TikTok has supercharged and democratised the trend-forecasting business. The work of identifying and naming cultural phenomena was once exclusively the purview of creative agencies and communications offices. Now it’s commonplace for any podcaster or social media user to expound upon a new aesthetic or sound. That’s why, for the past few years, new “trends” have arrived thick and fast: “Barbiecore”, “Europecore”, and so on.
Most of these trends are, arguably, non-existent until they’re named and go viral – the result of a social media user identifying one or two disparate moments in fashion or culture, slapping on a -core suffixed name, and watching other social media users glom onto said trend and pull it into existence. Others are more real but hard to give clear boundaries. One such trend is the so-called “indie sleaze” revival: a fashion moment that seemed to conflate the hard-partying attitude of mid-2000s electroclash with the louche, leather-jacketed fashion of early-2000s New York indie rock, as exemplified by bands such as The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Indie sleaze”, as a term, was not used until the supposed revival, making it hard to properly define which era is actually being revived.
As a fashion trend, indie sleaze began percolating in mid-to-late 2021, but it’s only blossoming as a true broader cultural moment now. This year a handful of musicians have drawn liberally from 2000s electronic artists such as Fischerspooner, LCD Soundsystem and CSS, as well as the cheesier pop artists they themselves influenced: 3OH!3, LMFAO, Cobra Starship.
The genre’s marquee artist is New York musician Harrison Patrick Smith, aka The Dare – who, for the record, doesn’t believe the revival is “real at all”, as he told me in an interview a few weeks ago. His pounding dance-pop and yelpy vocal style fondly nods to the confrontationally lascivious bent of electroclash. The Dare’s music is widely loved and widely hated: Smith recently released his debut EP on Republic Records – the biggest record label in the world, home to Taylor Swift, Drake and The Weeknd – and received acclaim from some corners and unreserved pans from legacy outlets Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
There are also artists on the margins making stranger, but equally reverential, forms of indie-pop revival music. Maya Laner, a member of Caroline Polachek’s band who records as True Blue, recently made a hard pivot from hazy post-chillwave indie pop to hot-blooded dance music on “I Wanna Believe”, which recalls the ghostly throb of Ladytron and builds to a blunt, standoffish chorus: “I like how I walk / I like how I fuck / Mm-hmm, that’s me alright / I like how I dress / I like how I fuck / All me, that’s right.”
Gretchen Lawrence and Coumba Samba, visual artists from New York and London respectively, record as NEW YORK. One of my favourite bands at the moment, NEW YORK uses royalty-free loops and samples to make warm, slightly sinister pop that’s glitchy, witty and hard to place. “L.A.”, a highlight from their debut album No Sleep Till N.Y., captures a 2000s-Vice party aesthetic while drawing from sounds at the centre of contemporary pop, such as the kind of hypnotic dembow beat that’s typical of reggaeton music. Like “I Wanna Believe”, and much of this music, the lyrics on No Sleep Till N.Y. are deadpan and ironic, capturing the tone of nihilist Twitter with a droll throwback cadence. Samba mutters on “makeout”: “It’s so nice when we can just make out and chill out, because I’m a lazy bitch.”
Two of the most interesting members of the indie sleaze revival cohort are Lulu and Angel Prost, New York-based siblings from St Louis, who record as Frost Children. This year they’ve released two superlative records on True Panther – April’s SPEED RUN and this month’s Hearth Room – which ably play with the defining feature of the genre: its historical rootlessness. SPEED RUN is a total sensory assault that reminds me of the party-pop music that was popular when I was growing up – artists such as Ke$ha and Cobra Starship, whose idiocy was real and put-on at the same time, and who seemed to get off on how offensively bimboish their lyrics were.
Hearth Run, on the other hand, seems to have been influenced by 2000s emo-indie musicians such as Bright Eyes and accurately captures the intense volatility of that music as well as its tweeness and warmth. It’s a pretty good punchline – following up SPEED RUN, an album almost universally dinged for its irony-poisoned sense of humour, with an accomplished, shockingly earnest, wintry folk record. It also more-accurately positions the Prosts as able producers of a genreless project but not genreless songs – an important distinction right now.
As sister albums, SPEED RUN and Hearth Room can make for a fun, bracing listen. The records sound like the work of the same producers, even if they have totally different aesthetics. The Prosts are clearly influenced by, and sit adjacent to, hyperpop producers such as Dylan Brady and Danny L. Harle, whose songs are filled with musical non sequiturs and moments of rabid abrasion. But the Prosts are at least partially concerned with pure pleasure, as opposed to trolling. “FLATLINE”, a single from SPEED RUN, is a superlative party song that wouldn’t clear the dance floor, thanks to its lurching bass synth and breakneck pace. “Bernadette”, from Hearth Room, is deeply committed to conjuring a sweet, cosy mood, complete with delicate acoustic guitar and a jaunty fiddle line. Even the more purely electronic songs on Hearth Room, such as “Marigold”, use click tracks and metallic synths for the sake of beauty, rather than subversion or surprise.
The best song on either record is “Bob Dylan”, a spoken-word track on which the pair imagine the titular balladeer walking around their version of New York in disgust, looking upon modern monstrosities such as the reviled new mall Hudson Yards and the upscale Starbucks alternative Blank Street Coffee. It’s an interesting song for a pair of lightning rods from a widely contested, widely hated scene to have written: it seems to look at scene politics and commercial aspiration with total contempt. With increasing fervour, Angel builds out the anxiety-stricken image: “Is this what success is? To have your album promoted right by the Blank Street Coffee? Where there used to be a cool stoop that you smoked cigs on?”
There’s something more than a little ironic about the Prosts, as New York transplants decrying the city’s gentrification. Then again, perhaps there’s something slightly genius about it: if indie sleaze is a so-called genre that has absolutely no geographical or historical roots, then there’s little baggage stopping interlopers such as Frost Children writing a yearning, heart-on-sleeve song about a supposedly better time. It captures the heart of indie sleaze – postmodern, ironic, earnest, weird – but, unlike most indie sleaze music, makes the whole affair feel tangibly real.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 25, 2023 as "Frost bite".
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