A week ago today I was lamenting the loss of my routine. Tired, and distracted by disappointment in my lapse of discipline, I was struggling to force-write a blog post. The past 15 hours or so I have repeated virtually the exact same sequence of events as last Wednesday-night/Thursday-morning: staying up late with a fond friend, sleeping past my alarm, skipping morning pages, and yes now struggling to write a blog post. Yet whereas last week I was consumed by feelings of guilt and regret, this morning I have the pleasant feeling that this is now part of my weekly song and dance. As the old Jazz adage goes: “If you play a wrong note, repeat it.”
Last night I went to “Sticky’z Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack” to see Little Rock favorites and my friends Amasa Hines play their patent brand of soulful groove-rock. Like many times before, I was delighted by their rich instrumentation (last night they collectively wielded two guitars, two saxophones, keyboard, bass, drums, and auxiliary percussion), tasteful tones, tight pocket, poetic lyrics, and emotive delivery. Yet honestly my heart was stolen for the evening by a Brooklyn based four-piece called The Dig. The precise vocal melodies of the band’s two superb singers (who traded time singing backup and lead) cut clearly through a lush instrumental foundation of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards (with some sampling). They played a pleasingly familiar brand of atmospheric and danceable indie-rock with a cool confidence won from logging in an enormous number of hours rehearsing and playing shows together. Yet what impressed me most about the band, and what made their sound so appealing, was their attention to the precision performance elements of dynamics, tone, groove, and phrasing. Relatively simple chord progressions and melodies were transformed into expressive gems by the band’s attention to detail.
In my experience, most bands I have seen live and even played in honestly kind of suck— it takes a lot of work to just not suck, and The Dig have definitely put in that work. Not only do they not suck, they are actually good, so good in fact that I bought their most recent album “Midnight Flowers.” Listening to it this morning I am once again enjoying the songs I heard last night, and impressed by their ability to so closely replicate their album’s sound live onstage. Yet what was quite spectacular in the live moment, sounds a little plain to my now more critical ear. The Dig are doing all the right things to sound like what good Indie Rock sounds like in 2013 and I think this is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because I would imagine them being greatly enjoyed by any fan of bands like The Strokes, Tennis, Foster the People, Local Natives, and the White Stripes, ensuring The Dig a steady stream of gigs all across the nation. It is a curse, because they have not yet broken free to find their own unique identity and approach to music— they sound like “good Indie Rock”, but perhaps they don’t yet sound like The Dig.
Yet I can easily see this band making artistic and conceptual leaps necessary to attain the same status of the aforementioned bands (they are certainly no less talented), and I am rooting for them to do so. I think I am especially sympathetic to the plight of this band because I am currently in a similarly situated Indie Rock band called The See (yes note the name resemblance). Though I don’t think we necessarily have The Dig’s high level of dynamic, tone, and rhythmic precision (I’m confident this will come as we rehearse and play more shows together), we too are a band with an appealing modern sound who tend to delight and impress most audiences we play for. Yet I don’t think either The See or The Dig are any kind of “best kept secret” waiting to explode on to the national stage, because neither of us has yet found our own secret relationship to music. I am confident, however, that the key to each of our own unique sounds is close by; we just have to see it and dig it (respectively).