Monday, 12 July 2010

Sucky Music

I've been brewing an article in my mind for quite some time. My idea went like this: I was going to take a bunch of critically acclaimed bands; you know the ones, we've heard about them for the past twenty years; the under-appreciated yet groundbreaking bands that you've never actually bothered to listen to, the ones that everyone says are the pinnacle of music goodness. Then I was going to tell you how much I think they suck. Yes, I know, it probably wouldn't have flown far in the vast expanses of the Internet before being shot down, where obscurity, elitism and snobbery are the only ways we can distinguish ourselves from the group."What!? You haven't listened to Antarctic Monkeys from Mars? Loser."

One of my favourite music websites, Pitchfork, is known as being so obscure that if you knew all the bands they posted about you probably spend most of your time doing it just to be cool rather than knowing these bands as a side-effect of actually liking their type of music. I once read a guide that told you how to become an "Indie kid" (a newish term for me as it hasn't reached CZ yet) and one of the suggestions was to name-drop bands from Pitchfork at every opportunity. I do enjoy Pitchfork, when they talk about bands I actually know, and I have found some of their recommendations to be quite good. And most to be crap as you would expect.

So why are all the bands that we're supposed to like so shit?

I'm not going to name names because doing so will just unnecessarily enrage those on the high horse. But you know the kind of music I'm talking about. Some guy droning into a mic with a monotone and some kind of unimaginative repetitive guitar riff backing him up supported by drums that sound like they were recorded in a cardboard box. I'm not talking about the new chart-topping anthem from Diggity Rascal; no, I mean the stuff that we are told to listen to because we think it will make us cool.

So, I did a bit of digging.

Pitchfork have some great lists of the best albums and tracks from the 1960s till now. I decided to look through the 1990s list and see what they thought was the best of the best. What was the obscure shit to be listening to when I was still in school? I went through a few phases, from Cypress Hill, to Nine Inch Nails, to Rage Against the Machine. Not obscure enough I thought. What had I been missing out on?

Turns out that a lot of the music from that list sucked. Though there were a few exceptions. Some of you are probably thinking I'm just trying to be cool by dissing music that is actually cool and makes us cool by association, which may not be such a bad thing. But there is another part to my story, which is the reason why I'm not going ahead with the original plan.

I had never really listened to The Cure (WHAT?! Loser). Yes, it's true. I thought Robert Smith looked a bit funny with the makeup and big hair. Was he trying to get my sympathy or something? I had no idea. Anyway, I stumbled across one of the best music reviews I have read, and after reading, I thought that I should put away my prejudice and simply get this album. A 10 out of 10 on Pitchfork must mean something. If it sucked, then hey, another shit recommendation written off and more fuel to my fire. But, it happened to be a damn good album. I mean, actually good. Great even. It conjures strong emotion. The lyrics are poetic and well-crafted. I didn't know what my ears had been doing for this past quarter century. If The Cure, one of those bands I've heard about for years and years and years are actually good, then what the hell did this mean for my article? Are other bands like this actually good too?

The readjustment of my psychological reality meant that I didn't want to tempt a breakdown and I avoided blowing my expectations with other bands. But I'll tell you this. Never, ever, judge something before you've actually tried it. And "tried" doesn't mean sticking it in the stereo for a minute and flicking through the tracks. No. Savour it. Listen to the words. Put it on your mp3 player for a week. What meaning is trying to be put across? What emotion are they trying to make you feel?

This whole episode proved to be a big readjustment of my thoughts towards this whole thing. Of course, I'm not going to take the latest recommendations as gospel, and I'm not going to accept that all of these bands I've been referring to are actually good like The Cure was.

What I'll take away is more open mind.

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