JAMES vs YOUR PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS
If I can be so bold for a moment here…what does the term “Indie Rock” really mean? To be technical, one would have to say that it is a genre of music composed of bands that aren’t bound by a record label and produce and/or distribute their own albums. However, I find myself bandying this term about quite loosely. In fact, when I attribute it to a band or act or side project (there I go lapsing into these terms again), I am mainly concerned with their sound. I have no idea what label they are on. I know if I was a real “music fan” I would research endlessly and memorize this information ruthlessly. Yet I don’t, and my enjoyment level hovers in a comfortable homeostasis of ignorance/satisfaction. Should I feel guilty? I think not.
This brings up the question: What precise role does “research” have in the quality of music? When and why did researching music assume the significant role it possesses amongst the many heads of the beast known as “proper musical appreciation?” As for when, one could make the case that researching music has been around on some level or not since the beginning. However, in the past, when bands were “discovered,” that meant they had finally made it to “the show.” They had “blown up,” “struck it rich,” or become “the ballin’-ist sh*t ever.”
At the same time, the success of one band (or chain of bands) is mostly dependant on the ebb and flow of major label patronage and exposure. And thus enters the growing minority of “researched” music fans. It seems there is a group forming, gaining support and membership every passing Tuesday, which seeks to “discover” bands on a much more individual level. They seek out these unique, lower key acts and claim them as their own. In fact, it oftentimes seems that these support groups dissolve if too many people join in the fun. This is not always the case but it is but one phenomenon apparent amidst this well-read subculture of appreciation. So one could conclude that this trend (an ironic term, I know), can be classified as the reaction to the ever-apparent overbearing nature of record labels. In other words, the determining of what is “good” and “popular” by the mass media (major record labels in this instance) has led to a growing sense of dissatisfaction amongst the listeners/viewers/readers. This minority, and it is most definitely a minority, in constantly involved in the cyclical process of determining what is “good” for themselves. The manifestation of this in the music industry, again, is the “anti-discovery” apparent in the subcultures of music. The crux of the matter, however, lies in the fact that these bands are hunted down and sought out with the assumption of fans and bands alike that “blowing up” is not the priority. But what is?
What is the criterion of a “good” band or album? What are they appreciated for? What is the acquired taste necessary to turn bitter into sweet? Is it talent? Possibly, but you can’t look someone in the face and tell them that Slash or Axel Rose from “Guns and Roses” weren’t good at what they did. Standard snob response: “They sound like everyone else at that time.” Yes, they did. But they were also good at what they did. Granted, their priorities in making music are most certainly open for interpretation, but they were talented nonetheless. This leads us to our first tangible basis for separating the sheep from the goats: intention. A band with chivalrous musical intent is most certainly more appealing to fans who consider themselves the guardians of sensible musical appreciation. But someone with good intentions who rubs a fret-board with a washcloth can’t really be prized. In other words, intent alone does not suffice. Then again, the rebuttal “So-and-so sounds like bands x, y, and z” is not necessarily directed at questions of talent. Most likely this rebuttal is used to redirect attention from measuring pure talent to the usage of said talent.
In other words, it’s not what you have; it’s what you do with it. Is band X using their skills to imitate or initiate? The “flavor” of a band should be multilayered. There should be some sort of “musical aftertaste.” The phrase I often hear, when confronted with a new band or act just imported from the outer limits of convention, is “Listen to these guys. You may not like it at first, but give it a shot.” This effort to see what is not immediately apparent is not exclusive to “Indie Rock” or the “well-read subculture” of music. This same effort is apparent in everything from wine to Zen gardening. It is a simple human compulsion. The urge to appreciate is universal and manifests in innumerable forms. There is a well-read subculture for everything that demands appreciation.
In short, the ability of a band to separate themselves from their peers in someway through the layering of intention and talent is another aspect of the criteria. A band’s desire to progress the sound of the music they champion, combined with the skills necessary to accomplish this goal, results in an album with more than one dimension. It creates an album that demands to be listened to in more than one way. This replay value, this fuel for thought and relation, adds the last ingredient to create the elusive “good” album. Thusly, the ability to create numerous “good” albums is what separates a band and makes them “good.” This couples with the avid desire of the fan base to seek out and appreciate such an effort. This intersection, of the effort on the part of the band to forge a new sound and the desire of the listener to seek out such an effort, is what differentiates this well-read subculture from the rest of the industry.
In the end however, one can really only be so definitive about a subject like this. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), “good” is relative. Your taste is your own and to a major degree you have little control over it. Unless you find it terribly interesting and fulfilling to cultivating your taste, this entire dialogue really has no relevance. Also, with as much music as I listen to, I still have a large pile of guilty pleasures that hold their own in the arenas of satisfaction. At the end of the day, it’s really about whether you find more worth in the journey or the destination. There is plenty to be had in both corners, so enjoy. In this aspect you can have your cake and eat it too.
NOTE: Ok, ok, so it's not a review. But open your mind you damned hippies! The above introspection into the core of how and why people listen to what they listen to is brought to you by James Keough. JK is the creator of the (possibly defunct) "Everyman Journal" and is one half of the consistently excelent philadelphia AM radio program "GET AWESOME". Also, I feel it is my duty to point out that the title was my idea not his, and that he cencored himself without me even asking! How very capital!
This marks the end of an inconventional week. Regular old reviews will return later this week.