The Walk-Ons podcast is basically three guys talking about basketball via comparisons to The Bachelor, lazy reductions to crude personal biases, and stories about midgets. Interestingly, all of that varied discussion is book-ended by an indie song.
Given that combination, and my own love of both basketball and the sort of indie music that makes me appealing to girls with black rimmed glasses and/or tattoos, I figured Tobacco Road Blues was the perfect place to run down the top NCAA title contenders by comparing each team to an indie band (in no particular order).
So turn down the volume on that one publicly funded indie music station in your area (WNCW!), give this a read and let me know how my crap musical taste and uninformed basketball analysis make me a Chuck Klosterman wannabe (that’s what the internet is for, after all).
Kentucky = Polica – You might think the Minneapolis-based Polica would equate to hometown University of Minnesota. However, this group of musicians assembled from previously successful local and national bands has a perfect UK freshmen recruiting class feel. Polica’s signature sound is incorporating two drummers, which is the basketball version of stacking up on big post players the way Kentucky does. One of those drummers is Mike Noyce from the nationally hailed band Bon Iver. The lead singer is Channy Leaneagh, a songstress from a local Minneapolis band that broke up. Her local legend and Noyce’s folk hero status make Polica one of the bands to watch going forward. But they’ve only put out one CD, so it’s hard to know if all the disparate pieces will continue to mesh together. If they do, as with Kentucky, they’ll put the rest of the country on notice.
UCLA = Joe Purdy – He may not be as nationally known as UCLA and their star studded roster, but Joe Purdy is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters in the country. Purdy has put out 12 albums in 8 years. And though he gives off the air of a downtrodden troubadour, his songs have been featured on commercials and in television shows. In fact, Grey’s Anatomy used not one, but three of his songs. UCLA, like Purdy, is a team that has promise, is prolific and might pop up on the national stage even if right now they exist outside the musical mainstream.
Missouri = Destroyer – If you listen to The Walk-Ons podcast, then you know that Frank Haith blows. The question is, what does Frank Haith blow? Well the answer might be a saxophone, which is why Destroyer is the indie music equivalent of Missouri. Also, with a band name like Destroyer you’re disappointed when you listen to them and realize it’s dulcet electronic pop. It’s the same kind of disappointment when you see Missouri run up and down the court all game only to pour water on all that excitement by choking down the stretch.
Gonzaga = Okkervil River – Even for indie music fans, Okkervil River is one of the deep tracks. A band from Austin playing old school folk is never going to make it with the masses. Their old-timey music and appreciation by only the most hipster of hipsters makes them the Gonzaga of music. They might be lauded in particularly crunchy coffee houses, but, as with Gonzaga, they’re not a threat nationally.
Minnesota = Old Crow Medicine Show – As with the Gophers, people have been waiting for OCMS to break through nationally for years. In fact, I saw OCMS open for Robert Earl Keen back in the early 2000s. Back then the band members were kids who couldn’t legally drink at the bar, but there was certainly a great deal of musical promise and about a decade later they are delivering. Likewise, Tubby Smith arrived in Minnesota in 2007 and is only now sticking his head above the Mendoza line of mediocrity.
Ohio State = The Black Keys – The Buckeyes are little atypical given that they basically a bunch of small and power forwards. What Ohio State does well, though, is play gritty and hard-nosed basketball. It’s a brand of basketball that fits the narrative of a blue collar rust belt state like Ohio. The Black Keys hail from Akron, Ohio and their style of blues and indie rock is the kind of distorted guitar soundtrack Thad Matta’s squad personifies. Furthermore, The Black Keys were at their best in the older and rawer, less produced albums. Like The Black Keys, the Buckeyes are at their best when the game avoids style and flash in favor of getting a little ugly.
Florida = Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Okay, so Tom Petty isn’t an indie band exactly. Still, Tom Petty is the best fit for Florida (and not just because he’s from Gainesville). Most people enjoy the musical catalogue of Tom Petty, but most people would recoil at the idea of Tom Petty as one of the best classic rock acts ever. That’s pretty much Florida in a nutshell. The Gators are good, but you’d hesitate to put forth a full throated case for their title chances. Both are good and maybe under-appreciated, but their case for greatness is somewhat flimsy despite all their merits.
Syracuse = Yeasayer – People will tell you about Yeasayer. They’ll insist that they’re good and if you say, “yeah, they’re alright I guess” you’re seen to be a “hater” or otherwise musically unrefined. Yeasayer are from Brooklyn and toured with MGMT and Beck so, like Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, they’ve got all the required pedigree and bona fides. Still, there’s something less than impressive about both Syracuse and Yeasayer. There’s nothing wrong with either, per se, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that Syracuse or Yeasayer are the best of their respective bunches.
Arizona = Lana Del Ray – In order to get in on the burgeoning mass popularity of indie music a record company found a girl, gave her puffy Angelina Jolie lips, fashionably unfashionable clothes and had her sing a sultry song. Some people really liked her songs, other’s thought she was completely inauthentic. Then everyone bailed out on her when they realized she couldn’t sing live because she wasn’t all that talented. The career arc of Lana Del Ray foreshadows Arizona’s season perfectly. Right now they look hot and ready to set the world on fire, but the Wildcats are a team built on a foundation of lies. They simply aren’t that good. They trailed Clemson for much of that game and should have lost to Colorado were it not for a blown call. That was Arizona’s Lana Del Ray singing on SNL moment. In the end, Arizona will be shown to be a phony just like Lana Del Ray.
Kansas = Gotye – The first time I heard that song I thought, ‘Hey, that’s not a bad song; pretty catchy actually” (note that my thought process uses semi-colons). Three months later I wanted to stab that guy in his body painted face because the radio, from indie stations to the pop ones, wouldn’t stop playing it. That’s going to be Kansas. They’re not bad at first glance, but they’re bound to get overhyped as they walk over the weak competition of the Big 12. In the end, you’ll be as relieved when Kansas gets knocked out of the tournament as you were when they stopped playing “Somebody I Used to Know”.
Indiana = Fun. – The band Fun. is basically Gotye with more staying power. It’s indie pop with mass appeal. Fun. got their song, “We Are Young” all over the airwaves and television to the point that the Glee version of it was way up on the iTune charts. In the end, though, there’s the underlying feeling that both Fun. and Indiana are products of a popularity contest rather than valuable commodities based on their substantive worth. Indiana is favored by the masses, but you can question if they’re in it for the long haul just as you can question whether or not anyone will remember Fun. two years from now.
Louisville = Band of Horses – There are a lot of good things to say about Louisville just like there are a lot of positive things to say about Band of Horses. Both are popular picks and in both cases you can see why. But if you care to poke holes in the team or the band, which neither of their blindly loyal and rabid fan bases care to do, there are some cracks in the façade. Band of Horse has one really, really good song (“The Funeral”), but after that there is a bit of a fall off in terms of the quality of their musical repertoire. Similarly, Louisville has Peyton Silva, who can be counted on for quality, but Russ Smith is kind of all over the place. As with every Band of Horses song not called “The Funeral”, Russ Smith is very hit or miss.
Michigan = Jack White – If there is a universally appreciated figure in indie rock, it’s probably Jack White. No one doubts his musical talent or the fact that he can expertly play a variety of different kinds of music. Michigan might be just as elite in basketball as Jack White is in indie music. Michigan can handle different styles of play and has extremely sound fundamentals. You can take the analogy further when you think that Jack White is a solo artist now, but was formerly part of The White Stripes, a two person band that included his sister Meg White. In that scenario, Trey Burke is Jack and Tim Hardaway Jr is Meg, which I find hysterically funny on a number of levels. All told, Michigan are going to be a staple in the basketball season the same way that Jack White and his White Stripes background are a constant influence on indie music.
Duke = The Avett Brothers – Whether you call it alt-country or indie-folk or neo-hippie, the Avett Brothers are the gold standard. The band with North Carolina roots represents Duke nicely because both are extremely successful and both elicit a quick response from people who either love or hate them. The thing with the Avett Brothers is that they’re playing music that is a throwback to the folk and bluegrass of yesteryear. Naysayers argue that they’re just trying to mimic music from the past but doing so with less talent than their predecessors, which almost exactly what Duke is doing. Talent-wise, the Blue Devils don’t measure up with past incarnations of the team. Still, running the same system as those previous Duke rosters and doing so as a group of guys with great team chemistry has what might be a less talented Duke team set up to achieve the same heights. Both Duke and the Avett Brothers are throwbacks, but both are finding success with their outdated ideology in an ever-changing musical and basketball landscape.