More thoughts on listenership
"Hey kid, you're wrong...there's a simple song...if you just stop trying to find it."
More often than not, I’ll walk away from an interviewing with my mind still tingling and marked by the musings made by the musician or artist under my stammered inquiry.
When Fred Thomas (of City Center, Saturday Looks Good to Me, and more) opined that he felt the era of fixating on band’s potentially conspicuous influences and using said fixation to categorize them thereby simplifying their creative efforts as symptomatic of a movement (baroque-pop, freak-folk, beard-rock), it seems a futile compartmentalizing of the wild west-like unpredictability of the internet as a means of deluding yourself into feeling as though you actually have a bead on the new hot fresh hip style and its varying trends.
Thomas regaled an era, roughly 2001 to 2005, when the internet’s influence upon music and band development (band marketing, listenership, and the healthy mutation of listening trends) was really firing up but not quite solidified. It seemed like a quick and easy way to find tour-mates, bill-mates, to form label rosters, to gain new listeners, to make new connections. What does your band sound like? We’re kinda doing a Strokes-type thing…or a Belle & Sebastian feel, or a purposely ironic Loggins/Messina vibe.
That Thomas said that he felt that era had ended sometime in the last two years (as his band, City Center, is a classic case of the, well, whoa, what do we have here, wait, a lot of the songs don’t sound the same, wait, is this the same band on this song…type of reaction), that he dropped this in our interview really felt bracing.
Like, why fight it…why even try to keep it contained. Thinking you have a bead on everything that could be considered of high art/new avant-garde/or revolutionary, on everything that reaches pandemic popularity in all the most important circles, thinking that you can weigh the internet music world in your hand, is like thinking holding a plastic skull in your hand as you rattle off your memorized “Alas, poor Urich” monologue gives you a mastery of the centuries-old history of the theatre.
Sure, you can sum some things up easier than others. You can definitely call a band out for their broken-record rehashing. One’s ear bends and teeth grind when some wanker cribs the otherwise unnatural/complete-impersonation of a Thom Yorke or David Bowie vocal…when it’s so blatant, at least.
But, artists/musicians making songs and sounds of trailblazing worth will not be so easily contained.
And should not be.
Thus, as though the heavens, that the veritable Olympus-itself (that housed 70’s and 80’s arena-set dinosaurs and elite magazine cover stars) has crashed down to the earth, shattering... and incontrovertibly leveled the playing field.
Nothing matters…’sept what’s good. And what’s good will be hyper-specified in subjection to different breeds of listeners – making niche upon niche upon niche – thus that its almost getting to the point where buzz bands are irrelevant.
Let’s keep it going further, why not? Genre is indefinite – a band can be drawing from four sources or styles in one-song alone. But, while this doesn’t necessarily mean that one rejects finally considering something “rock” or “pop” or “folk,” it really means that a listener is likely listening to not JUST—“rock” or “pop” or “folk” but also…hip/hop, techno, nu-metal, whatever… The era of band’s-sound-fixation is passing just as the era of someone saying, “ya know, I really only listen to …fill-in-the-blank.”
One of the final hammer-strokes of the iPod generation, I suppose. But, anyway, back to those buzz bands on blogs being irrelevant – I say this because how quickly does it seem they are forgotten…that they become yesterday’s news. And yet, we sometimes almost forget that these bands keep on going, keep on creating, keep on recording. Tapes N Tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah don’t get banished to some digitized junkyard – and yet this faulted internet symptom winds up just putting them on this pedestal thus that when they do come back with a new song, one satellite-radio listener may say to one’s self, “oh, where have they been?”
It’s kind of like our listening habits, our tastes, our preferences, our collections, our current favorite tracks, are almost as subjective as our dreams – and we all know how it is when someone wants to tell you about this weird dream they had last night…those awkward exchanges always lead to the listener just waiting for the dream teller to finish so that they can instead share their own hyper-personalized dream. But sometimes there are similarities between people’s dreams.
So…when there are no rules, than tacit maxims of the music journo world…that some bands get tagged “local” while others are “national”… the bar band or the touring band, etc etc…can also be discarded. Because many local bands still make their records and put them out into the internet ether via iTunes or elsewhere and thus have their sounds travel round the freakin’ world and emanate into the airwaves of the galaxy.
Such that it is, when I am driving alone, listening to music, I often, whether its weird or not, try to imagine that there is someone with me in the passenger seat and try to wonder, in that moment, if they would be enjoying Zoos of Berlin’s Taxis or The Recital’s Succulent Leftovers EP as much as I am…what would they be thinking of these two wonderful albums.
I would show it to them, hold the Recital disc or the Zoos disc or the 800-Beloved disc or the High Strung disc or the Child Bite disc in my hand, let its rainbow lights flicker across the underside, and then slide it in – letting the first track play a bit and watching them nod to the beat, tip their head side to side to the hooks and glance over to notice their own eyes widening at the harmonies and the vocals.
Once I realize they’re liking it – I might add, inexplicably, almost kneejerk, that “and they’re from Detroit too.” And I wonder, as I drive alone…would that increase or decrease their impression? Would, hearing the voice of these singers, be it Chris O, Trever or Dan, or Shawn Knight, would my invisible passenger realize that they can run into these dudes at local coffee shops act as some sort of disillusionment? That they aren’t “national,” that their every touring move isn’t “followed” by Pitchfork, that they can walk up to them and talk to them on some random run in around Ferndale or Royal Oak or whatever…
And I realized, the era of putting bands on pedestals, the era of actually caring “what everybody else” is listening to…is over…just as Thomas said – the petty era of music is over.
The Recital’s EP is a fine piece of work; intricately layered, poignant at times, celebratory at others and captures the basement-set bander/music-obsessive life better than most albums I’ve heard in a while – and I bemoan, in that moment, that this band and their beautiful pop constructions, has passed – and perhaps the world didn’t give them their proper due. Were they just a Detroit band?
Well, screw proper due. Whether you or you or you or you listened to this, or even liked it, no longer has an effect on my psyche. And whether my invisible passenger likes it is irrelevant also.
Because the Recital is in my music dream. And it’s my own trip.
Of course this challenges, like everything else in the internet generation of bloggers, the role and worth of the critic.
Well – our niches may be myriad, may be mutated and may be incorrigible – but it doesn’t mean our senses are dulled or blinded, it doesn’t mean well worn cultural consumers and art historians can helpfully pass judgment on the worth of a work – it doesn’t mean we suddenly lose our ability to know beyond a doubt that Nickelback sucks…
I’m just saying – buzz bands, arena bands, infallible art-rock bands… the various pedestals they get placed upon should always be kept in perspective. A local band can always have a spot up there with them, especially if they are palpably putting in the same work in the studio to hone the structured sounds of their comparably sharp and remarkable creativity.
Then again, all I may be saying is…that if you’re riding in my car and you don’t like what I’m listening to, it’s probably because you’re not the one who had the dream…I am.
So, here, go ahead. I’ll take this CD out for a minute and you can put something on—tell me about your dream...