So, I watch The Walking Dead every week. I know it’s a guilty pleasure, but not every show can be Mad Men. And hey, I’m an ADD-crazed fool constantly drawn to distraction material, which explains how I’ve sat through every season of Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Battlestar Galactica that can be viewed on Netflix. And I wish I was talking about the 70s Battlestar, but I’m not—I’m talking about Dean Stockwell as a cyborg who fucked his own mother, herself a cyborg with amnesia played by Nan Vernon’s sister who thought she was a human and was saving her husband’s life (okay, the new series is not without its charms) … meanwhile years are going by, and I’ve yet to publish my first book.
Anyway, I’ve been in Austin for SXSW for the past ten days or so, and I just got back to L.A., and tonight I was catching up with my Walking Dead episodes. During a commercial break in the most recent one, there was a brief promo for the Talking Dead panel show, hosted by Chris Hardwick, that follows each new episode of The Walking Dead. In the blurb, Hardwick casually mentioned that one of his guests tonight was Voxhaul Broadcast, and they would be performing their song from the Walking Dead soundtrack.
“Voxhaul Broadcast?” I thought. Voxhaul Broadcast … Voxhaul Broadcast… hmm, why do I know the name Voxhaul Broadcast?
Oh, that’s right…
Yep, Voxhaul Broadcast, the band on Talking Dead last Sunday, once called me a “tard” and told me to suck their dicks.
To explain why an indie rock band with a name like “Voxhaul Broadcast” would feel justified in attacking me with poor grammar and vaguely homophobic insults, let’s rewind back to 2008. At the time I was freelance writing for Losanjealous.com, a fairly strong competitor of LAist. My first assignment was to review an Earlimart show. Voxhaul Broadcast was also on the bill, and while I devoted very few words to them (because it was a review about Earlimart), I did manage to say that Voxhaul Broadcast “kept serving up tunes like indie iceberg lettuce, with no flavor to distinguish one from the next.”
And that was it. Admittedly, I was critical of the band. But as anyone who has read my work knows, I am very skeptical of any music that sounds “indie” as a genre unto itself. You know what I’m talking about: music that has Chris Martin-esque falsetto male vocals, or that has guitar seemingly ripped from U2 via a flavorless Blonde Redhead, paired with a bassist who just plays “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” quarter-notes all damn song along the chords’ roots. I’m talking about pleasant rock music that won’t interrupt your conversation, with a live drummer who plays muted disco beats even though the music isn’t meant to be danced to, except maybe on the grass of some indie-rock festival while you’re shirtless and wearing a crown of glow sticks. I’m talking about music that takes rock’s gleefully ugly 13-year-old unconscious id, pretends it’s a well-thought-out romantic strategy, and champions it with soaring anthems, not as an anti-hero in a leather jacket, but as a beautiful stoic angel whose every vague dig against the establishment is to be taken as a poignant critique on society.
And I think that’s what struck such a chord with the Voxhaul Broadcast guys. It wasn’t that I said I couldn’t remember their songs, but that I said they were “indie.”
Voxhaul Broadcast didn’t want to be an indie rock band, or so they claimed at the time. Their MySpace page listed their influences as James Brown, Al Green, and Donovan; they wanted to be a soul band with heart. But having a record (or more likely, an MP3) in your collection doesn’t mean your band follows in that tradition. Though they conned a few other blogs into quoting their press release verbatim, the concept that this band was a “soul” band or even soul-infused was just sheer fantasy: I’d challenge them or anyone to show me what part of those rhythms, guitar licks, or lyrics sounds sounded even remotely like “Funky President” or “Love and Happiness,” much less “Catch the Wind” or “Sunshine Superman.” Any claims to soul you might actually locate in Voxhaul Broadcast’s music were (when they remembered to include them) straight from Vampire Weekend, or the Strokes, or any of the other of the umpteen mostly-male bands with guitarists who play on the upstroke with their distortion turned off. It’s not even funky—it’s just that singer David Dennis’ voice has a little more growl than Thom Yorke, and sometimes their songs are a little more lively than Death Cab for Cutie.
And that’s why I compared them to iceberg lettuce and then quickly moved on, with no intention of fucking with their shit. But these guys went completely ballistic, posting comments on Losanjealous about me and then going on this website to accuse me of lying and taking their quotes “out of context,” as though there’s any way to take “suck my dick” out of context. Or that it was somehow “false reporting” to critique them as a talentless drivel band trying desperately to jump the train headed for Sell Out Station.
Anyway, I guess this blog’s Voxhaul Broadcast article stayed in the top of Google’s search for a while, because I kept seeing comments on the thread way after I’d moved on with my own life. Finally, after maybe a couple years, the comments stopped and I put Voxhaul Broadcast’s boorish insults and bland music out of mind. In hindsight, I think I heard about them from time to time appearing on bills with much better bands, e.g. on shows that L.A. RECORD would list. But I hadn’t seen Voxhaul Broadcast live since, and I was surprised to hear their name on Talking Dead.
Funny thing is, though, that Voxhaul Broadcast’s story arc has proven them to be the indie-ist of indie sellouts, exactly as I’d described back in 2008. They did continue to play not-soul music. They did try and succeed in embracing Nic Harcourt, and they did scam their way onto the soundtracks of terribly treacle-y films, e.g. The Vow and the Nicolas Sparks vehicle The Lucky One, and the slightly more fun 90210 (what, not good enough for Gossip Girl?). Funny, their website doesn’t really mention their ties to such wonderful, soulful cinematography. Some bands would find a bunch of humor in getting a gig on movies they don’t particularly like, but you get the vibe that Voxhaul Broadcast are worried too much about their image to boast about their appearances, and too worried about pissing off potential date-film directors by openly mocking them.
That said, performing a song on The Walking Dead is something of a coup for these fellas, and honestly, I was watching hoping that it would be good. A lot of bands start off being kind of generic and grow into a wonderful sound of their own, and maturity can improve lyric writing a great deal. I have critiqued a lot of bands who either took my words to heart and changed, or completely dissed me by making the most awesome album ever, gleefully proving me irrelevant through sheer talent, and I’m okay with being wrong if I get some good music out of it. Some bands even became my friends after I criticized them in print, because really, until you start going to my blog and calling me a “tard” liar, I don’t hate you and you don’t hate me—it’s nothing personal, just a critique of music that also at times steps out of your personality and says things you wouldn’t say to someone’s face in polite society.
But change and maturity were not to be had: this performance by Voxhaul Broadcast of “In the Wilderness” is somehow even worse than the weird nu metal Ray Charles blues of Jamie N. Commons from the week before. “In the Wilderness” has just a few strummed acoustic chords, plus a slight little flourish that would almost be good if it wasn’t lifted piecemeal from Kirk Hammett.
And the lyrics—oh man, the very first thing ol’ David sings is that he “Stood at the edge of the valley/looked at the ground below.” He knows that valleys are the low part and that the mountains are the high part, right? It’s hard to see much below you in a valley.
Watch the clip, and listen to the lyrics of this thing, if you can stomach them. He goes on to talk about how there’s a “wolf inside my heart” for some girl, which would be hard to fit in there since she’s already “the wilderness inside me” that may or may not have fueled a fire that “cold desperation” may or may not have let go out—it was a jumble of mixed metaphors, the kind Holland-Dozier-Holland would never have strung together. I haven’t even gotten to the earthquake or how he can’t run forever because he’s hungry and he eats weird metaphorical animals. And if all this talk of “hunger” or “wolves” is making you think it’s a Duran Duran song, well, even a third-bit copy of Duran Duran would at least provide the faint glimmer of nostalgia to get you through.
Look, guys, Voxhaul Broadcast, you were jerks to me once, pretty big jerks, to a little guy who only wanted to write articles about music (most of which you’ve never heard of, but that’s okay). Being a masochist, I would have loved to see you kick my ass a little. But sad to say, in the past five years you haven’t done anything to prove you’re not still talentless, unimaginative hacks barely hanging onto your Nicolas Sparks soundtrack gigs because you’re halfway cute and have a good agent. For a second, a mere split-second, I almost thought you done good with this Walking Dead appearance. But you’re still indie iceberg lettuce, mere filler between zombie attacks and Channing Tatum’s abs.
In the future, if you’re going to put some music in a horror franchise, at least pay heed to your indie rock forefathers and get yourself into a goofy video.
P.S. Oh, and hey guys? For the record, I like sucking dick. I’m still sucking dick. Just not yours.