Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

As I’ve been thinking about this a lot, it seems to me that today’s music industry is made up of people who are good at being famous.  Many artists from the past were not so.  They were disenfranchised with the whole celebrity lifestyle and society in general. 

Recently I saw an interview with Bob Dylan which showed his dissatisfaction with just about everything.  A life in the spotlight seems to have made Bob a bitter man, who can’t understand why people obsess over his songs to the extent they do.

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So many artists spring to mind, but Dylan and Kurt Cobain would have to be the two most mainstream examples that seriously tried to jeopardise their fame by subliminally targeting the very industry that was employing them, (or it could be argued, exploiting them).  The press would hound Dylan and ask stupid questions, he’d give stupid answers, though his craft was always serious, and his songs spoke words with conviction.  As for Kurt Cobain, it’s common    knowledge now that In Utero, Nirvana’s third album was deliberately made with the intention of steering away the mainstream following that the band had gained following the success of Nevermind.  This doesn’t mean it wasn’t as good, though it wasn’t made with the intention of emulating success.                                                                                                                                          

Music has always been business, but today the business is greedy, and the artists that could speak up, be angry, and give society a chance to look at itself in the mirror aren’t being given the chance to.  Rather the ones that value money and fame are now the most successful, because being famous, rich and pretty is what sells music now.  

But it’s not just the industry’s fault, it’s your fault as well.  Yes, you the listener.  People would rather stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problems going on by drowning them out with some feel good dance music.  But the problems are still there; they don’t just go away. 

People can claim that music changes with time and we should embrace that.  I can hack that even though I might not like it, but music has lost its self reflective, artistic touch.  Art is about making a statement that challenges thinking, but more importantly helps us to find direction.  I’m sorry but a film clip with some over rated pop star licking a sledge hammer is not challenging us.  The sexual revolution happened 50 years ago people.  What I’m talking about is music that says, stop buying pointless shit, stop burning petrol, stop listening to what some idiot says on TV and wake up to your ignorance. 

Music needs to act as a mirror for society to see all its flaws.  That’s what art is about.

EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhereWell not really. I’m an iPod addict that has come to love the idea of carting my music library around everywhere I go. MP3 players have seriously changed the way we consume music, and perhaps even music itself. MP3 is the format for the 21st century, yet it’s fair to say that the advances it affords listeners has also led to a number of drawbacks.
The key drawback is quality, which I am convinced, is a major cause for the decline in artistic quality of music across the board. Most of the music I listen to on MP3 format I also have on vinyl, and let me tell you, there is a difference. The quality of a vinyl recording is not a myth, it’s legit. Listening to a song on vinyl can be a revelation, especially since the quality often leads to the discovery of certain hidden elements that you just don’t hear on a MP3 track. I would say that overall, the music just has a whole lot more depth, and is therefore a whole lot more dynamic when heard the old fashioned way.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod, but I do think that many younger people have been brought up on iPods, and have their taste in music shaped by a misunderstanding. They’re simply uniformed on how good, good music really sounds.
A few months ago, I casually walked into a second hand book store to find a collection of vinyl for sale. A bargain it was with many original Pink Floyd pressings going for under twenty bucks. I grabbed the lot and headed for home to try out my new found gems. Interestingly, my favourite find of the day was a copy of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, an album which I already had on CD. The tattered old copy cost me eight bucks, but once I heard the crackle as the stylus hit the disc, I knew I was in for a treat.
Hearing the song’s I knew for the first time on vinyl was like hearing them again for the first time. I think it has something to do with the music sounding more imperfect; the crackling of an aged record, the music just sounds more real, more alive.
It’s no coincidence then, that vinyl is seeing resurgence, with music retailers, once again stocking it. It’s a collector’s thing, with pressings in limited numbers targeting a niche market of old farts who want to reminisce, and young hipsters who’ve raided their parent’s collection, and are now looking to start their own. I for one am glad to see a resurgence, yet I doubt whether it will ever kill the compact disc to become the musical medium again. These days’ people just crave convenience over quality, but really who cares. If you haven’t discovered vinyl yet, you’re just missing out.

Rock and roll is dead

Posted: October 2, 2013 in Music, Uncategorized

Why Evolution Is True

This is the second installment in the “Hey kids, get off of my lawn!” series.

I woke up this morning and, during desultory browsing of the internet, found an announcement of Avril Lavigne’s latest song, “Rock”. Have a listen, if you can stand it.

Here’s what’s wrong with this song, and with many rock songs and videos these days:

  • Blatant product placement
  • No musicality: shouting
  • Song shows no signs of creativity; sounds like many other songs on the air. Tune (if there is one) is dull; words forgettable.
  • Attempt to cover up lack of creativity with shock value: cursing; girl-on-girl kiss featuring Danica McKellar (think Katy Perry); superheroes; and even a shark beheaded by a buzzsaw. Other recent music videos have covered up the lack of interesting music with unclad women.
  • AUTOTUNING (voices are adjusted electronically): the curse of modern rock.  Who had that bad idea, which is grossly overused?

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It’s the emotional climax that has defined so many classic songs.  The guitar solo has been responsible for turning many a musician into a legend.  In the 60’s Clapton was God, until Hendrix showed why he was the greatest of all time.   Jimi Hendrix playing guitar is a mesmerising experience.  Perhaps not as technically accomplished as others who followed, Hendrix free spirited creativity made up for that two fold, his hands seamlessly flowing across the neck.  It’s like he hadn’t learnt how to play; he was just born to play.

Jimi Hendrix was like so many others performers of the twentieth century; talented beyond comprehension and full of passion and soul that poured out through their music.  The versatility of the guitar itself had afforded so many musicians throughout history, the ability to carve their own unique sound to the point where a style of playing is as individual as the sound of a singer’s voice.

 But it’s fair to say that today; the popular performers are rarely seen with a guitar.  Actually, they probably can’t even play one or any instrument for that matter.  Today it’s more about dance moves or how raunchy a film clip can be.

 But the one thing that saddens me more than anything is the demise of the guitar solo (and saxophone solo for that matter).  It’s been replaced in most pop songs by a rapper with poor grammar speaking  mundane lyrics most probably with a choice of profanities thrown in for good measure.   But then again, even for the rock bands I’ve heard on commercial radio, there seems to be a lack of soulful guitar playing.  It’s as if a guitar solo is seen as excessive or something. Perhaps even uncool, or too 1980’s.

 It’s not like people aren’t playing instruments anymore.  There is undeniably loads of talented musicians out there, but for some reason, the music industry for the most part is favouring watered down trash.  It’s not just guitars; all instruments are being oppressed in the face of what I call digitised music.  Saxophone solos of passion are long gone, the dreamscapes Pink Floyd painted with a lap steal are reserved for the past and the mesmerising drums of Soul Sacrifice seem a distant memory of Woodstock.

 It’s the beauty of music that allows a song without words to somehow find a way to say the things words can’t say at all.  Music would be all the more powerful in today’s world if people would only look beyond the words and image to appreciate the most important part; the music.

As a biased lover of music, I’ll try hard here to not offend others choice of music.  I accept that everyone has the choice to listen to what they want, and everyone has the choice to watch the X Factor if they want to.  For the average person, such a program offers reasonable entertainment value, especially at the beginning of a series when it’s fair to say, the quality makes for a good laugh. 

Viewers sit glued to the box in anticipation of the next young talent deemed to have the ‘X factor’ by the panel of ‘capable’ judges.  But as a very casual viewer of this program, it leads me to question the authority of judges to choose who becomes the next pop star.  Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl has publicly criticised such programs for undermining the important values of music. He argues that music is really about friends getting together and learning to play instruments whilst sounding like shit.  Lets face it, all bands sound like shit at first, it takes time for musicians to find their feet and get comfortable playing with other musicians.  But this learning process is what creates originality. 

Back to X Factor, and we see a kid turn up as a no body. He’s deemed by a pop star to be industry relevant, and then nurtured and coached by the judges and other industry leaders.  Given a few months the kid’s now a pop sensation.  Now of course it’s all a bit of fun for the kid, and commercial television networks are loving the ratings, but for the population of younger viewers (and many older viewers who should know better), what they watch then gives them a false impression of what’s really important in music.

As I feel my personal taste get in the way of a balanced argument here I’ll try to scale it back a little.  Yes I’m biased, but I think that one of the most important, universal qualities of music which has been forgotten is sincerity and honesty.  That is the ability for the artist to perform as themselves, not as something manufactured.  As a lover of good music, no matter what it is, the thing I appreciate more than anything is when you can tell that the artist means what they sing.  Whether it’s about a personal experience, or an issue that’s pissed them off, music that’s made with conviction is always good music.  It may not align with my tastes, and it might not align with yours, let’s face it everyone has their own taste and that’s certainly a good thing.  But sooner or later someone’s got to stand up and put a stop to this shallow trend in music.

I guess the only saving grace, is that most contestants fail to forge a lasting career in music.  After the show ends, so too does their 5 minutes of fame.  Sure it was a bit of fun while it lasted, but really, I’m yet to see any television music competition like the X Factor produce a talent that makes my jaw drop.

746px-Eric__slowhand__ClaptonIf you asked a group of kids under the age of 20, most would say who cares.  Unfortunately in the Internet driven world of the 21st century music like all media has become diversified and subsequently targeted to very niche markets.  So perhaps Rock isn’t dead, but still the musical landscape today is not what it was 20 years ago.

 In my opinion, Rock music as a mainstream genre died with Kurt Cobain almost 20 years ago, yet I’d still concur that rock is not dead; not while the troubles of the Earth still compromise peace, not while humans still feel suffering and pain.  For me, rock music has its roots in the blues, the music of suffering.  What’s happened in the last 20 years is the rapid dematerialisation of music, as artists push further away from the simple influence of popular music’s forefathers to seek influence from more cotemporary sources. 

When I say forefathers of popular music I don’t mean Michael Jackson, or John Lennon.  The roots of pop stem back to the Mississippi Delta, to the original blues legend, Robert Johnson.  In the 50’s the likes of Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins and Howlin Wolf would have a profound impact on the British blues boom, which gave birth to bands like The Beatles, The Stones, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.  The golden age of rock and roll, really does have the blues to thank for its existence.

But the influence didn’t end there in the 60’s.  Heavy Metal too was forged on the blues and as late as the nineties, the bands of the time were still obsessed with the blues no mater how far from the genre they may have been perceived.  Kurt Cobain’s love for the music of Lead Belly became evident to all during his cover of Where Did You Sleep Last Night at Nirvana’s famous unplugged in New York session, whilst Nirvana’s grunge counterparts Pearl Jam have cited 80’s blues immortal Stevie Ray Vaughan as a massive influence.

But today’s bands don’t seem to have the same direction.  The lines have blurred too much, to a point where rock music is confused and watered down.  Bands lack originality in my opinion because they’re working from influences that have already exploited ideas.  It’s like taking an already well painted piece of canvas and trying to paint a completely different picture.  From the 50’s to the 90’s the formula was simple, simple chords, simple riff and a unique melody.   The blues was like an empty canvas for artists to work off and develop their own unique sound.

So no, rock isn’t dead, it’s just a bit ill.  But that’s nothing a good dose of the blues can’t fix

What has happened to the political and social activism of music; the music that once attempted to speak out and convey important messages.  Today, mainstream pop music reflects primarily issues of money, sex and greed.  This presents a serious issue, as the youth today become more concerned with instant gratifications, and become less aware of the wider world that exists out there.  Political ignorance is indeed a bi-product of this.  If in the 60’s teenagers were engaged with the political issues surrounding the Vietnam war through artists like Creedence and Bob Dylan, today Justin Beiber entertains the youth market with songs about boyfriends, whilst Kesha sings about getting drunk.  Something is seriously wrong with society if this is what has become of mankind’s greatest creation- music. 

I for one can not understand why music today is not more engaged with the issues that face society.  The world is undergoing greater changes now than ever before in history yet mainstream pop music is burying its head in the sand.  It seems that being politically ignorant has been made to seem cool.  Being disengaged with important issues, and even acting dumb are the ideals set forth by current pop stars.  Where are the songs about climate change or the continuing war in the Middle East?  I’m sure someone could offer some examples, but the point is there is nowhere near the same amount of musical engagement with these issues as there was during the Vietnam War. 

Some may question the point of this.  Why does music even matter to political or social issues?  Well it’s fair to say that for the younger members of Generation Y, the music they’re listening to isn’t encouraging them to take action, but rather head to the nearest nightclub and get plastered!  It’s glorifying a pretend lifestyle of consume more and you’ll be happy.  It basically implies that for all the bad that’s happening in the world, everything will be alright.  Well guess what, everything is NOT going to be alright!

If you find yourself dissatisfied with mainstream music today, then you’re probably not alone.  Yet given the widespread popularity of what can only be described as mundane music devoid of any artistic credibility, you’d think you were standing alone.  As a lover of classic rock and roll, I’m going to have to try hard not to be biased, yet there are times when I think I might be the only living member of Gen Y with any musical taste left.  Of course there are many gen Y’s out there who love older music and share my opinions of the present, yet it seems the musically ignorant are the target of a music industry intent on appealing to this market.

But why has it come to this?  Is it a simply a case that the gold mine of musical creativity has dried up, or has the drop in creativity been driven by the consumers.  Personally, I don’t accept for one minute that the ideas have run out.  In the last ten years there’s been loads of great music, much of which has come from either artists outside of the mainstream, or from artists who were well established 30 years ago.  But despite this, it seems that the musically ignorant still have priority over the rest of us.  As a result, I and many others like me are force fed with pop music that supposedly everyone likes.  

It’s sad to think that the pop stars of today are even considered to have talent, when the noise they make can hardly be classified as music.  Today the emphasis is on image over sound.  How many of today’s mainstream pop stars can even play a musical instrument?  I’m sick and tired of seeing guitars used as props!  Seriously, if you’re not going to play the thing, don’t hold onto it in a film clip!

What ever happened to good music?

Posted: September 17, 2013 in Music, Uncategorized

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There is something fundamentally wrong with mainstream music today. What ever happened to the music that once attempted to speak out and stand up for what’s right. Today, mainstream pop music reflects primarily issues of money, sex and greed. Consumerism is the glorified commodity of music in the mainstream. But don’t despair. There is still good music out there. It’s time society encouraged the real musicians, who actually have something important to say so that our generation too, can leave a legacy of great music!