We can all picture this: A beige van parks next to a local music venue. A young, white male jumps out of the driver’s seat. He wears glasses that look like they were purchased from Warby Parker, some variation of a stylish 1920s haircut where the sides of the head are buzzed and long hair slopes off the top. He might have a beard. His skinny jeans are rolled up just above his simple, leather shoes. His button-down short-sleeve shirt features plaid or stripes. He probably has the sleeve cuffed up.
Beware of this snake in the grass. He might look like your friend, but this is the typical look for a front-man in pork chop rock band.
The band unloads their trailer and assembles their setup. The gear is cramped onto the bar’s tiny stage. Drums, synths and keyboards. Amps and guitars. Massive pedal boards that look like robot faces. They ask the house sound guy if he can add reverb to the vocals.
Before a single note at soundcheck, you already know what to expect. High-energy stadium rock, almost like U2, sporting atmospheric Christian rock tones and boring lead guitar riffs. Quick, strong, African rhythms. Dudes singing high-pitched melodies that all sound the same—unremarkable. Cheery choruses. Ooo’s and aaa’s. Repetitive. Monotonous. Unoriginal.
In the same way commercial rock bands of the 1990s like Nickelback and Creed (butt rock bands) tried to imitate Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, these pork chop bands rip off the popular “indie” bands of the early 2000s: My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, The National, etc.
One word to define how pork chop rock sounds? Polite.
For alternative music, the pork chop rock bands hardly push the sound forward. Nothing in the songwriting, production, or aesthetic sounds fresh. People with bad taste in music listen to these bands because they think it’s hip music. Think—Imagine Dragons, Phoenix, The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, Hozier. (It’s a shame what’s happened to my Spotify “discover weekly” playlist after writing this article.)
They call it “indie music,” but this type of music is separate from the alternative music tradition. Rather than the classic landscape of underground music vs. pop music, now there is underground music, pop music, and the pork chops who feed off it all.
Since pork chop rock does nothing new with music, that means it’s retrospective. Is there anything wrong with retrospection and having a good time? No, music is totally valid just as entertainment. But if you’re a music maker, you have a responsibility to make it sound fresh.
By building on the existing body of historical work, you’re creating something that has never happened until that point in linear time. A lot of great bands happen because circumstance put them together and they had fun playing instruments together, not because they were trying to make songs that sound like something. And that’s lucky for us.
Pork Chop Playlist
Sam is a finishing his bachelor’s degree in Southern Studies at the
University of Mississippi. If anybody could offer him a full-time job
come December, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s willing to
go anywhere and do just about anything. Inclinations: writing, exotic
manual labor, music production, video editing, and business
administration. Disinclinations: constant customer interaction,
food service, and math. You’ll find him in Oxford, MS where he plays
with music. You can criticize the music that he makes with his band
Secret Hair here