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.

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