by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Scott Severin and I got into an online discussion via Facebook about his new album recorded with his band, The Milton Burlesque, called Birdhouse Obbligato, the disc that’s being celebrated tonight at a free show at The Waiting Room. Severin insisted that the CD is an excellent example of indie music, while I argued that there was nothing indie about it.
Upon reflection Severin was right and I was wrong. Birdhouse is an indie album — it’s not associated with a major record label, which is “indie” by its most generic definition. In fact, the album is really indie in that it’s not associated with any record label as Severin paid for its recording (with Joel Petersen at Enamel Studio), mixing and mastering (by Tom Ware), pressing and, conceivably, its distribution. The term is “self-released,” which sounds like a euphemism for being “born again” or having reached a higher mental state — “I’ve been self-released.” We need a better term for projects like Severin’s, since more and more music — whether created by MTV stars or van-imprisoned bands — is going to be self-released as labels erode and provide fewer reasons for anyone to use their services.
So, Birdhouse Obbligato is indie from a business perspective, but from a music perspective — how indie has become defined as an aesthetic — it doesn’t quite fit, at least not in my opinion. Instead, the record falls under a more conventional rock ‘n’ roll definition. It rocks just like the rock music I remember from the ’70s and ’80s; it has an old-fashioned, comfortable FM radio vibe.
I wouldn’t call it “retro,” since that would imply that the artist was purposely targeting a specific style from a bygone era. Only Severin — or a guy who’s lived a life in music like Severin — could write and record an album that sounds like this. There is a matter-of-fact honesty in the approach — a modern band of teen-agers or 20-somethings who grew up with indie music simply could not pull this off without sounding kitschy or phony or “ironic.” But then again, it’s unlikely that someone from that group would want to write this kind of music to begin with. Severin’s sound harkens back to a simpler — arguably better — time when verse/chorus/verse/key change/chorus was the modus operandi. A song like “I Don’t Know,” with its heavy metal chops, Jerry Lee Lewis piano riffs, and cock-rock guitar solo, predates the dawn of grunge, and something tells me Severin wouldn’t want it any other way.
And then there’s the more mellow “Farshtaist,” one of those songs that — after hearing it for the first time — you wonder if it always existed. It’s timeless in the same way that songs we grew up listening to on FM radio seemed to have always been there, and will likely be there after we’ve all gone deaf and senile. The best track on the album, it could easily fit onto any MOR playlist — MOR, as defined in Wiki, is “broadly popular music, but not technically avant-garde; generally, it is strongly melodic and often features vocal harmony technique and orchestral arrangements.” The modern equivalent is the “Soft AC” format.
Severin is not breaking new ground with this album, and I doubt that he wanted to. Instead, Birdhouse Obbligato is a collection of rockers and ballads by a man that is content simply getting his ideas and melodies recorded for all time. In the end, this is who Severin is, and he should be proud of that.
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So tonight’s marquee draws are two CD release shows. The biggest is Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque at The Waiting Room with Big Wheel (Sarah Benck) and Platte River Rain. 9 p.m. and absolutely free.
Meanwhile, over at O’Leaver’s, it’s Lincoln’s The Sleepover, with Techlepathy and Fortnight. $5, 9 p.m.
Also tonight, Lawrence indie band Cowboy Indian Bear is playing in the Stir Lounge at Harrah’s Casino in Council Bluffs with the one and only Jake Bellows. $5, 9 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.