How Maxïmo Park's 'A Certain Trigger' Is Still the Ultimate Seth Cohen Album for 'The OC' Era

How Maxïmo Park's 'A Certain Trigger' Is Still the Ultimate Seth Cohen Album for 'The OC' Era

The British band's debut album is the patron saint of millennial smart, sad boys everywhere and symbolic of 00s alt indie.
November 1, 2016, 2:33pm

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One of Seth Cohen's greatest qualities was also deemed his greatest fault: he spoke freely, and often awkwardly, about his emotions. This went mainstream because of Cohen. It would spiral into different iterations and meanings ( emo) but the lanky OC character started a particular kind of recognition in modern masculinity, or the deconstruction of it, that had long existed: he was sensitive and weird, usually very anxious; shy but funny and wicked smart. Cohen is a problematic character though, one prone to the gaslighting of women, like with his on-and-off-and-on-again relationship with Summer Roberts, and he is selfish in a way that we can forgive him for slightly because he was an only child in the wasteland of superficiality that Orange County was portrayed as. He often turned to emotionally like-minded music for inspiration, citing, for example, Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins, even The Killers when they appeared on a 2004 episode of the show. But that emotional purview, that sensitivity, existed long before in both in the United States and in the United Kingdom in the late 70s and 80s with likes of The Cure and Joy Division. This sensitive leaning genre would come to pass again in the early 2000s. The early years of this new millennium saw the rise of a tight, smart post-punk garage rock and a (new) new wave revival under the catch-all, confusing moniker of indie.

In 2005, U.K. band Maxïmo Park released the ebullient alt pop A Certain Trigger, though it was ostensibly released at the tail end of the country's post-punk, new wave revival scene. It's a scene that differed slightly from what America gave us: America borrowed a lot from the U.K. but also found comfort in portraying boredom or anxiety which was present in both The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There is an obvious emotional and danceable sense on A Certain Trigger steeped in what The Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Blondie, The Cure and more gave us in the 80s. Maxïmo Park did it smartly, along with a handful of others like Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads. Where Franz Ferdinand relied a lot on their cheeky, steady guitar twangs, Maxïmo Park dialed up that passion and heartache into a danceable frenzy. This isn't to say that the originators of new wave in the 80s weren't smart. But the 80s didn't have a Seth Cohen—the crossover patron saint of millennial smart, sad boys everywhere—who would become an alt indie muse. This is the man who you would lust for and swoon after; the one deemed geeky yet who was decidedly okay with that label and would embrace his awkwardness. Even if Maxïmo Park released their debut at the end of the new wave revival, A Certain Trigger is still objectively the best that was offered when this scene and these bands dominated rock because it inadvertently embraced and represented the Seth Cohen-ness of that time and by default became part of the zeitgeist.

Initially, Maxïmo Park's feverish debut felt eclipsed by the Sunderland bred The Futureheads, who were at first hailed as the best at that time with their 2004 self-titled debut record that included "Decent Days and Nights" and an incredible cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love." Along with them there were Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol, The Rakes, and Kaiser Chiefs to name a very brief few in the deluge of guitar driven, quite often smart, arty indie pop that came out during the 2004 to early 2006 stretch. That Cohen-esque anxiety would be felt on A Certain Trigger songs like "Now I'm All Over The Shop", keyboardist Lukas Wooller's agitated keys on "Limassol", and "The Coast Is Always Changing." While "The Coast Is Always Changing" saw criticism for a kind of basicness of longing, it captures a very strong millennial feeling with the lyrics, "I am young/and I am lost." The ambiguity of life and the direction one should take is very present on this record and a sentiment that particularly hits home for the fresh millennial audience; the ones uncertain about how their lives would unfold. Kids shifted perceptions in the mid-2000s. We would find ourselves online in the form of LiveJournals or Xangas, MySpace, MSN Messenger, looking longingly at the texts on our flips phones, and so on. We could feel that move awat from analog to digital; an in-between place that never felt wholly comfortable but we had to adapt anyway. It is definitely and defiantly relatable.

Unrequited love will never not be sellable or ubiquitous and this theme is the bedrock of A Certain Trigger and a lot of the new wave and post-punk revival acts of that era. NME would say in their review of Maxïmo Park's debut that they'd "they write killer, dance-filling pop songs, mostly about the near universal topic…of not being able to get girls to fall in love with them." Which is true but they also did it well. From the outset Maxïmo Park take us through a fairly transparent series of stories with a narrator who is unhappy, restless and desperately in love on songs like "Apply Some Pressure", which feature Tom English's rapturous drums, "I Want You To Stay", "Kiss You Better", "Graffiti", "Postcard of a Painting" and the deliciously shoegaze-y "Acrobat." Maxïmo Park signed to Warp Records at the time, which predominantly featured electronic talent, not necessarily indie rock pop bands. In a sense, Warp helped add that element of experimentation of sound—heard on "Acrobat", which is a looming sonic equivalent to emotional longing and physical movement—and gave credibility to their debut. The metaphor of dangling in a relationship is obvious; of being a literal emotional and performative acrobat for your partner. But Paul Smith's anxious speaking of "I don't remember losing sight of your needs" and mourning singing "losing my balance/falling from a wire made for you" express a more thoughtful sentiment.

Pitchfork's surprisingly glowing review of the Newcastle band's debut back in 2005 calls attention to their tardiness to the new wave trend and doesn't seem to capture the larger cultural shift: "But, to an extent, yes, they're bandwagon-riders, and latecomers at that. The New Wave revival has already dined out on the charts. That's why, working with the scraps of a restless trend-seeking audience, Maxïmo Park's recent success in their homeland is so surprising." A Certain Trigger would go on to be certified gold in the UK and the band would be nominated for the the 2005 Mercury Prize, something of which their direct competition—if you want to call them that—The Futureheads never received. Along with Bloc Party and Coldplay, Maxïmo Park would ultimately lose to the stunning and haunting Antony & the Johnsons record I Am A Bird Now but there is importance in having this kind of recognition. Last year, when A Certain Trigger turned ten, Maxïmo Park did a series of shows to celebrate; playing the record in full at Royal Albert Music Hall in London and a few other places. It doesn't seem so surprising, then, given the rise of the millennial sad boy, Seth Cohen. While Cohen was by no means the original indie, emo kid, he was certainly the one who did it best. His extensive dialogues with the quieter, brooding best friend Ryan Atwood represented a man in search of resolution. And in the same vein, Maxïmo Park's A Certain Trigger freely speaks to and resonates with anyone who may be searching for their own closure, too.

Sarah still lives in 2005. Follow her on Twitter.