Smile Politely

Cults, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and the problem with blogs

How do you define “blog buzz”? Does it happen when a band gets added to Pitchfork’s Playlist, or, is it when Hipster Runoff associates them with some new “wave” all the bros are into?

I scour dozens of music blogs, and I still can’t tell when buzz starts or when a band has achieved significant buzz. However, from reading those blogs, I’ve been told both Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Cults unlocked the “blog buzz” award based on brief releases in 2010. This is the story of the joys and perils early acclaim can bring.

Cults rocketed to the top of the blogosphere with the release of a terrific digital seven-inch on their Bandcamp page. Though it had just three songs and the band did little to promote it, their EP quickly gained popularity for its nostalgic ’60s girl-group vibe and was named “Best New Music” by Pitchfork.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s 2010 release, Horse Power EP, earned them similar, yet slightly less enthusiastic, praise from the Internet’s masses. Like Cults, the duo’s release had just three original songs – unlike Cults, DEJJ included a pitch-perfect cover of the Beach Boys “God Only Knows.” (High praise, to be sure) The simple electro-folk melodies and rich harmonies the group created seemed to offer a picture of a bright future.

The similarities between the two bands barely exist – they both rely on drum machines and both are comprised of just two members – but their rise from buzz bands to legitimate recording artists has happened nearly simultaneously, and with their debut full-length albums both dropping on June 7 it seems only right to chronicle them together.

Cults self-titled album is on In the Name of (an imprint of Columbia Records), It’s a Corporate World is on Quite Scientific (an imprint of Warner). With major label backing it is obvious that someone powerful felt the buzz these bands gained earned them the right to have their music broadcast far and wide. And based on their initial releases, those people would be correct.

The problem with both of these albums, however, is that the strongest tracks are the ones that were on those initial releases. On Cults the sunny rock of “Go Outside” dominates; on Corporate the glitchy pop of “Simple Girl” and the slacker love of “Nothing But Our Love” steal the show. These are great tracks and I have enjoyed them tremendously, but I would really have liked to enjoy the rest of the albums more.

In fairness, Cults is a better record than Corporate. Cults manage to incorporate the creepiness of what their band name suggests in to their recording via samples of Jim Jones and spacey echoes. The song “Oh My God” stands out among the songs not from their EP, though does not eclipse the original batches glory.

DEJJ are another story. The duo takes the stage in full NASCAR regalia and titled their album It’s a Corporate World, yet almost completely eschew their own sardonic nature in favor of light pop.
That light pop has its infectious moments; so does Cults’ sunny ’60s sound. Both albums are serviceable and offer decent tunes, but after the amount of hype the bands received could that be enough?

The system spreading the gospel of this great music is simultaneously rushing the groups who made it to replicate it and undoubtedly bringing our expectations to a level beyond what is reasonable.

Is “blog buzz” a bad thing? Probably not. Instead, I’m willing to accept that the problem lies within me, as the listener, and my lofty aspirations for these bands. I’m going to give both Cults and DEJJ more time and more listens. There are still songs I fell in love with on these albums, and I’m sure that with time I will find more gems lurking behind the shadows of those songs.
In fact, DEJJ’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” is already sounding better to me.

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