Sunday, January 10, 2010

Questioning the need of almost everything - and having to choose which story to tell

Welcome to somewhat of an unwinding freak out moment... Feeling a shaken perspective in this "post everything" generation - and exploring the limits of the language of music - (or, can anything sound like something else, can't everyone/thing be compared to someone/thing?)


I was having a conversation with a Detroit set songwriter/recording-artist, about blog buzz bands dominatnig the internet channels and how they come with - clipped to their links and mp3 downloads, as they sit on the shelves of blogs everywhere, these tacit, hard-nosed suggestions that if you are not "in-to" this band, than you are losing your proverbial edge - The most recent buzzed lamb to fall before the commenter slaughter (actually this will be their second asscention to the shat-upon-throne since their 08 album assured them an inevitable return), is Vampire Weekend - a review of (their latest, Contra) you can read here in a day or two...

Anyhow, I rattle off a handful of bands to said songwriter, a list that included bands that "blew up," momentarily, three or maybe even four years ago - God forbid blogs attempt such a retrospective-ready long memory - and name-dropped flahses like Tapes & Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Wavves...

Wavves, we paused on, and then posited that perhaps he had done some considerable damage to the legacy, whatever its worth, of the "genre" of "lo-fi." Lo-fi: scorched and scraped sounding recordings from a 4 track or 16-track, often recorded thusly for economical purposes, (maybe even sometimes caught on a minidisc recorder, or perhaps even more shrewd and primitive and despearte means), is a sound and style often attributed to Guided By Voices - then later Sebadoh, and as we progressed through the 90's, Pavement and then Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti.

We started wondering about the damange done by what could be perceived as manufactured trashiness, or, simply, bands that try to sound "lo-fi" - the actual embrace of rough-hewn aesthetics, as opposed to, in the past, it being out of necessity or economy. Well, before I could go into any deep philosophical rant, I stumbled onto a "rant" from the I Guess I'm Floating blog. Definitely worth a read.

And then, reading through that comment board, it made me decide that perhaps instead of lamenting the idea that this 2010-and-beyond generation of forever-altered blog brained listeners will have mangled perceptions about "lo-fi" music, contorted by resentment born from hipster-site-pushed overexposure, I should instead flip it around, step out of the box, and question what role "blogs"-themselves have played in this hysteria.

Sebadoh and Guided By Voices and Pavement were already famous, on some level--an underground cred-thing or whatever, after they broke up, but they have gained a new kind of fame ever since bloggers started constantly writing about music (thus often having to compare new bands to something) - they became messianic, mythologized, crowned as ominious and powerful Godfather figures.

I decided not to argue the legitimacy of sonic aesthetic - (so many musicians/bands, when they're starting out, just immitate what they grew up listening to, and some may just go the extra mile, in this, the year of our lord, two-thousand-and-ten, that they are that much more dedicated to recreating the sonic quality of their favorite bands and now that much more capable, through technology, of creating that screwy amp-filtered fuzz) - 'nuff said, for now, from me.

Where I started unwinding was, the rant link above, most importantly, questioned the legitimacy of the labels or "genres" created for these buzz bands. These labels, or "genres" are a symptom of so many blogs.

The operative word above is "so" many blogs...I could have easily said "too..."...many. (Are there too many?) Anyhow, you can only describe sound with so many words (as Elvis Costello said, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture...") - and eventually, with so many of us at our lap tops uploading paragraphs packed with witticisms as we try to keep things sharp for our readers on a daily bassis - it becomes an added trick for the game and its players, to dream up new classifications for these bands.

Thus that "genre" invention - the cause of digging up so many bands so quickly and needing to classify their sound as, not necessarily unique, but part-of-something - part-of-an-exploding-spider-web-of-a-trend, trendiness!! hipness!! a new movement, a new buzz, a new "must be in-to-this-band" situation, that we need to name the beast, give it a species - because every epidemic needs to be named - every band needs to be put under a banner. Or do they?

If "genre" creation/designation and band documentation is out of control - if there are too many blogs all copying each other or blowing out and blowing up the same shit - then it exposes the flaws of so many of these would-be music "journalists" as actually being closer to attempted taste-makers - (is that not the goal of 94% of these blogs? To get a piece of this....this weird monstrous club of cool, where we dole out hip knowledge or direct people to new places to download new things to feel the "new hip!")...when they (all these bloggers) should all cool their jets and remember why they really (or hopefully) started their blog (in the first place) - because they love music.

But the epidemic of trying to go gaga (or manufacture a new gaga-feelign) over the next buzz thing - is eerily close to selling something - cooking up a frenzy to then shoo people into - perhaps, and this is probably reaching, not far from the "pop" explosion of '99 with Britney et al - where TRL sent hoards of people into music stores to buy the-now-dinosaur-ized-CDs. But then, is it really that bad?

What happens, do we go radical and forget "genres?" What about the old stand-bys? Indie-rock? Garage-Rock? Punk-Rock? Prog-rock? keeps going...neo-psychedelia - electro-pop - new-wave - glam-rock - ahh... on and on.

Bloggers pre-suppose that, if not now already, then soon - we will not need traditional music journalists, because the power is in the hands of the DIY-home-set-writer. And, sure, right-on-and-more-power-to-ya...

But if this recent veritable upchuck against buzz bands, where blogs seem to feel the way to make a name for themselves is to "stay ahead of the curve" and thus continue to find band after band after band......and thus...collect each new fniding under a new exasperating genre name...if all this wacky out of control genre-labeling is any indication - then we can pre-suppose that no one can really play the game of blogs correctly, no one can stay AS ahead as possible, because there is always another blog around the corner with crazier, newer, hotter shit that you ain't ever heard of... The snake just eats itself.

Then what the hell is the worth of a blogger? Make up your mind. Are you a critic? Or a tastemaker? Or are you something else? Because you can-NOT be both...or at least, it will take some fine-tuning if you would like to be... Finding buzz band after buzz band forgets the crucial question - what is the worth of the next buzz thing???? Why do we lap toppers take some perplexing comfort in knowing...that we know...what all those who are cool and cutting edge, also know...

Do we need genres? Do we need blogs? Do we need journalists?

One hopes we need journalists. It's likekly, I'll admit, that the traditional music journalist should submit that he/she can never compete (or, for that matter, win-back) the ground of music reviews - that is forever the territory of the online writer. But a documentary style feature/interview/profile - will hopefully weed out the journalists from the bloggers. Or at least, the music writers from the bloggers.

That is the hope.

But if blogs, in their mad, rapid-fire-way, create the need for so many different buzz bands to be given attention to - how does the journalist really know who to document - who will be worth the documentation? Who really has the good story...

But there is no final answer to any of this - and I don't claim to have found it. I'm not preaching we go back to the old ways, I'm not saying we hold artists to high/elitist/snooty/masterpiece standards and I'm not saying we tear down the whole thing and embrace anyone who farts onto a snare drum and records it to be-also-worthy of our attention... But, we shouldn't reduce the treatment of artists and their songs to level of quickly-forgotten-youtube-clips. (Again, it's a snake-eating itself - is it not great that so many bands can get onto these blogs? Yes. But what is the worth of getting onto these blogs anymore? Especially when they often give the music lip-service or just tag it with catchy genre-labels and call it a day, - with another band, bagged, tagged and classified...on and on and on)

I think we all have a good story to tell... So perhaps the journalists' use is not dead yet. And good criticism can survive - but I'm not sure if it embraces a wariness of being selective of what bands to consider, or consider everything? It's chaotic.)

Since more and more musicians are finding the means to record on their own and upload their material - that means more and more albums for more and more blogs to review...

But how about instead of trying to cache everything under banners of quirky genre names - we just talk about the music, describe it, how it sounds, the movements it follows, the arrangement, the passion - and whether it's actually any good?

Or forget about good vs bad - at least just try to interpret it - on a deeper level then putting a sticker on it that says "lo-fi/surfer-pop/psycho-silly/world-freak-noise-orchestra/yazz-rock..."

If we don't have the attention-span or patience to take in a record, re-spin it numerous times and form our own conclusions and loves for it - then we may see the death of a crucial element to one's personal library - "staying power."

1 comment:

george said...

Nice post. I'm an advocate for a simple metric: good or not good. You need ways to describe the music, to be sure, but the real question is, "do you actually like what you're hearing?"

Hadn't heard that Elvis Costello quote before.