Haters Hate, but the kids might just be alright
by Joshua B. Hoe I tell people about my love of music...or am engaged in a conversation with someone about music...and almost always, at some point, some version of this statement is uttered:
Music was so much better back in _______(insert time period).
Same as it ever was...
my Dad knows that music was so much better when Jazz ruled the music snob world (still kind of does I guess) and my Mom knows that music was so much better when Elvis was really and truly the King of Rock and Roll. Virtually everyone has a core music or set of core groups/singers that defines the sweet spot for them of when music was great.
It isn’t just music, you might have heard the whole country is going to hell...Or at least it is not what it used to be when people (white people) lived in very neat neighborhoods in very nice houses behind white picket fences….When there was crime in this imaginary memory space it was committed by Otis the town drunk who could sleep it off in the drunk tank. I mean, this story, the perfect 50’s town is the backdrop for Fox News’ whole business model. But, I digress.
We all have shaky memories when it comes to how music “used to be.” I mean for every Elvis there was a Pat Boone. For every Sex Pistols or Clash there was a Captain and Tennille (remember Muskrat Love was a nation-wide phenomena). There have always been boy and girl stars with more looks than talent. There have always been evil producers trying to squeeze the soul out of music and milk the remnant out of every single profitable possibility (most ‘popular’ artists are now a phone app, a fragrance, and a clothing line).
Don’t get me wrong, there has almost always been a huge difference between what is popular and what is good - but that gap has widened lately. I mean when the heir to U2’s biggest band on the planet mantel seems to have passed to Muse...something is rotten in Denmark (I want to take this chance to thank Radiohead for abdicating to Muse...geeeeeez)...But, it is not, nor has it ever been, that great bands (or artists) do not exist...It is that they are not marketed or shown on the never ending string of awards shows or showcases that seem to prefer dreck.
This sounds crazy, but in some ways, even with the never ending din of a dying industry pushing increasingly awful crap off as award-winning music, things might actually be better now. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t hear at least one truly interesting new album,...Just in the last week I have heard Mas Ysa’s cool new album, received a pretty decent new Wilco album for free, and enjoyed both Titus Andronicus’ and Tame Impala’s new offerings. A few weeks ago was the great Vince Staples album.
Back in those halcyon days of music greatness, I had to pray and hope that I could figure out which of the new releases were any good...Maybe, if I was lucky, I could find the right reviewer in the right magazine to suggest the music that was interesting to me (assuming the magazine arrived at the record store). Now, thanks to indie labels and blogs that aggregate great new music, I can sample 20 or so new albums a week….I can visit band's websites and hear outtakes and live performances.
In my lifetime, the best music ALWAYS happened outside of the spotlight. Nobody was happy Nirvana got popular (even Nirvana it turned out)....Modest Mouse was arguably less for having gotten a label deal….I still love Reckoning more than anything REM put out after they became MTV darlings...It is probably a blessing that now success for bands like Waxahatchee happen outside of the system that actively works to squeeze any soul out of music and create brands instead of music.
That might be the biggest change. It is possible now for bands or artists to be very successful with no label or major media support. Think of a band like Metric, they have gotten virtually zero publicity and when they do show up on a television show even the announcers have no idea who they are...But, their self-produced album Fantasies went platinum and they basically do all of their own promotion and sell the albums from their site. Building fans and letting fans build more fans through social sharing and curating playlists seems to be capable of replacing major media as a means of building a successful band. Many bands even offer what used to be considered rare recordings and unique versions of popular tracks for free once you connect with their websites and social sites.
So, yes...most of the songs ‘everybody knows’ pretty much suck...There are obviously exceptions...but, as usual, the best thing about popular music is that it is often catchy and does not require much time, thought or investment. It is true that with few exceptions no matter what organization is trying to recognize excellence - most of the music will flat out suck. But, outside of the spotlight there is TONS of great music all around you if you just take the time to dig.
Sometimes, I get nostalgic for having actual record bins to dig through. There really was something cool about physically thumbing through records or cd’s looking at covers and trying to discern from a picture or a tracklist what a band would be like. But, that feeling of discovery...the excitement of finding something new and cool is still available to anyone who takes the time to look.
I mean if you are saying that you wish things could be great again like when Britney ruled the charts...There probably is not much help for you from digging...I mean maybe? If you miss Michael Jackson post Off the Wall….Maybe you will have to just suffer in silence? But, if you are looking for a band that is experimenting or just trying to make great music or say something really interesting...With just a little digging, you can find it all over.
I certainly apologize for my provincialism...Sometimes, even I like a good dance track delivered by someone who can barely sing without the help of massive amounts of correction technology….I understand producers have to make a living too...I get that EDM if formulaic has some really great moments (especially if you are on some kind of high). Even in each of these genres there are standouts and artists of interest (I actually love a ton of dance music from 80’s stuff through Crystal Castles and Chvrches etc).
The larger point is that no matter what you like, in some ways, it is probably easier to find and more available to each individual listener than it ever has been before. Enjoy.the bounty.
How do you feel about the state and availability of good music today? I would love to hear what you think, leave a comment.