I first became cynical of the “indie” aesthetic around the time “Juno“ blew up. After the 2008 Oscars, every TV commercial had music that sounded like Kimya Dawson and JetBlue’s pre-takeoff safety videos were animated with pencil stick figures on “notebook paper.” Being in the middle of my larval classic-rock radio period, I was distrustful, assuming “indie” to be another meaningless marketing word like “all natural.”
After I started getting into and writing about indie music, I became a first-hand witness to its slow descent into exactly that. It started when Arcade Fire sold a million albums, then the advent of bands like Young The Giant who kind of sounded like them, followed by bands like Imagine Dragons that play shameless pop who are dressed up in just enough flannels to make a difference. Finally, we have arrived at Echosmith.
It’s hard to believe the members of Echosmith are siblings — their music doesn’t even sound like it was made by humans, let alone four who were born and raised together. This is “indie pop” at its most anonymous, a mishmash of the tricks that made their stylistic predecessors click with audiences. It’s easy to tell which band the producers had in mind on each song — Ellie Goulding on “March Into the Sun,” The xx on “Come With Me,” Young The Giant on “Nothing’s Wrong.”
The only aspect of their sound that might possibly distinguish them is the vocals, if only because every voice is naturally slightly different. But one would need either an incredibly keen ear or a minimal, Echosmith-inclusive knowledge of pop music to recognize Sydney Sierota’s voice. When she doesn’t sound like Ellie Goulding (which she does for most of the record), she sounds as if she’s struggling to nail the gasping thing Britney does so well.
My indictment of Echosmith’s music is not an indictment of all bands of their ilk, as the formula the band works under can be done right and has been by quite a few bands. Youngblood Hawke and Electric Guest have extremely charismatic front people; Atlas Genius and Lorde are capable of creating highly interesting sonic textures.
But Echosmith possesses exactly zero qualities that elevate them above the rest of the pack. Their main distinguishing trait may be, in fact, their subpar lyrics. Most of the songs here sink into cliché with overused imagery involving dangling cigarettes and young lovers running into the night. But some are just plain awful.”Bright” could be a decent parody of every astrologically-themed ballad in existence, from “Yellow” to “Drops of Jupiter,” but it’s completely serious.
The album’s biggest lyrical tragedy would have to be “Cool Kids,” which might have been the album’s best song if not for its cringe-worthy chorus of “I wish that I could be like the cool kids/Because all the cool kids seem to fit in.” In addition to giving Snoop Lion’s “Take care of mother earth because she be the planet” a run for its money for the year’s most redundant couplet, it’s a terribly ironic line. Echosmith has already fit in. But the cool kids are the ones that came before them, and Echosmith merely follow in their wake, trying to look and talk and think exactly like them. They only fit in because it’s what everyone else in their social current does.