Saturday, 30 May 2009

A good old rant

Sorry about the total no-show last week, I just didn’t have anything worth saying and not even any filler to distract you from the lack of content. However this past week I have been doing interesting things, if you count listening to music that I hadn’t heard before interesting, which I do. Anyway one of the bands that I’ve discovered recently is called Porcupine Tree, if you like Pink Floyd you should check them out, especially their early stuff which is beautifully psychedelic, if you don’t like Pink Floyd you should go find a beach at low tide, bury yourself up to the neck and wait for the tide to come in. The second band that I have discovered is called The Flaming Lips, whose music is basically just happiness condensed into musical form. You should definitely check out Soft Bulletin because it’s one of the most joy inducing albums I have heard in a while.

So those are the two bands that I’ve discovered and actually liked. While exploring I also decided to check out some of the better known and notoriously awesome indie bands that every indie music fan from here to the moon obsess over. I had a look at some My Bloody Valentine and Broken Social Scene, both of whom I will probably check out more of later because I got a bit distracted by unhealthy amounts of Porcupine Tree. Anyway the one band that I did check out in a big way was The Arcade Fire. I have been hearing for a good while now from everything associated with indie music that The Arcade Fire are god’s gift to indie music and that I should listen to them and then proceed to thrown adoration and unquestioning love at their feet. I downloaded their second album, Neon Bible and to be honest I am distinctly unimpressed. It’s just a bunch of dreary, emotionally devoid mediocrity. It’s not that it’s bad in the same way that rap music is bad; it’s just not that good. There seems to be no musical ingenuity at all and most of the songs lack melody to the extent that it really hard to listen to them for any length of time. I have to concede that there are some quite good songs on the album, like No Cars Go and Antichrist Television Blues, but frankly I have heard nothing that leads me to think that The Arcade Fire deserve any of the absurd amount of acclaim they get from literally everyone. Even bands like Coldplay and David fucking Bowie love these guys; they get perfect scores from every music reviewer on the planet. I just don’t get why, they are nothing more that decent.

Exploring all this new music made me think a little about the culture and trends associated with different types of music. I’ve always found it really bizarre how some people feel the need to identify solely with one distinct group of people to the extent that they neglect all other forms of social interaction outside the specific group. These groups are often associated with music tastes; people group together because they all like the same music, but their music tastes, like their entire lives become single tracked; they listen to one type of music and one type only, refusing to diversify for fear of betraying their group. The most infuriating of these are the ones who claim to be being ‘independent’. They think that somehow being in a group of people who all reject the same social norms like dressing is a way that doesn’t make you look like a have just been dragged through a charity shop or shaving more than once a decade, in exactly the same way is somehow being independent, it’s not; it’s just being different.

Being independent is doing what you want to do, listening to music that you want to listen to, dressing in a way that you want to, believing what you think is right, not jumping on a slightly smaller bandwagon going in a different direction from the rest of us. The problem is that any attempt to be independent by rejecting what the majority do is ultimately doomed to failure because you confine yourself to avoiding certain things because they’re popular, rather than doing things regardless of what other people think about them.

The same is the case for music taste. People get into bands that are unsigned simply because they’re unsigned and not popular. They become attached to this band simply because of what they represent; independence from the popular music industry. When that band gets recognised and finally signed up to a record label so that they can distribute their music to a wider audience they suddenly get accused of ‘selling-out’, as though becoming part of the popular music scene, getting a recording contract and finally getting the credit they deserve for being good musicians is a bad thing and it would have been better if they had just remained unsigned so only you and a few other people know about them. It seems to me that these people don’t actually listen to the music because they think it’s good music, rather because they want to be different, to be independent from everyone else. If they can quote bands that no-one has ever heard of and boast about how many times they’ve seen them live they think that somehow they’re better then everyone else.

The problem is that this happens with all kinds of music, not just unsigned music. People listen to music because they buy into the image that the music represents instead of listening to music because they like how it sounds. People buy into one genre of music to the extent that they only listen to that one style of music, not because they think that that style is immeasurably better than any other type of music, but because it fits with whatever bullshit image that they have unquestioningly accepted because they think it makes them look different.

Obviously I am looking at extremes here and almost everyone I know, and hopefully all of the people reading this, don’t buy into one specific style to the exclusion of everything else. However most people do regard music with a certain amount of snobbery, I know I have done in the past. People regard music solely as an art form designed to convey some sort of message that they can either accept or reject according to personal preference, and the best music will have an element of this, however most music is just there to entertain. Music doesn’t need to have some deeper meaning to be good music; primarily music needs to be aesthetically enjoyable. This is why I found The Arcade Fire to be so overrated; it simply was not interesting or overtly enjoyable to listen to. You can bang on all day about the deeper meanings or the serious and intelligent lyrics but that is all irrelevant if the music is drab and uninteresting. People are far too willing to dismiss music as being generic, manufactured and samey and often I don’t disagree I just contest that this makes it bad music. A catchy tune can be just that, a catchy tune and you should let yourself enjoy it without worrying about the message that the band is trying to convey or the technical quality of the music. Some songs are just designed to make you happy, not to make you think.

This is not of course to say that songs which are thought provoking and do have a better technical quality to them are no better than catchy, manufactured pop songs, that would be absurd; Dark Side of the Moon is far better than anything the Killers could ever hope to write. What we need to remember is that we can appreciate both type of music and everything in between for different reasons. We don’t need to limit ourselves to a small subsection of the music industry for pretentious artistic reasons when there is perfectly good music doing exactly what it is intended to do waiting to be enjoyed by us. Sure sometimes you may be in mood for something deeper and more meaningful, or something slightly less generic, but occasionally pop songs can bed fun to listen to.

So I suggest that next time you happen to hear a song on the radio, don’t worry about who the artists is, or what image is associated with the music. Don’t search for deeper meanings or complicated musical subtleties. Just shut your eyes and listen to the song for what it is. It may be a generic, manufactured pile of crap, but if it isn’t a damn catchy generic, manufactured pile of crap. It might just make you happy.

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