomes exhausting."

I definitely find myself rolling my eyes from time to time with some of the music I'm hearing. I thought Joanna Newsom was just ridiculous until I met her and found her to be utterly charming and wise beyond her years. (Though I still can't listen to her music).

I love Animal Collective, but after a while it gets, as Hirschorn notes, exhausting.

Have you had enough quirk yet? Are bands like The Go! Team and Fiery Furnaces being quirky for quirky's sake? Or is it a legitimate and heartfelt sensibility that best illuminates the deeper ideas and feelings of the artists?



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I would say the go! team is quirky for the sake of being it. The Furnaces sound pretty serious about what they do, especially on blueberry boat.

And exhaustintg is a wonderful way to describe animal collective. I love them too but at the end of one of their shows I feel completly drained physically.

Sent by Devin Rodgers | 2:28 PM | 11-12-2007

And other "quirky" musical acts often think that not being entertaining is, well, entertaining. There is a great article from a recent 'New Yorker' about how indie bands have no soul. http://tinyurl.com/2sl9sp

Sent by Steve | 10:02 AM | 11-13-2007

Ever since Public Enemy recorded "Fight the Power" and Kurt Cobain shot himself, hip hop has usurped rock and roll's title as the music of rebellion. Rock has become quirky, and often precious. The sound track of dorm room poetry and philosophy dissertations no longer Dope guns and Fornication in the Streets.

And while there is a genuine core of quirky madmen making rock, quirky has become a substitute for substance. And if, as you suggest, this quirkitude is an expression of the interior lives of these artists, god help us all.

Well put, thanks for sharing. -- rh

Sent by JD | 11:58 AM | 11-13-2007

nah thats crap now about hip hop being a revolution. Ever rapper out there is a pure, unabashed capitalist and their main goal is to earn the green backs.

revolution isn't presented in music too much anymore. I'd say Ted Leo is the best example of revolution rock and he's not big. Musicians nowadays just use their success as a platform to make political statements outside of the recording studio.

Sent by Devin Rodgers | 5:16 PM | 11-13-2007

I've had a few conversations with friends about the transitions in indie rock from emo in the late 90s to dance rock in the early 00s to quirk now. While it is probably over-simplifying things, I think that the trends are related - we had to learn to cry before we could dance. And now, we are learning how to have fun, instead of the FUN! we were having with dance-rock.

Sent by Ian | 5:15 PM | 11-14-2007

I love the quirk factor! It is simply what separates real musicians and songwriters from most top 40 and mainstream radio puppets. As for Joanna Newsom ( no e ) and the Fiery Furnaces, to me their music is completely legitimate. I feel like the way they make music is the only way they know how to and if you asked them to write simple arrangements (verse chorus verse) they might not be able to do it. Their grasp on the english language and melody in general in many ways goes unvrivaled.

Sent by T.B. | 12:58 AM | 11-15-2007

No one said rap was revolutionary, simply rebellious.

And boy, I'm sure glad that all the other musicians, unlike rappers, are in it for the art. With their sage guidance I'm sure independent music will be protected from the commercial ravages of the recording industry...oh, wait.

Sent by JD | 10:39 AM | 11-15-2007