The Internet has made it extraordinarily easy for indie creators to compete on the same platforms as major ones and hardly easier at all to make money like them. For artists, the problem is obvious; for fans and consumers, it's more subtle. It's easier to discover a story or a song or an iPhone app made in somebody's garage and then rely on it right up to the moment that writer or artist or developer announces he's got to get back to his real life or onto some other project.
St Ranger was our Best Local Band in last year's Best of Phoenix issue; already they had a remarkably polished debut and some new work to their name. On Friday, they'll be playing their last show in Phoenix before a sudden breakup chocked up to -- well, Real Life, that thing bands that managed to reach your ears at the record store and developers who managed to hit the shelves at CompUSA never had to deal with.
"Life's getting crazy next year," the band says, on Facebook, "and each of us feel that no one in this band can be replaced -- so we're saying goodbye." They're leaving behind, in addition to the two house shows coming up, two songs on Rubber Brother Records' newest cassette, Metallic Uh.
I'm not sure they'd put it this way -- I'm not sure it even makes sense, except in hindsight (which is where we are) -- but St Ranger's slim discography is a picture of a band loosening up as real life intrudes. Life Coach, their five-song debut, is thick with harmonies and confusing little instrumental runs; it's reminiscent of the echoey surf albums being recorded across the country even now, but it sounds like two or three of those other bands performing very carefully at the same time.
When they insist -- in bilingual harmony -- that you take it easy, it sounds sincere, but it's hard to imagine them taking their own advice very often. It's relaxing music borne of a nervous-sounding perfectionism.
This year's "Skate Park Drunk" b/w "Swoon" single announces its intentions with its song titles. It's recorded at home, and most of the harmonies are gone, and the drowsy voices of Life Coach are matched by a stuttering, lidded-eyes (swooning, drunk) instrumental. If you're the kind of person with a Google Alert for "Brian Wilson" it's not as satisfying, but nearly everything that made Life Coach so interesting is there -- there's just less of it per square inch, so that the quiet strangeness of the melodies shows through. The two songs that -- intentionally or unintentionally -- serve as the band's farewell land somewhere in the middle, a surprisingly easy amalgamation of two very different sounds. It's Life Coach filtered through "Swoon's" apparent casualness; it's what happens if Life Coach is something you make when the rest of your life allows you to do it. It would be extremely promising if it were the start of something; as the end of something it's a fitting valedictory.
Every year there are more bands than ever playing more shows and releasing more EPs and singles and full-fledged Bandcamp albums; for a fan of music -- especially local music -- it's the best kind of sensory overload. But it's easy to forget that -- like blogging and freelance app development and every minimalist wallet-maker who ever launched a Kickstarter -- all that extra content is fired into the same-sized crowd of consumers, with the same-sized minimalist wallets.
St Ranger is gone considerably sooner than their music might have left you assuming, but it's not all bad. Fifteen years ago they might not have recorded anything at all; if they did you'd have to hunt down the CD-R on eBay. After Friday's show all you'll have to do to hear the 11 great songs, give or take, they did record is download them from Bandcamp.
St Ranger is scheduled to perform Friday, November 22, at Parliament in Tempe.