icle three times now, the biggest lesson I have learned is that writing about music is bloody hard if you don’t plan on being regarded as a snob of one kind or another. The more passionate you are about music, the more likely it is that you will end up taking some personal form of criticism somewhere (unless you happen to hate discernment or are one of those fascinatingly blithe types). Whether or not you choose to vocalize your criticism is the ultimate question in the snob sphere. While I would love to say simply that all music is good and some songs just happen to be better than others, I have also endured an entire Lily Allen recording that irreversibly drilled deep, cynical cavities into my temporal lobes. As such, even though it is printed in ink at the top of the page, I seek to remind you that these are a series of opinions and nothing more. In a way, this article is directed mostly at those who already possess a similar opinion, as they may end up benefitting more from any recommendations. No objectivity to be found here! Anyway, that’s the overly long preamble.
Some things are simply wrong: Joey Santiago softly strumming breezy chords, Jeff Mangum playing the tough guy, Robert Pollard sobering up, Ian Curtis being happy. This is how I feel about the state of modern music. Yes, it’s a clichéd perspective, but it’s a perspective that exists for a number of compelling reasons. The true musical heroes have either vanished or only remain as relics, while the empty void has created space for the cavalcade of vapid, lifeless dross that now clogs the radio’s arteries. What few particles of decency continue to survive are beginning to dwindle. Also, any new artist that manages to deviate slightly from the pack of homogenous singles, recycled chord progressions, and tediously stupid lyrics is immediately granted adulation. For instance, Regina Spektor (a poor man’s Joanna Newsom) is regarded as a force of creative bravery because she chooses to pepper her uninspired work with excessive yapping and volume jumps to ensure that her audience doesn’t fall asleep. She isn’t a terrible artist, but she is by no means a brilliant one. However, I will grant that she keeps a fair distance from the colorless whirlpool of the modern music industry (read: husk).
It almost feels wrong to point the finger at someone like Lady Gaga, who seems to spend more time attempting to look like an ostrich at the local Chernobyl zoo than tending to her committee-produced songs. (If she actually writes all of these songs by herself, then she is even less talented than I initially thought.) While it is quite easy to make fun of the self-obsessed Gagas, the boring James Blunts, the sensationalistic Katy Perrys, the routine Linkin Parks, the childish Dashboard Confessionals, the histrionic Iron and Wines, and the half-wit Lily Allens, they can only be regarded as symptoms. The true disease clearly finds its moorings within the irretrievable stupidity of the music industry itself. Crippled by the internet, it has taken refuge in the market of ubiquitous singles. To highlight the profound idiocy of this industry, one need only Google the story behind Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (a tremendous album).
As such, I was quite happy to watch several bands attempt to shake things up with downloading schemes, such as Radiohead (who still manage to floor me with every album—post Pablo Honey, of course), who offered their 2007 album In Rainbows as a free online download with only an optional donation. Even though pay-what-you-want schemes may be flawed, I care very little about the how in these matters. I simply want the music scene to find its feet again.
My wishlist: I want Kevin Shields to get off his arse and finally write that follow-up to Loveless that we have been very patient about! (I don’t care if it isn’t as good, it’ll be better than all of the hacks you’ve spawned.) I want Neutral Milk Hotel to reunite and start changing lives again. I want Thurston Moore to stop giving lectures on noise to children and to give us another Daydream Nation. Unfortunately, some bands need to stay dead in the water, as they might risk ruining their near-perfect discographies (Pixies, the Smiths, Pavement) and turning into the once-great Guided by Voices. Most of all, I want to stop having to turn to decades long since gone in order to get my musical fix.
Still, there are a few reasons to cling to optimism. Arcade Fire did make Funeral, Modest Mouse is still in the game, David Byrne and Brian Eno occasionally like to remind the kids how things are meant to be done, Beach House has just landed admirably with Teen Dream, the Dirty Projectors have hit a good stride, the Killers remain a hopelessly guilty pleasure, Animal Collective continues to refuse to be boring, and the Flaming Lips are back! Hope springs eternal and all that.