I feel like an asshole. Not because I suggested Daily Arts say we hate Heath Ledger or because my girlfriend spent significantly more money for Valentine’s Day on me than I did on her. No, I feel like an asshole because I have essentially removed myself from the musical community: buying, appreciating and absorbing the art.
This may seem somewhat problematic for a music columnist, reviewer and Daily Arts Managing Editor, but I assure you it’s not. It is, however, somewhat of an issue for my own well-being, as I’ve long since relied on new music to keep me sane.
For years on end, I have been able to brag about my CD/album collection to nearly anyone I meet and elicit jaw-dropping awe. Not that I have an unreasonable amount of records for any serious collector – I have a relatively small one in comparison to fanatics – but compared to the majority of the public, my collection dwarfs their embarrassingly lacking catalogs. Where others had tended towards torrents, peer-to-peer exchanges and iTunes, I remained a constant supporter of local stores if for no other reason than I appreciated unorthodox album packaging and cordial clerks.
As my critical career extended to slightly more prestigious publications and my name apparently became more familiar to PR agents, I began receiving countless records through e-mails, from my co-workers and on message boards, either to review, analyze or assign for the Daily. Frequently, I get these albums before their actual release dates and, as such, don’t buy the albums when they actually drop.
But that’s not because I’m a poor college student, which I am, or a stingy non-appreciator, which I’m not. Frankly, I’ll blow $15 on an album instead of grabbing a couple of beers on the weekends. But that’s when I believe an album warrants my cash and is more valuable than an unstable walk back from Leopold Bros. Ultimately, I’ve removed myself from the scene because I simply don’t feel like many albums of late are worth my cash.
Before you put the paper down, hear me out. I am not a zealot who believes no one will ever surpass the Beatles. In fact, when I was younger I was often quoted as saying, “the Beatles were just the Backstreet Boys of their time” – a statement I have since retracted but a sentiment I continue to have lingering suspicions about. I appreciate the music of old but certainly don’t worship it.
The issue I take with recent music is that it has become too self-aware. Not in the sense that it needs to be a product of improvisation or natural causes, but rather artists – specifically those inhabiting the indie realm, with little hope of making the big leagues – are making music to appease listeners and reviewers. Most expressly, this seems to be a product of the Pitchfork age. As a webzine that has more or less made itself the infallible product of criticism, the website can make or break a band. This isn’t to attack Pitchfork Media for this rather unheard-of accomplishment. Instead, I mean to criticize a growing number of groups that, in a desperate attempt to make a few bucks, seem to sacrifice originality in exchange for fitting into a mold.
In the past several years, groups like Tapes ‘n Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Arcade Fire have all seen a significant amount of press because of the Pitchfork effect. Their debut releases were all relatively innovative and certainly provocative. But the latter two’s follow-ups were muddled albums with little direction and almost no improvement from their prior release. You might chalk this up to the sophomore slump that countless groups experience, but more likely it’s a factor of these groups understanding what it takes to be reviewed well and striving for that sound. They, as expected, received middling reviews, which is unfortunately enough to keep them in the limelight for a while longer.
New groups don’t seem to be pushing the envelope anymore. Outside of artists like Liars and Animal Collective – though there’s a chance you could similarly pigeonhole them into the self-conscious category – that frequently tweak or even reinvent their sound, few groups are taking chances. Sure, the new album from The National was a profoundly emotive album, and yet I rarely care to throw it on. LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver is a markedly better disc than their debut but I only listen to one or two songs – also, note its appearance in the upper echelon of most webzine year-end lists.
I don’t want to say that all groups that produce well-received albums are creating music for this critical audience, but the lack of a significant artist/artistic voice is unquestionably bothersome. And given the fact that I used to waste every paycheck I earned on countless records and can now hardly bring myself to buy albums I’ve been enjoying prior to their release, says something about the current state of music. But I suppose I can’t be too angry. I’m part of the problem.
Gaerig is tired of music being made for him. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org