“The alternative/independent rock scene that exploded in the late ’80s/early ’90s was a period we hold dear to our hearts. The music created during that stretch still has great influence today, as the descendants of Nirvana, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Radiohead and their compatriots are everywhere on rock radio.”
I’ve couldn’t have said it better myself, ye press bard for Loaded Barrel Studios.
April 5th marked the 26th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain and he’s still as much alive in our hearts today as he was in the MTV 120 Minutes days of our lives on The Cutting Edge. I am forever grateful for the opportunity afforded me to be on the air as a DJ during the ‘90s alt-rock explosion. If you’ve read my “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” and “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” featurettes, along with my nostalgic waxing over the era-films A Matter of Degrees, duBeat-e-o, S.F.W., and Trees Lounge, you know of my melancholy and infinite sadness at the grunge-era’s passing. It is a time—like the Beatlemania-British Invasion, the late ‘60s San Francisco-seeded progressive rock era, and the ‘80s hair metal nation teased in Los Angeles (chronicled in the frames of Incident at Channel Q)—that can never be duplicated; only remembered, as the refrains of “Freak Scene,” “The Second I Wake,” and “Teenage Riot” from Dinosaur Jr., the Screaming Trees, and Sonic Youth poke digital reminders on our vinyl-reminiscing eardrums via our iPods.
The vinyl-pumping heart within the kindred spirits of writer-star Jeff Auer and director Jared Barel has created a film for us: we the drowning survivors of Seattle’s grungy backwaters. They know these musicians as well as I know these flannel troubadours: the once local, college-campus band rescued from indie label-dom, catapulted to mainstream acceptance on a national label (e.g., the Offspring, Rust, Shudder to Think, the Toadies, etc.), only to land with a marketing thud as a one hit wonder (Collective Soul, Marcy’s Playground, Possum Dixon, Semisonic, 7 Mary 3, Tonic, Tripping Daisy, and Vertical Horizon) as rap music became, as Gene Simmons pointed out, the new de rigueur “heavy metal” of 21st century. As if J. Mascis, Mark Lanegan, and Thurston Moore would receive an Elvis-embrace by more than 1% of America’s 300 million-plus consumers. . . .
Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s rock ‘n’ roll love letter to his days as a ‘70s rock journalist, is reflected upon in the press kit for The Incoherents. And while Auer-Barel’s mellifluous billet-doux to ‘90s alt-rock certainly lives up to Martin Scorcese’s critique as a “needle drop” film, the analog VHS centers of my brain loaded in a copy of the lesser-known 1998 British rock flick, Still Crazy. While Almost Famous was the tale of the on-the-top-of-the-world Stillwater (aka Humble Pie) falling apart, the Brian Gibson directed (of the punk-rock version of Almost Famous: 1980’s Breaking Glass) Still Crazy chronicled the reformation of the once-great Strange Fruit (aka The Animals) for a second shag n’ bite of Eve and that damned apple.
“Welcome to the music business,” cackles Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, the three weaving witches of the looms of fate.
And the threadbare soul of Bruce Flansburgh (Jeff Auer), a 40-something New York paralegal, is desperate enough to give the Moirai one more spool of thread. If the Pixies and Soundgarden can tempt those Greek bitches, then why not The Incoherents?
Tracking down his fellow stagnated grunge stallions, Bruce quickly opens old wounds with Jimmy (Alex Emanuel), the band’s guitarist and co-songwriter, who served as the Keith Richards to Bruce’s Mick Jagger, aka the Joe Perry to his Steven Tyler. But the glimmer’s long since gone and the toxic resentments of the “Simmer Twins” still simmers bitter. And the reunion deepens the already festering wounds of his stalemated-homemaker wife Liz (Kate Arrington) who wants more than Bruce’s paralegal job can give. Will The Incoherents rule the charts once again in the young man’s game of rock ‘n’ roll?
What sells the film—like the soundtracks of Still Crazy and the Gina Gershon-starring Prey for Rock & Roll (2003)—is the ’90s college-rock retro original music that breathes life into the faux-proceedings. Actors Alex Emanuel and Jeff Auer—both accomplished musicians in their own right—wrote and perform the band’s songs; their backing band features ‘90s alt-rockers Sean Eden from Luna and drummer Kevin March of Guided by Voices. A great song—or songs—can sell a film: the ’60s retro-romp That Thing You Do! and 1999’s likeminded The Suburbans (a low-budget tale about a Knack-cum-The Romantics-esque reformed one hit wonder) come to mind. And The Incoherents brings the tunes to the turntable.
The marquee names on this indie-gem are the instantly recognizable Annette O’Toole (stealing the show as the salty-mouth rehearsal studio owner Mrs. Graham) from her too many-to-mention films and TV series. Fans of Showtime’s Billions and CBS-TV’s The Good Wife will recognize Kate Arrington, while others will remember Amy Carlson (as a dream-stealing industry mover n’ shaker) as Mark Wahlberg’s wife on CBS-TV’s Blue Bloods. And you’ve seen leading man Jeff Auer in his guest-starring roles on TV’s The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Luke Cage. Adding a realistic-retro vibe to the plight of The Incoherents are the acting cameos by (an insult hurling) guitarist Richard Barone of The Bongos and Lou Reed, along with Chris Barron—who’s all too familiar with cruel realties of the alt-rock ‘90s rollercoaster ride with his band, The Spin Doctors (aka the ’90s alt-rock inversion of the ’80s Men at Work).
Director Jared Barel has six shorts under his belt—one was the 2013 short-film version of The Incoherents. Coming off a successful festival run, the feature-length version won “Best Feature” and “Best Home Grown Feature” at the 2019 New York Coney Island Film Festival and New Jersey’s Garden State Film Festival, while Barel walked away with double awards for “Best Director” and “Best Feature Film” at the Studio City Film Festival. It also garnered nominations for “Best Feature Comedy” and “Feature Film” at the Queens World Film Festival, along with multiple nods at the SoHo International Film Festival. So that tells you The Incoherents is worth hitting the big red streaming button.
And it tells you I really dig this film.
The Incoherents is high on my rock ‘n’ roll VHS charts alongside American Satan, Bandwagon, Breaking Glass, Prey for Rock & Roll, Rock Star, and Still Crazy as a gold record-standard for accuracy in the lives of the men and women who suffer for their art. And the ones who lugged their equipment: like me.
The caveat is that one must consider this reviewer’s radio and roadie background: you may want to take my raves as an incoherent grain of salt—as I can’t not rave about a film that namedrops the Archers of Loaf, Generation X, Guided by Voices, Pavement, and Sebodah (especially Archers of Loaf?! Sebodah?! What the hell, Auer?). The Incoherents is a case of “you had to be there” to appreciate Jared Barel’s retro-vinyl craftsmanship. This isn’t a pretty n’ pat, major studio Jamie Foxx or Joaquin Phoenix music-bio crafted to entertain the mainstream masses via an actor’s Oscar-hopeful mimicry. This film is, first and foremost, about the music. It’s a film for guys like me: the ones who perpetually swim against the aqua firma and mount the musical and film driftwoods of salvation in those drowning, mainstream waters.
And, with that, I’m pulling out the forgotten cardboard tchotchke that is the Screaming Trees’ Invisible Lantern, and following with vinyl chasers from the Buck Pets, the Divine Horsemen, the Doughboys, and Mary My Hope . . . and remembering when my life was a bit more incoherent. And freakin’ beautiful.
(If you need more faux bands on film, be sure to check out our “Ten Bands Made Up for Movies” featurette.)
Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company and, as you know, that has no bearing on our review. But, as you can tell by this review, we would have bought it anyway.