Archive for December, 2013

2013 is nearly over, and thus ends one of the most mediocre, lackluster years in music.  I’ve gone through all of my tracks that were released in the past year, and with the exception of a select few I can’t find much that I would want to listen to twice.  I get the feeling that this year marks the era that musicians have run out of ideas.  There are no styles that haven’t been tried before, and I continue to have a harder and harder time finding anyone who is doing anything beyond the scope of what has been done in the past decade or beyond.  Call my point of view bleak or pessimistic, but I really have lost a lot of hope that any new artist these days will bring the new “sound” that will transform the world.

Now I’m often told that I need to start looking at things with the “glass is half full” point of view, so I’m going to dive into a bit of constructive analysis of where music is possibly going from here.  The way I see it, from looking at the artists that continue to sell out shows in both clubs and arenas, there are two directions that musicians are going with their styles.  Let’s look at the first wave.

Native Sons

The first is the acoustic, folk sounds of the latest wave of Americana .  This has been seen in the past 5 years with the thriving new wave of folksie, “newgrass” bands that have dominated the rock charts across the world.  The approach they take is one that is stripped down, back-to-basics acoustic jigs that not only celebrate the roots of folk music and culture but also allow for the infusion of other musical styles into the rhythms.  Of course, bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford & Sons have become household names by now, but there continue to be a collection of other bands that are trying just as daring things.  The Haymarket Squares and Trampled by Turtles have brought a hard-edged approach to bluegrass, creating what some might call punkgrass or thrash-grass. Check out “Wait So Long” by Trampled to see what I’m talking about.  From the south side, the Carolina Chocolate Drops have been bringing traditional Negro folk sounds to the scene for over 8 years, with their most recent records featuring some beatboxing to create a stripped down R&B sound that blends smoothly with the banjo and fiddle.  The group has already won a Grammy for their 2010 release Genuine Negro Jig, and it’s my bet that they will continue to earn even more Grammys for years to come.  Other greats include Native Run, The Steel Wheels, and Judah and the Lion.  No amps, no effects pedals, just pure native vibrations.

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Carolina Chocolate Drops

 

New Old Tech

The other direction that music today is going, and the direction that I’m not all too crazy about, is a style that is integrating 80s-style synth beats with sweet sounding female pop vocals.  This style seems to be everywhere now, and it ranges from fully synthesized orchestral pieces to minimalist hip-pop riffs.  The acts that lead this scene range from Top 40 sensations such as Katy Perry and Lana Del Ray to underground indie buzzfeeders such as Lorde and Chvrches (a religious indie conspiracy?).  The new brand of third wave synth pop is very easily produced as it usually involves little to no real instruments; simply a DJ and his laptop can produce a multi-platinum record.

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Chvrches with a “v”

What I really don’t like about this musical direction is that although several mainstream music critics are hailing it as cutting-edge, there is really nothing new about a lot of it.  The technology might be different, but the beats and melodies are nearly identical to late 80s and early 90s new wave pop that tore up the charts before.  Just pop in any Alphaville or Depeche Mode record, then play a Belinda Carlisle record over it and bam! You have a 21st Century tech-pop record.  Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but that’s probably because this new brand of tech-pop music is so damn catchy that I can’t deny listening to a lot of it myself as a guilty pleasure.  For better or worse, the current tech scene is guaranteed to pump out the catchiest hits and will soothe your ears with a graceful female voice.  I must say, Chvrches is beginning to grow on me.

…To The Grave

As we leave 2013 and enter further into the current decade, I would like to acknowledge some musical genres that I honestly believe are on their way to the grave if the more talented musicians don’t act fast to save them.  Here are my thoughts:

Heavy Metal: it had a chance in the mid 2000s to recover with all the tech-metal talent that emerged.  However it seems that many of those bands have decided to call it a day and leave the scene full of other bands who didn’t want to practice their music theory as much and instead pack every song full of blastbeats and breakdowns.  The most recent evolution has been some weird combination of eurotrash techno with melodic metalcore, creating a sound that is just…horrible.  Time to call it quits.

Gangster Rap: the gangsta party most definitely peaked in the early 90s, but since many of the icons of the scene have either been killed or jailed, it’s become impossible for any other contender to fill their shoes.  Many stations that once played gangster anthems on FM radio have been replaced by Top 40s, leaving it tough for a gangbanger to find his place.  Even the originals have turned to making family-friendly movies over popping caps.  I guess everyone needs to grow up.

Hardcore: where there is no money and no girls. Stage dives and mosh pits just aren’t that cool anymore.

Punk: I remember the days when I had the biggest collection of compilations and samplers of every punk band there was. I was proud that my music was the fastest and loudest of all the kids in the school.  It only took me 18 years to figure out that every one of those bands sounded exactly the same!  When society thinks Avril Lavigne is a punk rocker, it’s time for punk to die.

Jazz: once an American musical culture, now an obscure scene tucked away in speakeasies and porno films.  If jazz musicians would quit being so pretentious about their talents and open their doors to new horizons, it might have a chance of survival.

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Where do we go?

The way that I see the current music scene is a near reflection of the society in which we currently live.  Our society has either run out of ideas, or the ideas that could be have been blocked due to argument and disagreement by the influencers.  When no new ideas can emerge, we are compelled to go back in time for a little history lesson and learn how what worked in the past could possibly save the future.  Thus explains to me why so many artists are going backwards in their exploration of musical genres.  And to some extent, the embracing of native styles vs. tech sounds could also serve to explain the spectrum of how people choose to adopt new technology into their lives.  Who knows which direction the masses will go…

 

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There is so much that one person can do in just a few minutes when they surf the net.  In a matter of moments, a person can open a new window, see what their friends are doing, review a restaurant, find a new bar, find something funny then share it with their friends, join a conversation, order tickets to a movie, watch a movie, and the list goes on… But when that person dies, their memory is forever imprinted through IP addresses, profile posts, photos, and browser history.  A timeline which once was merely a figurative term has now become a digital record, documenting every activity of a person’s life.  Every website and every other person that they interacted with becomes a record of a life that once was.

When a person dies, it is no longer revealed through a letter to the family or a phone call to the home.  The emails, the tweets, the messages and the memorial photos all fly online to reveal the news of a person’s passing.  This is shortly followed by conversations about that person through social media, some one-way and some two-way.  But within a matter of minutes, the entire world knows and the entire world begins to talk.

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With so many digital records and so many people in contact, the construction of a digital memorial is unlike any other in the modern age.  The family, friends, fans and loved ones no longer have to rely on mere memories to memorialize a person.  Through the Internet, loved ones everywhere can publish photos, video, and stories to remember the departed and at the same time share it with the entire world.  Those who never knew this person can learn about them for the first time and can even write their own words of respect and submit their own stories and artwork.  Soon an entire community can be built upon the digitized memory of a late figure.

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Of course, those who remain in this world will talk, and they will talk through every social media channel to make their point.  They will argue about who’s memory deserves more attention, who accomplished more in their lives, who’s memory deserves a national holiday, who’s funeral should the President have attended… They will use hashtags and bad grammar, make poorly constructed memes, gang up on those who don’t share their opinion, and in all honesty lose the entire focus on the departed person to be remembered.

Yet, while the internet truly changes how we remember our late friends and family, there is one thing that these digital records cannot do: they cannot recreate the person who has departed this world.  They cannot help us see through the eyes of that person.  They cannot show us the exact struggles these people went through and feel the same feelings they did.  They cannot make us feel the love that these people had for their friends and family.  These things the Internet cannot bring us, and the only way we can experience these kinds of things is face-to-face with the people themselves.  After all, every profile that exists on the Internet started with a real person.

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We can never forget to take time away from the keyboards and the touch screens and experience real life with the people around us.  Talk to them, get to know them, share experiences, understand their feelings.  These are the things that can never be kept in a digital record.  Will you be remembered this way?