My theory about the utter lack of rebellious angst among the indie-music waves pulsing through the leading edge of Generation Y involves baby boomers being the most protective parents, ever. Raised in an era of unparalleled Clintonian prosperity, kids now in their 20s were cocooned in a suburban realm of MTV and Nintendo. They don't remember a Vietnam, a Cold War or the threat of nuclear Armageddon, and never knew want nor need. Their creativity gets directed toward longing for a womblike childhood -- and with today's horrendous job prospects, many have even opted to return to the scene of those idylls.
Hence, the trend of "hypnagogic pop," a term coined last year by The Wire's David Keenan to refer to music reflecting a memory of a memory. "It refashions '80s [chart pop] into a hazy, psychedelic drone ... It's the sound that remains after the boys of summer have gone," he elaborates.
The music's precedents are clear: the Beach Boys' arch Californiana; Jonathan Richman's paeans to suburban New England; Galaxie 500's sun-drenched lugubrities; Boards of Canada's foggy electronica. The dam burst several years ago with Animal Collective, and now variations on the theme are everywhere -- groups like Pocahaunted, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Beach House and Desolation Wilderness.
Meet the self-described "psychedelic surf pop" of New Jersey's Real Estate, whose moniker evokes the bonanza of For Sale signs dotting exurbia's McMansions. "I was in real-estate school getting my license," explains frontman Martin Courtney. "It wasn't really intentional, but it does fit the style of the band [and] how people who are around the same age [make] a lot of cultural references to the '80s. It's an appealing idea, being nostalgic about your childhood."
Most of the band members grew up in the suburbs of Ridgewood, N.J., so it's not surprising that Real Estate has songs like "Suburban Beverage," "Beach Comber," "Pool Swimmers" and "Motorbikes," which "don't reflect anything we particularly experienced, but more of a general feeling people can relate to," says Courtney. "You know the show Pete and Pete on Nickelodeon? That was shot in New Jersey -- that's the vibe I'm describing, with lots of trees and [kids] hanging outside."
Real Estate, which has been compared to Yo La Tengo and The Feelies, is the band you formed in your freshman year of college, when you didn't worry about anything other than attending a class with 300 other undecideds. "I went to school where you didn't have to choose a major," Courtney recalls, "so I graduated not knowing what I was going to do. That makes sense -- moving back home after college and being surrounded by friends, not knowing any better what we were going to do than we did back in high school."
Real Estate just played what may be a record nine consecutive gigs at the South By Southwest music conference, including parties hosted by Pitchfork; Other Music; the band's own booking agent, Ground Control; and its publicist, Forcefield. And its label, Woodsist, run by Jeremy Earl of the Brooklyn quartet Woods, has a track record of buzz acts -- Wavves, Kurt Vile, Vivian Girls and Blank Dogs.
"We were big fans of the label before we recorded," Courtney says. "There's advantages to being on a label that's already got a name for itself, and [Earl's] done a lot more to push his recent releases -- he's really upped his game."
Earl still lends his high-pitched voice (often processed through hazy effects) to Woods, whose lo-fi freak-folk occasionally meanders into fuzz-laden psychedelic guitar solos on their fourth LP, Songs of Shame, which cracked last year's Top 50 on Pitchfork. Woods indulges in an aesthetic similar to Real Estate's, but the melodies waft in from the forest and not so much the beach. (Its last.fm description is "a campfire and a tent and some matches and a tree and that river.")
Sure, Woodsist hovers in the cool zone by maintaining a sub-label (Fuck It Tapes) that releases only cassettes, and one of Woods' members plays tape collages onstage (shades of old Mission of Burma). But there's plenty of catchy, recognizable tuneage to keep the YouTube generation intrigued -- perhaps enough to download onto their parents' iPods. After all, this is music that boomers and their precious Malcolms-in-the-Middle can get lost in while mutually reminiscing: "Hey, this song reminds me of how I used to wipe your face when you spit up your organic yogurt in that highchair!"
"Aw, mom, cut it out ..."
WPTS presents Woods and Real Estate with Lohio. 7 p.m. Thu., March 25. All ages. Public Health Auditorium G23, University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. $6 ($8 day of show). All ages. 412-648-7990 or www.wptsradio.org