Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's a Beautiful World...For You, Not for Me

On Tuesday my inbox received one of its periodic emails from the Pabst Theater group announcing upcoming shows at its three Milwaukee venues. The message in this case concerned the Australian indie-electro outfit Cut Copy coming to Turner Hall on September 22. As is customary when the Pabst group posts an announcement like this, it later surfaced all over the local A&E blogs, and several people on my Twitter and Facebook feeds expressed excitement. This was all followed up in my head by what is also a now-customary response in many of these situations: "who the fuck is Cut Copy?"

Apparently, Cut Copy has been around since the start of the millennium, but i sure as hell didn't know that. This happens a lot with me, and has over the last ten years or so:

1) Band announces show in Milwaukee
2) Friends get totally excited because they've been into this band forever
3) I get curious and check out band
4) I am less than impressed and immediately wonder what the hell the big deal is

It happened this time with Cut Copy (i checked out this video and was left thinking "not terrible, but not interesting either"). It's happened before with The Spits, Terrible Twos, and a few other bands that give the Goner Records crowd boners. And it happens a ton with bands that come through Pabst (but not all of them--for example, i'm really psyched by the opportunity to see TV on the Radio and Swans this fall).

Every time it happens, there's a part of me that is convinced that i'm merely getting old and out of touch, or that i'm falling into the classic trap of listening to less music as i get older--something that simply happens to lots of thirtysomethings, as this eloquent crosstalk by my friend Steve Hyden (a fantastic music writer who i have tons of respect for) at the AV Club, and his colleague Noel Murray contends. Steve's side of the crosstalk is accepting of the fact that music fans are more connected to the bands they love in their youth, when they have the time and resources to spend obsessing over all the latest bands. It's something that fades away when day jobs and families soak up the typical adult's attention. That's not what chaps Steve's ass:

What I don’t get is the hostility that new music sometimes engenders among aging fans. I’ve chided friends who grew up on punk and indie music for turning into what they always hated—nostalgia-happy, past-worshiping hippies—because they can’t consider the latest buzz band without going into the same tired rant about how artists today don’t have “edge,” “relevance,” or “originality” by comparison with some overly idealized group from their past. I find that this opinion tends to say more about the listener than the state of contemporary music, which is too vast to be summed up by such sweepingly reductive statements.

I think this whenever I read yet another broadside about how today’s indie rock “doesn’t really rock” or whatever. Based on what? Based on your inability to locate bands that make you feel exactly the way you did when you were 15? Let me save you some time: You aren’t going to find those bands, okay? Because you changed. I guarantee you that somebody somewhere is making a record just as transformative as anything you grew up with; it’s just that you have lost the ability to hear (figuratively and perhaps literally) those records for what they are.

Guilty as charged! Most of the current "buzz" bands that i hear about generally fail to impress. And of course no band that i hear today is going to slam me against the back wall of the club in the same way Brainiac did when i was 20 and had no real awareness of the bands that influenced them (Pere Ubu, Chrome...well, a little DEVO, obviously, but i wasn't a student of their albums yet, having just come from the world of hair metal).

That being said, when Steve says "it’s just that you have lost the ability to hear (figuratively and perhaps literally) those records for what they are," i call foul, because i AM discovering transformative, incredible bands all the time. It's just that they aren't the same bands that everyone else is losing their shit over.

As a member of two active rock bands--one of which has spent 11 years building up a nationwide network of like-minded friends and bands--i'm discovering new music constantly. Unfortunately, i'm also a natural contrarian who is immediately suspicious of hype. I've always been more comfortable on the outskirts. My bands have never been trendy and never will be (we're not accessible enough); the bands i like will by and large never be the ones that a majority of people get excited about. But that doesn't mean i have lost the ability to get my mind blown. In the last year my jaw's been rendered slack by bands as disparate as the Touch & Go Records-gone-trance My Disco, the driving, Allman-psych Memory Map, and the gut-punchingly awesome Helms Alee (who came the closest to triggering a Brainiac-level consciousness-altering response in my post-30 thinkmeats when i saw them level the Cha Cha Lounge in Seattle last summer).

So, i don't listen to the same bands that Pitchfork and AV Club get psyched about--who cares, right? Just like what you like and go about your business. That'd be plenty simple, if i didn't harbor some misguided dream of getting paid someday to write about music. Seeing something like the new Bon Iver album, which i tried to listen to but had to shut off due to finding it absolutely fucking abhorrently terrible, get near-universal praise in a world that i'd like to be employed in someday, is depressing and leads me to feel like there's no room in that world for a differing opinion. One might put forth the argument that i could provide a chance to expand a website's audience, but i don't know if that's true when the evidence points to the contrary (by "evidence" i mean "i can't even get more than 40 people to show up in Milwaukee for a show featuring my current favorite band, Police Teeth, no matter how much i hype them and put their music in front of people." The evidence supports the hypothesis that most people just plain don't like what i like--or the stuff i like just needs to hire better PR agencies). (And to be fair, Helms Alee does get a nod in this month's edition of the AV Club column LOUD, but i feel like AV Club's establishing of a catch-all column for aggressive, noisy, and heavy music is an admission that it's simply not as popular as the lighter, adult contemporary indie stuff. Dan Hanke made what i thought was a brilliant observation when he said that if Archers of Loaf were a new band today, Pitchfork wouldn't give them the time of day.)

But hey, this blog is about me trying to be constructive, so enough sad-sacking. Starting tomorrow, i'll be periodically writing posts about bands that are thoroughly kicking my ass but not getting the blog love they deserve. Full disclosure: a lot of these bands are going to include members who are friends of mine. It's an occupational hazard of meeting tons of bands that i should happen to fall madly in love with several of them. Such will be the case with Memory Map, the band i'll use to kick things off tomorrow. In the meantime, if you're aware of any music blogs that actually cater more toward the noisy, unconventional, and ROCKING, clue me in down in the comments, ok? I'd be ecstatic to discover ways to find out about bands that are up my alley that aren't the EA Forum or the act of Playing Shows.


  1. Dj, that's the only way to do it. There's scant little coverage in the noise rock world, and what there is has little depth.

    Read Everett True's Collapse Board... I love reading that board even when I don't know the bands or the albums being talked about, because it's true music crit. not just "music writing."

    I got "let go" from one of the more semi-prominent mags I used to write for because I totally panned a (VERY WEAK) album by a band whose label was a big advertising contributer. I did the right thing, the release sucked.

    Anyway, i'm firmly of the opinion that the meritocracy of music being pretty much removed because of EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE, ALL THE TIME. Championing what you love is the only way to go now, and yeah... that's going to mean blurring the lines of peers, friends, whatever... if it's coming from a truthful place it is your DUTY as somebody who can write to put that forward.

    And yes, i'm going to start applying that to myself more too.

  2. Collapse Board! Yes, thank you for reminding me of its name. Travis Keller posted a manifesto of sorts from Collapse last week that i thought was brilliant and summed up a lot of my frustrations with music coverage these days. I'm definitely going to start following that site very closely.

  3. 1. helms alee rules

    2. i never heard of memory map until you pointed them out, and i dug them.

    3. i am bummed cos okkervil river is the same damn night as swans. i don't know what i shall do.

    4. i am nowhere near up to new music as i used to be because i just don't have eleventy extra hours a day to read and listen, so i rely on friend's recommendations, which sometimes hit, sometimes miss, mix tapes, random run ins with a band at a show i've never heard of, and, just missing out.

  4. I think that's just the cycle of life. When you're young--and Steve nailed it in the AV Club article--music hits you harder because you're not old enough to know its history (if i were born in 1964 Pere Ubu would be my favorite band, not Brainiac), plus younger people have those eleventy billion hours to spend obsessing. Most of my new music recommendations come from friends too (and since Conan tore me a new one for spacing on his Helms Alee endorsement for a full year, i'm paying a lot closer attention!).

  5. helms alee played the borg ward, this winter? last fall? not that long ago, and i failed to go for no good reasons and that sucked. missing them. also, i used to spend ALL my free time listening to music, hunting down new music, etc, and honestly, i got burned out. got other shit i wanna do, too. and i'm old and grumpy.

  6. Last September. AND THEY RULED.

  7. You got on deck though, that's what counts!
    I think one of the reasons I beat you up on that so hard is that I don't give ENTHUSIASTIC REPETITIVE RECOMMENDATIONS lightly. Yes, I am excited about music... but for most things I tend to take the audience into account.

    Helms Alee are the rare band that UN JADES about music, they just love what they do and are so good at it. The music itself is just as important and vital... but the presentation! So great.

    I actually find that music moves me just as hard as it did back then, seeing a band like Poison Control Center just set the stage on fire is still just as much of a magical thing as when I was 20. (see what I did there?!)
    Pure joy, and it reminds me why we fight.

  8. Is it all just music hitting you harder due to not knowing it's history when young, or is it because when we're younger our brains are just more capable of being awed because it's all new and everything is so desperately important? Not just that we don't know influences, just that basically our brains are pop culture sponges at that age. Everything-sponges. And at least for me, I experienced *everything* more intensely, including music and books. Perspective and having a more developed sense of self are gifts of age; they're great in one's personal life and professional life, but maybe the one place they are less beneficial is arts appreciation.

    (It's not like this split isn't noticeable in things like books; I rarely read a truly life-changing/mind-blowing book the way I did, like, every other month when I was a teenager. I don't think this is the fault of books. I can still love a good book, but it's unlikely to become a part of who I am because who I am is so much better developed now.) (Scott Pilgrim 6, though. Man.)