South American exotica | Bleader

South American exotica

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Reader contributor Jessica Hopper has a feature on the great Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina in today’s Tribune. (There’s another, more in-depth profile in the New York Times. Molina plays the Lakeshore Theater on Saturday, October 14.) Toward the end of the piece Hopper observes that Molina is part of a rash of South American artists who have started to make inroads in the U.S., and she quotes a Pitchfork editor, Amy Phillips, who correctly points out that these artists have record deals with reputable stateside indie labels like Domino, Sub Pop, and Mute. “Indie rock always needs another culture to exoticize," Phillips says. "It's their turn.”

What’s interesting about this point is that most successful of the artists cited--Molina, Jose Gonzalez, and CSS--betray virtually no musical trace of their homelands aside from language--their exoticism never cuts too deep. As Phillips notes, “these artists are filtering through in a context that indie rockers are comfortable with--the right people and labels are saying it's cool.”

Of course, Pitchfork is one of those “right people.” My girlfriend thinks I’m flogging a dead horse by saying this, but it depresses me that Pitchfork, which clearly celebrates itself as a tastemaker, doesn’t try a bit harder when it comes to covering indie rock’s internationalist impulses--employing stronger critical filters or digging deeper into those regions instead of settling for writing about artists that have the imprimatur of a hip label. Once in a while Pitchfork will write about some international music, though they don't claim to be more than an indie rock-oriented site and it's not their responsibility to do so. But it is kind of pathetic that nearly all of their coverage in their given realm ignores like-minded work from countries outside of the U.S., the UK, and Norway. I'm tempted to provide a list of truly exciting artists from South America that have been ignored by the American media, but that’s not really the point. Still, I'll admit that I have a bee in my bonnet about indie-rock fans who claim open-mindedness by digging artists from non-English speaking countries, but are essentially saying, “Brazilian music is cool--as long as it doesn’t sound like Brazilian music.” 

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