Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Old Friends

I don't actively seek out new bands. Come to think of it, I never really have; in the past I've usually relied on friends of mine to recommend new bands to me that I might like. Y'know, I don't scour the record racks every week looking for the Next Big Thing. I don't have the time and I don't care enough.

Now, I'm not saying I don't like new music. I do! I just don't look for it - it kinda has to find me. "Neon Bible" was my favorite new release of the past year, but it's also the only one released by a "new" band that I really listened to over and over. I dug "Boys and Girls in America" and "St. Elsewhere" and all that hip-cool shit (don't Gnarls have a new album out, too?), but I still feel pretty distanced from indie rock nowadays. None of it rocks enough for me, you could say. None of it grabs my ass and makes me wanna dance around. The ultimatum for popular music circa 2008 is if you don't wanna listen to "The Crane Wife" on your headphones, sitting alone in your room with the shades down, then you've gotta head out, hit the club, and dance to... err, Flo Rida. Or "Superman Dat Hoe." Or that Kanye song with Daft Punk that's kinda-sorta-alright. For me, most indie is determinately non-provocative and dance-R&B is predictable and too slow. It's just not my scene.

So I listen to old friends. For the past couple years I've been keeping track of new albums from the Flaming Lips, Wilco, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The White Stripes, Stephen Malkmus and Radiohead. None of these albums have been shocking or revelatory, but they've been good, digging into the pleasure center of my brain and giving me exactly what I need out of rock music. Dylan's "Modern Times" and "Love and Theft" surprised the hell out of me, 'cause I thought the old bastard had burned himself out years ago, but besides that I haven't come across any major surprises - just solid music from bands I love. I just listened to the new R.E.M. record "Accelerate," and it has made me very happy, especially considering that they've been going through some rough patches in the past few years. It's not anything new, to be sure, but it burrows into my head and doesn't leave, which is really something. I've loved R.E.M. for years, and now it sounds like they're old friends coming to visit. It's nice.

Maybe it's a more troubling trend than I'm giving it credit for - older rock bands who've given up on making original music, leaning back on their strengths and essentially giving their fans what they want. "Sky Blue Sky" was Wilco doing good-feelin' mellow rock. "Magic" was an E Street Band record in full swing. "At War With The Mystics" was goofy psychadelic whoo-hah. "Icky Thump" was bluesy rockin' fun, no more no less. "In Rainbows" was challenging, to be sure, but didn't explore anything remarkably new. These albums could lead me to cite an epidemic in the old guard of rock 'n roll, an easy way to claim that the rock music I love is dead, stuck in a rut of predictability. But why should I care when I enjoy the music so damned much?

My friend Steve and I plan on throwing a Wilhelm-themed party sometime near the end of the semester. Whenever it does happen, we're gonna make sure that we make the party playlist - I can't remember the last time I've been able to do that. My years of attending college parties have led to many, many instances of hating whatever music was playing 'cause it didn't meet my asshole-ish standards. Of course, Steve and I are gonna load up the list with tons of stupid bullshit white-boy rock - Limp Bizkit, Sum 41, Andrew WK, all the crap we can find. After years of not caring about popular music, even "Nookie" sounds like the warm embrace of an old friend.

God, that's sad.

By the way, is the new Raconteurs album any good?


Steve said...


good pop

Adam Spektor said...

Hey Sean,

Good post. I agree with you to the extent that some of the best music today is put out by dinosaurs (or relative... it's somewhat of a stretch to put the White Stripes in the same category as Bob Dylan). If you look at my top 10 from last year, you'll find three albums from well-established artists with a good sense of longevity (White Stripes, Dinosaur Jr and Radiohead) and another was "Neon Bible".

Looking at this year, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and R.E.M. are already almost surefire entries into the best of 2008. There's always something reassuring about hearing something new from one of the big-leaguers, and it's both relieving and exhilarating if the new material is actually really good... the acknowledgment that not only one of your favorite artists is not losing their grip but also that they have a wonderful new collection of songs to add to their rich discographies.

I'm pretty sure I've told you about my own personal disillusionment with modern rock today (if I haven't, I'll explain/expand on it to you sometime, just ask), but even taking a look at what I've been listening to can attest to finding comfort in familiarity. I recently relistened to most of Zappa's discography, re-discovered the music of Alice Cooper and R.E.M. and I've had a consistently overwhelming obsession with the music of Nick Cave.

Still, I do embrace "the scene" (or whatever the fuck you want to call it) a bit more than you do and there are plenty of excellent new releases floating around these days. Maybe you'll like some of it (although most of my favorite stuff is that Eastern European, minor-key, oddly instrumented shit that freaks out most people).

Adam Spektor said...

Oh yeah, and the new Raconteurs album is really good. I was surprised cause I really liked only a few songs off of Broken Boy Soldiers, but they do some neat things with this one. A few touches of horns add some nice color to it too.