Is Indie Rock Black Enough? Presenting The Sasha Frere-Jones Score

jharv / October 17, 2007

So while I was out mixing with the creative underclass at CMJ, some of you were very concerned with this New Yorker article where the world’s wealthiest rock critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, claims that indie rock ain’t “miscegenated” enough for his liking, i.e. it ain’t got enough African-American in it. You were so worried, in fact, that you actually took the time to write and ask what Idolator’s “response” would be. And the response is that though I am sympathetic to the argument on a surface level, the piece is typical jury-rigged SFJ rhetoric that ignores pertinent facts–i.e. there’s still (indie) rock that draws from African-American sources, among others too numerous to mention–to keep a shaky argument afloat until he’s used up his word count. But in the interest of mad science, I’ve also decided to put Frere-Jones’ theory to the test. I’ve come up with a handy metric that will allow me to determine, over the course of CMJ, just how “black” any band happens to be.

Spurred by friend-of-Idolator Christopher Weingarten’s assertion that this year’s CMJ line-up seemed to only bolster Frere-Jones’ theory, what I’ve dubbed the “Sasha Frere-Jones Score” is determined by listening to see if a rock band–or a band comprised of white people…same thing, right?–features any or all of the defining characteristics Frere-Jones applies willy-nilly to all African-American music: “a bit of swing, some empty space, and palpable bass frequencies.” At the end of the week, we should know for sure whether or not rock music is now terminally white. And whether or not Black Kids live up to their name.

Saturday Looks Good To Me
Squeaky-clean indiepop with keyboards and nary a syncopation in sight, though a bit of soul in the vocals.
SFJ SCORE: 65

Another Animal
They had one song they referred to as a “blues,” and they were even helpful enough to put “blues” in the title. Just in case you forgot what the blues sounded like, and were scratching your head wondering where you might have heard those 12-bar chord changes before.
SFJ SCORE: 75

Alter Bridge
Vestigial traces of African-American music buried under 15 years of post-Pearl Jam alt-rock. Still, you’d have to be pretty hard up for fat beats to mistake them for funky.
SFJ SCORE: 70

Juiceboxxx
The only band/artist of the day who a.) rapped and b.) had “palpable bass frequencies.” Still, his annoying yelps over uptempo club tracks had little space and absolutely no swing.
SFJ SCORE: 64

Team Robespierre
Shrieky, rhythmically fidgety art-punk that’s probably the textbook definition of what Frere-Jones defines as “the problem.”
SFJ SCORE: 50

Dan Deacon
Well, he does incorporate the lyrics to “What’s Your Fantasy?” on one song. And the bass can hurt your teeth when it hits you right. But yeah, despite the oversized glasses, no one’s going to be mistaking Deacon for Bootsy Collins.
SFJ SCORE: 55

DAY ONE COMBINED SCORE: 63.1
TOTAL COMBINED SCORE: 63.1

That’s barely enough blackness to qualify for a passing grade! Things aren’t looking good for the crackers of indie rock. And it’s only been a day!

A Paler Shade Of White [New Yorker]