Monday, February 27, 2006

A Long, Opinionated, Slightly Snobby Music Post

First off, let me introduce a new link to the CBK family: Scarlet. You have her to thank for this post. She's a classical clarinet-ist who loves, loves, LOVES music, and we share a fondness for some of the same artists. If you like her site, there's a whole lot more to explore about her in her links (including pics she took at several Hey Mercedes shows). Anyway, we traded some emails, and she listed some of the bands she's into right now and I spent the morning listening to them and other bands on iTunes (thanks for going out of town, Boss!). Sadly, this investigation into music didn't result in any bands that I now love (sorry, Scarlet), but it has led me to the depressing conclusion that I'm just not that into the most hip, popular music these days.

First, I'm going to categorize today's hot music. I should note that this does not include Top 40, Hip Hop, Rap, or R&B. I'm talking indie/alternative stuff exclusively.

Category 1 - Emo/Punk Pop
Category 2 - Weird/Moody Stuff
Category 3 - Neo Concept/Art/Prog Rock
Category 4 - 80's Retro
Category 5 - Solo Sensitive

Category 1 probably has the most bands in it, and is the most varied in quality. It's also kind of on the outs, and treading dangerously in the Top 40/TRL territory. This category used to be the cutting edge back in the mid-late 90s until Blink 182 broke big. Then new bands either became Blink knockoffs (i.e. Sum 41) or dark anti-Blinks (i.e. Taking Back Sunday). Despite the flaws of many of its members, this category includes some of my favorite music/bands: Hey Mercedes, Motion City Soundtrack, Jimmy Eat World, and Braid.

Category 2 was "it" for the past two years, and is still hanging tough. Death Cab for Cutie is the current poster child of this category, having taken over for Modest Mouse thanks to Seth from The O.C. I was first introduced to this type of music in 2002, when a friend recommended I listen to Modest Mouse and The Shins. I just didn't get it back then, and frankly don't now, either. I think my problem is that while I like the music, it doesn't make me wish I had written it. Beethoven moves me, but also makes me jealous. Bob Nanna of Hey Mercedes makes me jealous. This stuff just doesn't. For my taste, it suffers from a general lack of energy and over-zealous attempt to be clever or different. That said, I did find some bright spots in my listening to day. Neutral Milk Hotel is interesting, and their song "Holland, 1945" is really good. The Decemberists, which came very highly recommended from Scarlet, also intrigued me, and the song "16 Military Wives" is a very catchy, political song. And The New Pornographers are very enjoyable. I may pick up some of their stuff. But my overall conclusion about this category is this: I heard it in it's early stages when I listened to The Shins' "Oh, Inverted World" and it didn't take. Now that there are a lot of similar bands in the genre that are a lot more popular than The Shins, I find myself gravitating to that original band, and I think I'm going to buy "Oh, Inverted World". "New Slang" and "Girl on the Wing" are awesome songs.

Category 3 - As a closet/recovering 70s Art Rock fan, I'm hugely surprised at the emergence of this category. System of a Down, The Mars Volta, and Coheed and Cambria all have quite a following despite heady, weird, epic song-cycle type music. The one I've liked the most in my limited listening is Coheed and Cambria, but it still doesn't grab me as something I should get into. I listened to a lot of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead today, and I place them more in this category than in Category 2. I heard things I liked (particularly the song "Baudelaire") but nothing grabbed me very much, and I thought the singers' voices weren't very good. As someone who immersed himself in Rush and Yes in high school/college and then matured, it's hard to get excited about the revival. I think it's better that I go back and get into King Crimson, who for some reason I never checked out in my Prog phase.

Category 4 is the least interesting in my book. Sure, a lot of the bands are fun and the music is really danceable, but it's Fad Rock to me. I didn't go for The Strokes when they first came out, and no one since has captured my imagination or heart. "Mr. Brightside" is a great pop song, I'm sure Franz Ferdinand are a great bunch of guys, Bloc Party is super-catchy, and Arctic Monkeys are the next big thing, but nothing sticks with me. Interpol is the most interesting to me of any I've heard so far, perhaps because they incorporate weird/moody elements from Category 2.

Category 5 seems to be where the "it" label is headed, although it started with Elliott Smith and people like Ron Sexsmith, Pedro the Lion and Josh Rouse have been carrying the torch for several years. When I lived in Denver in 2002, I was in a small record store that was playing an unknown guy named Rocky Votolato. He's still around and about to make a bigger name for himself I guess, because I just read a review of his new album in Entertainment Weekly. While Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst occupies the spotlight for this genre right now, Sufjan Stevens seems ready to take over the crown soon. This field is loaded, actually: Iron & Wine, Damien Rice, Rogue Wave, and more and more. And that's not even mentioning the women. It's basically lo-fi singer/songwriter folk-pop, so it's a relatively easy-access genre for new artists . It's also been around forever, but is really catching on now, for some reason. While I admire the skill and poetry of a lot of these artists, it just doesn't do it for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Elliott Smith fan, and love Guster, who flirt with this category. Bob Nanna's The City on Film is half in this category and half in Category 1, and I love it. But that's about it for me here.

Obviously, all the preceeding is my opinion, and probably ill-informed at that. I've tried to do some research, and I pay attention to what's coming out as well as I can. But I welcome any feedback from you guys, be it harsh criticism or pleading suggestions that I give your favorite artist a chance. Let me know what I'm missing, why I'm wrong, or how I'm right on the money.

One conclusion that I can reach from all this analysis is that I've become very lazy and frugal in my old age. I'm sure that given the time I would like a lot of the artists I listened to today, and many more. But I don't have the time, money, or facilities to buy all those CDs and listen to them enough to really appreciate how good they are. With a wife and two kids, a crappy stereo, and a mild TV addiction, I'm just not made to be a true music-phile anymore. The music I've added to my collection in the last few years has grabbed me instantly, or come about because I saw the band in concert and they sold me. If it doesn't move me in one or both of those two ways, I'm passing. I prefer to passionately love a few artists from a particular genre rather than listen to everything in that genre. That's how I roll.

And Scarlet, thanks so much for your suggestions, and I didn't mean to put down your favorites in here. I did like the music, especially Snow Patrol, and I look forward to sharing more with you.

iPod: "25" by Veruca Salt, "Crackerman" by Stone Temple Pilots, "The One I Love" by R.E.M., "Suddenly" by Athenaeum, "Wrath of the Donkey Remix" by .Moneen., "Singing in My Sleep" by Semisonic, "Round Room" by Phish, "My Evaline" by Weezer, "Red Hill Mining Town" by U2, "Come Back" by Foo Fighters, "Always Something There to Remind Me" by Braid, "Cargo of High Hopes" by Fossil, "Show Me" by Soundgarden, "Something's Always Wrong" by Toad the Wet Sprocket, "The Inlaw Josie Wales" by Phish, "Character Zero" by Phish, "Contact" by The Police, "Under Milkwood" by Buffalo Tom, "In Thin Air" by Pearl Jam, "Love for Me" by Guster, "Portland" by The Replacements, "They'll Need a Crane" by They Might Be Giants, "We Are the Normal" by Thanks to Gravity, "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands" by Elliott Smith