My First Indie Album

Every guy has his “first album” story. Here is mine. Officially, the first album I owned was Millennium by the Backstreet Boys. I ran over it with my bike some time later, so I won’t consider that.

2004 was a pretty pivotal year in music for me. For my birthday, I received my first portable CD player. I considered it a gift I would never put down, though I had precious few CDs to fill it with, and it would take only three years to be graced with my first iPod.

Nevertheless, I needed CDs. I was eleven and oblivious to a vibrant and historic L.A. music scene, so my options were limited to whatever was playing on MTV while I ate my guacamole on toast in the morning. It wasn’t the greatest introduction to music, especially during my pre-teen years when this decision would affect the music listening experience for the rest of my life, but it was better than the radio.

As I recall, 2004 was during hip-hop’s well-deserved peak in chart success. There wasn’t a day that summer I didn’t hear G-Unit, Nelly, or OutKast blaring from speakerboxes and Scions, but I was small and white, so that wasn’t a listening option.

Despite the popularity in music I wasn’t allowed to take an interest in, there was a considerable diversity in rock n roll at my disposal.

I could’ve landed in the power pop scene (Green Day, Blink 182, Good Charlotte, New Found Glory are among those I remember from that year), but in retrospect it would seem like the decision I would make if I finally gave up. After all, every white kid wore Blink hoodies, and that hook to “American Idiot” was essentially imprinted into my brain that summer. I felt like I needed something different, something to separate me from the crowd.

I could’ve headed into the post-grunge direction. There was a time when 3 Doors Down was the biggest band on the planet, and Nickelback pre-2007 was relatively listenable.

Mainstream emo got a nice start in 2004, but it was near impossible to tell the difference between Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco.

70s and glam rock had a pretty big resurgence that year. Honestly, was there a soul who didn’t wish they could hit the high notes in “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”? I ended up buying The Killers debut album, and “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was the first song I learned on my bass a year later.

But I can’t say any of that has an impression on me nowadays, thanks to NPR, my mother, and the hook of the century.

My parents were picking me up from afterschool care one day towards the end of the year when they were discussing a piece they both heard that morning. It was on a new band out of Scotland that NPR coined as “The disco Strokes”, a band that seemingly both my eclectic but polar parents could enjoy.

Just as we were heading on the freeway, there was a segway between NPR stories, and the 7-second bit of filler was among the most pleasing and attention-grabbing guitar hooks I’ve ever heard. It was jagged, repetitive, complex, and unlike any of the mainstream distortion that made me believe that was the only way electric guitars could sound.

My mom jumped slightly from her seat and pointed to the radio of our ’96 Ford Explorer. “That’s the song! Franz Ferdinand!”

My heart jumped. “Who??” I asked, desperate to understand this new phenomenon.

“The band from Scotland, they’re called Franz Ferdinand, and that’s the song they played this morning on another NPR piece,” my mother explained.

The Internet did the rest. A quick search pointed us to “Take Me Out”, and I was hooked. A week later, I found the album in a Borders Books and Music, and my mother agreed to purchase it for me. The album came with a free grey x-large t-shirt with the band name splashed on the cover, a t-shirt I occasionally wear to bed to this day.

I guess my mom approved of me listening to Franz Ferdinand because it was a way she could be both musically and paternally responsible. She successfully introduced me to alternative music via a band that, while not necessarily squeaky clean, was certainly more tasteful than My Chemical Romance.

It took a train ride down to San Diego to first listen to them, and I was soon in love with everything about that band and that album. I loved how they described themselves as a band that formed “to make the girls dance”. I loved how the liner notes were filled with modern cubist art and the way Alex rhymed “sticky lips” with “sticky hips” on “Michael”.  I loved how strange their music videos were and how they still received heavy rotation on MTV. But most of all, I liked how no one, including themselves, took Franz Ferdinand too seriously.

Franz Ferdinand was a band I could enjoy without any dissent. If any of my peers were in tune enough to understand my obsession, they would often have nothing but glowing things to say about the band. If they were too unfortunate not to have heard of them, then there was nothing they could say that could get me down. It seemed that Franz Ferdinand was mine and only mine, and I paid my respect by spinning their CD once a day for the entire summer.

It’s natural for a band one obsesses over to become stale, but the way it happened for me was disappointing. For one, I physically wore out the CD. There are skips on no less than six of the eleven tracks, and “This Fire” could play for no more than six seconds before passing the burden to the next song. I figured it was time for a replacement, but it was only a few days later when I heard “Take Me Out” being played on KROQ, Los Angeles’s two-headed monster rock station.

My flesh boiled. I didn’t have the supreme hatred of FM 106.7 I do now, but to hear my band being played on Clear Channel four months after the song was initially released was beyond comprehension. It was supremely disrespectful. Soon, “Take Me Out” was on heavy rotation, and everybody in the city got in bed with my band.

And so it was over. I put the CD back in its case, tucked it away on top of a dresser, and went on to new obsessions. By the very end of 2005, thanks once again to NPR and the greatest radio station to grace the southland, Indie 103.1, I focused my anvils and hammers towards the Arctic Monkeys. In 2007, I would go on a Beck spree, a spree I have not grown tired of. Soon after Beck I discovered the pleasures of Arcade Fire and Radiohead. Most recently, I have allocated attention to my imaginary friends at the Elephant 6 Collective (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, in particular). It’s safe to say that I never dwelled upon my first alternative album.

But of course, these things always come back in some way. I was walking around the neighborhood one day, iPod in pocket, and popping from the shuffle mode was the last song on my first album, “40’”. I knew instantly who it was, but it took me until the chorus to recognize the title and start singing along. By this time, I had established a system: when I heard a band I liked, I read about them on the Internet before committing.

I passed of Franz Ferdinand as my childish obsession. It was a band that couldn’t touch the eccentricities of Beck or the craft of Radiohead or the pop brilliance of Elephant 6, but those were opinions that were formed by a spiteful kid with a scratched CD. After all, people much more informed about music than I was had different things to say.

“Like all lasting records, Franz Ferdinand steps up to the plate and boldly bangs on the door to stardom,” declares Pitchfork, my biggest journalistic guilty pleasure, who happened to give the album a 9.1/10. AllMusic had similar praise: “…it’s apparent they’re one of the more exciting groups to come out of the garage/post-punk revival.” NME, Rolling Stone, NPR, they all loved it, finding little fault in a sound that I had just recently declared juvenile. And it was through the Internet that I discovered it won the Mercury Prize. My first album wasn’t just good; it was the best album to come out of Britain that year.

If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that what was really juvenile was my reaction to my band becoming well liked. The more the merrier, I consider now, and I guess that applies to music. How do I feel about the album now?

I like it. I don’t love it. It doesn’t grace my “top 20 albums of all time” list, but it’s a good listen. After all, it makes the girls dance.


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