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Pity for Black Kids

The Internet is a filterless radio, and bands like Black Kids don't stand to win

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Cure-worship dusted in confectioners' sugar and glitter, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance," is the "big one" from visiting buzz-holdovers Black Kids.

It's the stubbornly catchy, if sort of empty, pop song that churned its way through the Internet hype machine last summer, and after so many breathless blog posts, landed among all the news that's fit to print, right there in the pages of The New York Times. But, more important—at least for this essay—it's the only track in the Jacksonville-based quintet's repertoire I've ever listened to. Partie Traumatic, the band's full-length debut released in July by Sony? Nope, haven't heard a note. Don't plan on it, either.This is a conscious decision I've made partly out of sympathy for a band thrust into the limelight way before it was ready for a close-up. In fact, two years, two records and two tours too soon. My decision took hold last October, when chafed critics and disappointed fans grumbled about the Kids' disappointing CMJ sets across New York City. I can't verify this myself (those same gigs' monstrous lines kept me from witnessing the disappointment), but the consensus was pretty nasty: They were sloppy, ill-prepared, all the sort of "no shit" adjectives you'd expect hurled at a band that'd never been on tour but somehow found itself headlining marquee bills and playing for hundreds of fans that knew every word to the hit but couldn't pick another song out of an MP3 lineup.

Just 12 months later, the Kids are doing some grumbling of their own, hinting at throwing in the towel, complaining about incessant touring and generally having a hard time being a band. But why? Why the overnight ascension? Why the looming collapse? And, more importantly, why write an essay about a band you've chosen not to listen to?

Because something is happening to the way we discover and regard new music, and Black Kids are the result of this shift.

In 2005, I wrote an article for the Daily Tar Heel about music blogs supplanting glossies as the most trusted source for new music. To me, blogs represented a legion of individual listeners, offering new, unique perspectives. They were passionate and involved, mostly unpaid people with only an audience to lose or win. They wrote about obscurities and small, hard-working bands that didn't get shine in the pages of Rolling Stone and Spin.

Today, that's not an accurate characterization: As more and more bands and record labels work the new levers of power and influence, flooding the inboxes of fans-turned-bloggers and bloggers-turned-cheerleaders on an hourly basis, the bulk of content slowly changes the average blogger from a listener to an observer, a cataloger as opposed to a critic, a funnel as opposed to a filter. For every Fluxblog or Said the Gramophone (the blogs that still listen), there are a few dozen (hundred?) finger-on-the-pulse clearinghouses that offer a list of hot shit MP3s with little to no context or taste.

Today, rather than resembling the editorial world of music journalism, the blogosphere looks and acts more like the reactionary world of radio. On the dial, there's no editorial consideration and minimal curatorial process. Instead, DJs play what labels push, and fans want to hear what DJs play. Similarly, the blogosphere works like a whip-quick echo chamber, building up synthetic consensus around bands that work the machine, irrespective of quality or preparedness. And that's a shame, when fantastic bands—with albums, tours and years under their belts—are flatly ignored in favor of a band with a song, a curious name and, it seems, no wherewithal for this crazy mess of a music industry.

While the overlooked might be the biggest victims here, it also stings to be the bands like Black Kids or the already-forgotten Voxtrot and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah—all decent young musicians with plenty of promise, shoved onto a stage, pushed into a studio, forced into interviews and clobbered with attention. And just think: It's all because they wrote one really catchy song.

Black Kids plays Thursday, Sept. 25, at 9 p.m. at Cat's Cradle. The Virgins and Magic Wands open the $15-$17 show.

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