Are we not allowed to complain when bands we like change their sound and perhaps "sell out?"
I do. Constantly.
It's a slippery slope; I'm not saying I want every band/artist I like to keep putting out records that sound exactly the same. My problem is when it's clear that the change of sound is not an artistic choice but one made to pander to a larger, more mainstream audience. I'm talking specifically about The Avett Brothers.
Look, I totally buy the idea that they are growing up and maturing and won't be thrashing around with their banjos as they head into their forties. I get it. I'm not against growing up and maturing and I'm clearly not against being on a major label. What is a major label anyway? (I mean that rhetorically; Frightened Rabbit are on a major label and their music is still pretty great and they aren't obnoxious.) I really, really liked I and Love and You. And then they blew up (along with The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons and all of those other nu-folk bands), which was fine but something clearly started to change about them. In the beginning of their career, they just happened to be a band from the South who used southern musical traditions and fused them with rock. And it worked beautifully. They didn't need fancy production because they wrote such great songs that shined with just a few instruments and their glorious voices. But suddenly they really embraced this adult contemporary alt-country bullshit, and it would've been fine if the music was still good. Neko Case does it brilliantly, right? (God, her new record is amazing.) But I found The Carpenter completely unlistenable. I heard "February Seven" and could not believe how overproduced and phony it sounded. Wanna make money? That's fine. I have no problem with that. Wanna play arenas? Fine. I just won't go. (Really, why are The Avett Brothers playing the Barclays? How will that be enjoyable? Are they going to overinflate their sound even more?) But don't sacrifice the music. All of their songs are such overemotional sap, as though they're trying to be everybody's yearbook quote. They became indistinguishable from so many other bands, and that's the real pity.
Whenever I complain about The Avett Brothers, people tend to get really angry for some reason. But as a fan (of any band really), don't you have the right to criticize a band you once really, really liked? It's not about a lot of people suddenly liking them; I still love The National and they're playing arenas too. I saw both fun. and Mumford and Sons live this year (yeah, I did) and Tegan and Sara will always own a piece of my heart, no matter how many times they're played on the radio. And actually, they're a great example because they really changed their sound, and they've gradually become poppier since 2004's So Jealous, and yet...they're still fantastic. Heartthrob (a major label release) is not only one of my favorite records of the year but one of Tegan and Sara's best. For me, music is the most personal art form because it's very, very easy to develop an emotional connection to it. There is nothing better than a new record from your favorite band or going to see your favorite band live. So when one of them suddenly starts to disappoint you over and over again, it's only natural to feel almost betrayed. Like how can a band whose music you enjoyed so so much suddenly release such a load of crap? What's worse is when loads of people start enjoying it and telling you how amazing it is. All you want to do is say, "No! Haven't you ever heard their early records? Those were good!" Aren't we allowed to complain? Yes! Complain! But have good reason to! Don't say Bon Iver/Justin Vernon is crap because he suddenly won two Grammys. Justin Vernon has a boatload of talent. (Have you heard the new Volcano Choir record? Perfection.) I don't care if he sings with Kanye West or wins Grammys or sells out Radio City six times because the music is there. Patrick Wolf proved himself time and time again that he's kind of an asshole but I ignored it because the music was still good. Until it wasn't. I still adore Death Cab for Cutie, regardless of their Twilight association because I still enjoy their music.
Mainstream attention doesn't factor into things, especially since there's really no such thing as the mainstream anymore. The internet makes everything available to everyone. I want people to listen to the bands I like (for nothing other than being able to talk about music with, not at, more people) and I want them to be successful. But don't sacrifice the music. And that's what really bothers me about the success of The Avett Brothers.