The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Sweden's photogenic, mop-topped quintet, sound like a jaunty 1960s garage band jumped by Motown and fisted by late-'70s Brit punk. It's an inspired sound—retro in all the right places, a bit angular, and unbelievably catchy. They've got a good thing going on, T(I)NC do: they make good music, they're easy on the eyes, they're on a good label (Epitaph), they've got a shtick (with their matching tailored outfits), and they've got an international following of hip, well-dressed kids. And they've got a buzz.
This would be enough, but then they go political. “We are up for sale/Everything that we know is up for sale,” Dennis Lyxzen (formerly of acclaimed Swedish hardcore band Refused) sings on “Up for Sale” from the band's new album, A New Morning Changing Weather. Such lyrics aren't so revolutionary—standard-issue punk, something the Offspring might sing—but T(I)NC take it one step further, spouting whenever they get the chance their politics of socialism, open Marxism, and French situationism. They pepper their plucky songs with words like “objectified,” “phallic,” “deconstruct” and “signifies.” They are my college contemporary-critical-theory professor's unsavory wet dream. Their liner notes alone are like some mythical academic beast: part lyrics and credits, part textbook, including an inscrutable, verbose essay titled “The Global Fear Factory,” the upshot of which is that a web of invisible fear holds us in place in capitalist society; capitalism spreads into every corner of daily life and consciousness; there is no getting outside capitalism; and thinking there's some magical, untainted something or other beyond the marketplace is just nostalgia. It's an authentic-to-the-letter postmodern tract, to which I respond by bitch-slapping it with George Orwell's brilliant “Politics and the English Language,” in which he posits that if you don't speak plainly and clearly, you either have nothing to say or you're trying to put a happy gloss on something sinister.
Language is for communication. Of course, poetry, theater, literature and music often employ unconventional, metaphorical, even obtuse language. But in politics, beware the siren politician.
But T(I)NC aren't politicians; they're musicians-as-politicians, which is why the language issue becomes so dicey. It's not as if they haven't been taken to task for their transgressions. They've caught a fair amount of shit for bitching about capitalism and then signing to Epitaph. About this, they'll readily admit they're compromised and then say they're using the tools of the system to change the system, that the only way to change is from within, and that the alternative is to become the Unabomber.
But it's not the Epitaph thing that bothers me. It's something deeper; it's that somehow T(I)NC represent the selling out not of politics, but of music. Their anti-capitalist language feels like a fashion statement. The band says its politics come before the music, suggesting the music is either an afterthought or a tool of dissemination. This is fine, but in the music industry and the music press, it's their music that's getting the attention, and the politics are used as an angle, as something—groovy? neato?—that sets them apart from other punk acts. The politics, in other words, are the selling point. Lit has gambling, chicks and Cadillacs; Blink-182 has fart jokes; and the (International) Noise Conspiracy has socialism.
It's not as if this is the first time politics have become a selling point for liberty-spiked adolescent punk bands, but it might be the first time this particular brand of collegiate international Marxist postmodern socialism has backed such a danceable stew of retro rock. Of course, you could argue that this is the nature of capitalism, that T(I)NC is just trying to get people to think, that things get commodified—including the word “commodified”—faster than you can say it, that of course, in this market, it's going to appear that their politics are being used to push their music and vice versa because in this market, whatever sells is going to move to the forefront and whatever doesn't is going to take a back seat or just disappear. But I can't help feeling they're making politics fashionable and stylish and cuddly and that something's amiss in that. At the same time, I recognize that politics aren't supposed to remain in textbooks (please see Marx's “Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach”). It's an interesting time we're living in because all of a sudden politics have jumped out of the textbooks, and all those boring essays we read in school that somehow remained outside our daily life have become reality, and we're living in a moment that isn't really that different from all the moments we learned about in history class. So maybe my desire to push radical politics out of my nightlife, out of my car radio and out of my earphones just means I haven't yet adjusted to the New New World Order. Or maybe T(I)NC haven't yet found a way to make it convincing.
The (International) Noise Conspiracy play with the Hives, Rival Schools and Midtown at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0377. Sun., 7:30 p.m. $9.99. All ages.