As the decade has begun to close with the end of the year, there have been a number of ‘Best of the Decade’ lists in the music blog world, and a number of them have gotten me thinking about music over the past ten years. Since the start of the decade, I would consider these past years as some of the most formative in my own tastes in music, especially during my years in college. During that time, the entire music industry has been changed, for better or for worse, and with these changes has come new opportunities, sounds and experiences for musicians and fans alike.
My own taste in music has varied over the past ten years, from radio top 40 hits to Indie-Rap and I’m very eager to see what comes next. Looking back, I found that it would be almost impossible to put together any sort of comprehensive list for the last ten years, simply because there is too much music, it is too varied, and there is far, far too much that I haven’t listened to. While computers have become paramount in the way that music is transmitted, shared and listened to, I can’t help but wonder if it’s harmful to the overall music scene.
Looking back over music of the 1960s and 1970s, the music is easily recognizable, memorable and classic. Looking back over the decade, I’m not sure that I can find a comparable number of bands that match not only the quality of the hits of prior years, but ones that have the same presence. With other years populated by bands such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Eric Clapton and more, revolutionaries all in their own way, the past couple of decades have much bigger shoes to fill.
The formative years of Rock and Roll have been filled with epic tales of musicians gone crazy: smashing up hotel rooms and instruments on stage, getting arrested on stage, all the while pushing the limits of free speech and taboo topics to entertain the masses, who ate it up with relish. And, the music was good too – music labels, I think , didn’t quite know how to deal with all of the new sounds and styles that were coming out from aspiring musicians: all they could do was control the direction, like pointing a fire hose, hoping that the water inside was just right.
Since that time, music has become more refined. We’ve settled down, figured out what works and what sounds just right. Advances in technology, from the introduction of computers and editing programs allow musicians to put together a fantastic sounding album, cheaper, quicker and to an incredibly wide audience than ever before. Young people, ever the bright start of the music industry, have been freed, recording demos with cheap recording equipment and access to MySpace, and have the chance of finding an audience amongst the numerous people out seeking for new sounds, and even more obscure bands and singer/songwriters.
My music interests have ebbed and waned over the past ten years, starting with listening to 107.1, WORK FM (Now FrankFM, a Classic Rock Station) a Top 40 station, which effectively brought my music tastes to ’90s alternative/grunge. I didn’t get that much into listening to anything outside of that before a couple years into college. A friend of mine at the time, later girlfriend, now ex, introduced me to indie-rock, styles along what was heard in Garden State, which further influenced what I listened to. Artists such as Alexi Murdoch, The Decemberists, Spoon, Nick Drake and others entered my playlists. From that point, I began to listen to more – not only to new artists that were coming out, but also to bands that I’d grown up listening to: the Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Fleetwood Mac.
In listening to the old and new, there’s an incredible amount of influence that is held by artists from long ago, especially by newer artists. Folk-rock has undergone a huge resurgence among the hip, from artists such as Alexi Murdoch, Iron & Wine and Bon Iver growing in popularity over the past couple of years – in no small part, no doubt, to commercial placement of their songs in television shows and commercials.
While the music is fantastic – I count all of the above to be some of the best artists of the decade, but at the same time, I’ve become very weary and wary of the independent market for music, because of the sheer drive to feed the hipster masses by going completely out on a limb and doing something patently outrageous, but in a calm, civil sort of way. In a way, the kids who go out and record come up with some interesting stuff, but they don’t toe the line like musicians of old. The music that we have today, independent and commercial (although that distinction is flat out ridiculous in and of itself – all music is commercial) is sanitized, watered down and just too appropriate. Maybe I’m just listening to the wrong types of music, but a lot of bands just don’t have that raw energy and bite that the ’70s brought us.
We don’t have our Hendrix, our Lennon or our Jagger – instead, a lot of our front men are put together by their publicists, who put them up on a pedestal for their outbursts, poor judgment or incredibly noble deeds (I’m looking at you, Amy Winehouse, Britteny Spears and Bono). But in a way, they become products in and of themselves, sold to the public through the spin on their actions, rather than the popular judgment of their actions unguided by the invisible hand of a major marketing company. In a world where news is paramount, and any news is good news, it seems that the rash actions of the people we admire are more constructed, rather than heat of the moment rashness. I have a feeling that those individuals, who’ve built up their personas in the time before facebook and MySpace, will be longer lasting. Even the persona of avoiding a personality, or just trying to be different by wearing mismatched clothing, acting the awkward soul in a way to appeal to more fans who make it out to see them.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a huge difference between the personality of a band and the music that they play, but over time, how much of a band’s persona becomes intermixed with their music as a whole? In an age where the choices of music and bands is akin to water from a fire hose, the strive to be completely unique by adopting a certain persona for a band just seems shallow, fake. There are very few bands out there right now that I would label as being truly unique, focused on their music and presenting a fairly honest image all at the same time. At the end of the day, while there is plenty of selection – good selection – I can’t help but wonder if these musicians will really stand the test of time, or if they will just be lost in the multitude of other hipster artists who get their brief break of fame before realizing that they have to continue the act. At the same time, I wonder how many bands that have been sold to us will last in the long run.
Looking back over the music that I’ve accumulated over the past couple of years – and I’ve accumulated a lot – there are certainly bands that I go back to time and time again, while there are even more that I’ve listened to, and really enjoyed, but who soon become unmemorable. It’ll be fun to go back and seek them out in another ten years to see if anybody knows their name and see if their record deal through the strength of their MySpace page and website is really enduring. In some cases? I would bet so. In far more instances, I would bet that a lot of these bands will fail the test of time, only to be resurrected by lone fans with overburdened hard drives. In the meantime, I’ll take that old time rock and roll.