Monday, February 25, 2013

Keep the earth below my feet.

We need to talk about Mumford and Sons.

I mean, I'm kind of sick of talking about Mumford and Sons.

Way back when, in like what, 2008, I loved them a lot. I listened to their two EPs constantly, and would even rip songs from their MySpace, eagerly awaiting their debut album. Cut to two years later, their record was finally released, and I got to see them at the Bowery Ballroom for like $12. They were pretty fantastic live, and a ton of fun. And then they somehow blew up.

Look, this isn't about how I listened to them before everyone else. I'm over that. It's always a bit of a bummer when your bands blow up and everyone starts listening to them but if you really like them, your enjoyment of their music will endure (if the music holds up). This is more about the way your perception of a band or their music somehow changes as they garner more attention.

For example, I used to be a huge Ray LaMontagne fan. I still think Trouble and Til The Sun Turns Black are great albums, and I'll still listen to "Burn" or "Empty" or "Lesson Learned" and think, "God, these songs are awesome." But around his third album, Gossip in the Grain (which, upon later listens, I realized wasn't so bad), he became pretty popular and the record was lackluster. And please, don't get me started on his fourth album. Is there are a direct correlation between his popularity and (in my opinion) his lackluster music? What about The Avett Brothers? Their early records were great. Their live shows used to be a blast. Their latest record? Oh, boy, what a disaster. It just isn't anything I'd ever want to listen to. I know they're on a major label now (even though two records that have been released this year, Heartthrob and Pedestrian Verse prove that is irrelevant) but the quality of music should stay the same. Or do these major labels somehow believe that music has to be less complex (i.e. dumb-downed) to appeal to more people? But then again, something like God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise or The Carpenter doesn't really appeal to my tastes at the moment. Remember, your music doesn't necessarily grow with you. And I've made my peace with not listening to Ray LaMontagne anymore. The Avett Brothers were a bit harder to swallow but oh well, these things happen.

Which brings me back to Mumford and Sons. I still listen to them. And if you remember, I did put Babel on my favorite albums of 2012 list. But they are purely a guilty pleasure. Yes, all of their songs sound the same (I mean, you'd think they had made enough money from their first record to pay some musicians to expand their sound for their second record), and boy, are their lyrics trite (don't believe me? listen to "Lover's Eyes") but they have an addicting quality to them. But did I ever really believe they were good? I mean, I was far less critical back in 2008 but I recall believing they were a really great band. I really wanted them to succeed. And now they have and I'm like, "well, they do suck but I like them." Has their popularity caused me to go fishing for negativity? I mean, I can't imagine shitting all over The National if they suddenly blow up (even though I always say their live shows are a disappointment and sometimes their music is dull), and I wouldn't suddenly say, "Oh, that Scott Hutchison, his lyrics are pedestrian" (I swear, the pun is not intended) if Frightened Rabbit become huge. Or perhaps I will. Perhaps I will say that all of The National's songs sound the same and that they're a boring band. My point is sometimes we are programed to believe that mainstream culture is somehow less intelligent and low brow and easier to swallow so it must be bad in some way. So if millions of people like Mumford and Sons now, how can they possibly be good? For me, the only way I can live with the idea of liking the band is if I only refer to them as a guilty pleasure. If I acknowledge that I do know they are terrible. Or just bad. Terrible is harsh.

I'm not trying to be Stereogum here, especially since I don't believe bands who are making millions and winning Grammys and selling out arenas need to be defended. I'm just trying to understand my feelings towards them. There's no point in being hostile to a band (especially one you enjoy) because they're easy to ignore. Just don't listen to them. I mean I truly, truly, truly hate The Black Keys (I really think their songs all sound the same, Patrick Carney runs his mouth too much, and I'm sick of hearing "Gold on the Ceiling" and "Lonely Boy" in every damn commercial) but nobody is forcing me to listen to them or see them in concert. But Lord, people are so hostile towards bands they do not like. And I think it's because they see them as a threat. If everyone is listening to well, Mumford and Sons, people are not going to be listening to Cloud Cult or DeVotchka or whatever smaller band you really love. But my enjoyment of one band shouldn't interfere with your enjoyment of someone else. It's just an inherent feeling to defend your music, especially against those evil Grammy-winning, foot-stomping band of Brits.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's okay to take songs off of your iPod.

I know this comes as a surprise to nobody but I buy a lot of music, more than I could conceivably fit onto my 8GB iPod. And with every new song or record I want to put on my iPod (it's a green mini Nano, purchased in 2007, named Geno. I have an iPhone and an iPod Touch but Geno and I have been through a lot. And his name is Geno.) I am faced with the problem of removing a song or two. It's the circle of life for mp3s. And let me be honest, there are a lot of songs that I constantly skip over that could conceivably be deleted, and yet, I scroll through the list over and over again and wrestle with the decision as to which songs need to go.

I think there are two reasons behind this problem:

1. I buy all of my music on vinyl, with the exception of a few stray mp3s that I buy from Amazon, simply because I don't like the whole record enough. I am very against the idea of purchasing a full album on mp3. I believe it physicality, and there is something beautiful about removing a record from it's sleeve, putting it on your player, and letting the needle gently glide over it. An mp3 is nothing. It just exists on your hard drive, and if it crashes or gets deleted, then it's gone. And you have nothing to show for it. There are a lot of songs on my iPod that I either a) don't have physical copies of or b) don't even have the mp3 of and once they are deleted, they are gone forever. I understand musical is cyclic, and I won't always want to listen to or like the same songs, and with the internet, things are always available now. But if I delete this live version of Damien Rice's "The Professor and La Fille Danse" that's in very poor quality, I WILL NEVER GET IT BACK!

2. Music is so incredibly personal, and I feel like I've developed a sort of connection or memory to every song/album/artists I listen to. I scroll through my iTunes library and think, "No! I can't take off this instrumental by Sufjan Stevens! He helped shape my love of indie!" or "I never listen to this live, solo version of 'Banking On a Myth' but it's Andrew! And I must be able to say I have a ridiculous, albeit unrealistic amount of his recordings on my iPod." And if I take off all of the Damien Rice music, then it just shows that I don't really like listening to him anymore, especially not as much as I did when I was in high school and my father would drive me to school every morning and I'd force him to listen to O over and over again. And then I'm saying good-bye to that part of my life. But I own the album on CD, and I could play it over and over again if I wanted to. But if "Cold Water" didn't randomly come on my iPod during my morning commute, I couldn't think, "Jeez, remember when my father used to argue with me about how this was the best song on the album?" If I removed those Bell x1 songs, then they're not special to me anymore, and they've been replaced by a new band. I mean, your memories never go away. But it's hard to admit parts of your life are over, and that you'll always have a fondness for Flock or 9 or Wind in the Wires but your music doesn't grow with you. You grow and you mature and your tastes become more sophisticated and maybe you'd rather listen to "Offspring are Blank" over "Red Right Ankle." Doesn't mean they both have to be on your iPod.

So, the best thing to remember is that you're not deleting your memories, you're just not going to have to dig through your bag on the subway to skip these songs when they come on your iPod anymore. And the less crap you have to deal with on the subway, the better.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I have never wanted more to be your man and build a house around you.

Every year, I seem to find my January.

What? You don't know what a January is? Don't you have Januaries of your own?

I didn't initially go out seeking my Januaries and they began back in January 2009 when Noble Beast was released. It wasn't mad love at first listen but something about it was so compelling, and it made me want to keep listening to it, over and over again. Then came Armchair Apocrypha, and the rest, as they say, was history. I don't think I need to explain to ANYONE how much I like Andrew Bird.

In January 2010, I started listening to The National. Unlike Bird, I had never even heard of The National before I heard "Fake Empire" for the first time. Again, it wasn't love at first listen but I waited for the click and finally, I fell in love. I ended up buying a bunch of their records and saw them twice that year. I developed a bit of an obsession that has since subsided but 2010 was all about The National.

And then, of course, Destroyer's Kaputt was released. My favorite record of 2011. Destroyer was my favorite artist of 2011 (erm, well, until I discovered Feist in October). I never liked Dan Bejar before that record, I mean, I really could not stand his damn voice but after Kaputt, I became obsessive, consuming all of his music. And I mean, could you blame me? He is a bit of a genius, right? (I guess the obsession hasn't really subsided. Oops.) Nobody was better than Destroyer for me in 2011.

(2012 really didn't have a January because the first quarter of that year was devoted to Andrew Bird. It's hilarious when I think about how much new music I discovered during the second half of last year when I had basically played out Break It Yourself.)

And now, what about 2013?

Well, everyone, I've developed a big Frightened Rabbit problem.

I've actually been a casual Frightened Rabbit fan for about two and a half years now (I've even seen them live) so they're not exactly a new discovery. I've always been in their corner, I've always rooted for them. But I've always sort of described them as Snow Patrol with better lyrics (I'll have you know I really like Snow Patrol). They're a good band but nothing special.

Or so I thought.

They've just released a new record Pedestrian Verse and thanks to the glowing review on AV Club, I decided to check it out. (Truth be told, I would've checked it out anyway.) And I need to let you know that it is fantastic. Really, really fantastic. Like...that's all I've listened to for about a week. And the only other things I've listened to other than Pedestrian Verse are The Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Frightened Rabbit's music has this quality that sneaks up on you; you listen to it and it doesn't sound special at all (I likened them to Snow Patrol meets Bell x1) but then you find yourself really paying attention to the lyrics and you say, "goddamn." Because Scott Hutchison's lyrics are fantastic. I find myself catching a line and having to replay the whole song because I need to hear the entire verse over again.

Look, I really like my music to either have a theatrical quality to it or to be spacey electronic shit, and I have in the past just said, "I'm over the whole bass-drums-guitar thing" (aka 99% of bands but I'm a pretentious jerk sometimes) but sometimes music doesn't have to be elaborate. It doesn't have to difficult or esoteric or a "grower" (oh, but I love esoteric "growers," I do). It can just be good. And that's all Frightened Rabbit are. They are good. They make good music and they are a good live band and they have been making my ears so damn happy. I want everyone to listen to them so in a year, they can win Grammys and sell out the Barclays and I'll say, "Well, remember that time I won tickets to see them like three hours before the show? Ah, memories." And I'll be happy for them. With reservations.

I suppose if it comes to that, they'll stop writing lyrics like "it takes more than fucking someone to keep warm." And that would be a tragedy. Okay, everyone can listen to them but be very secretive about it. Start a Frightened Rabbit Fight Club.