Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 13-20:I Believe in Music

After this past week, I can safely say that I am optimistic about the music industry. But it didn't start out that well.

On Sunday, with a lack of anything else on the television, I settled in to watch the Grammy awards, the music industry's annual back-patting session. With over 100 awards given out, but only ten given out on the broadcast, the show was built around a showcase of today's best music talent. As I was watching, I kept thinking, "if this is the best the music industry has to offer, we're fucked."

Throughout the show, viewers were bombarded by artists who are virtually interchangeable from each other. Their voices are fed through a computer program to ensure note perfect vocals, at the cost of sounding robotic.  They were wearing clothes that nobody would wear outside of a fashion show runway. The music was composed around synthesized beats and samples. Falsified positive emotions. It was all the same, from Lady Gaga to Rihanna.

Country music does not fare much better. Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," the big winner of the night, is a song destined to be a first dance for married couples for the next decade. Just hearing the chorus sends me running for cover.  It also disappoints me that a genre once known for accepting performers who did not quite fit the standard of beauty put out by popular music, seems to have been taken over by the same pop music factory. It's all perky blondes with so-so voices, mixed with the Los Angeles interpretation of down-home heartland charm ('House that built me,' I'm looking in your direction here). Trisha Yearwood, possessor of one of the finest voices in country music, would not even get a look today. (They'd say "She's too fat...Who'd want to have sex with her her?)

Despite the negative introduction,  there were several performances that made me optimistic for the future of the music industry going ahead.

Here's what stood out:
-The Aretha Tribute that started the show was very well done. Jennifer Hudson again showed why she is one of the best musicians to ever come out of American Idol. Not bad for someone who finished SEVENTH.

Christina Aguleira, however, continues her year of bad luck. Her GaGa ripoff makeover flopped, her album was disappointing in sales, Burlesque bombed, her tour had to be cancelled, she flubbed the national anthem in front of 100 million people, and fell over after this performance. She's been playing catch-up for a decade now, relying too much on her looks rather than her actual ability to sing, and it seems to be getting to her. At this rate, it won't be long until she's performing on the casino circuit or develops a drinking problem.

-Bruno Mars, B.O.B., and Janelle Monae were the first performance of the night, and they gave it their all. Granted, B.O.B. was sort of "there", but Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae more than made up for his shortcomings.  Monae in particular carried herself like a true rock star, crowd-surfing as she performed her hit "Cold War." She gave the evening a good boost of energy. Here's hoping for more from her.  Mars has a nice voice, and R&B is in need of a new young star ever since Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna.

-I was torn on Muse performing. On one hand, they were one of two bands there that could be classed as rock. On the other hand, I thought The Resistance was one of their weaker albums. But, they were pretty good here, performing the only good song off that album. And Matthew had a double guitar, which automatically makes him cool in my books. But, whoever came up with the idea of adding gimmicks to the performance, in this case, some anarchists rushing the stage and smashing things, needs to be fired. It's distracting to people at home, and comes off as tacky.
-Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan also had a great performance. Mumford and sons perform good folk rock that can appeal to a variety of listeners, and the Avett Brothers made a fan out of me. Seeing both of the bands perform behind a bonafide music legend was also really cool, and you can tell that these guys were excited to be on the stage with Dylan as he performed Maggie's Farm. However, any voice Dylan had before is gone, reduced to a Tom Waits-esque growl.  The performance was great, and after Arcade Fire's performance, the best of the night.

-Mick Jagger performed for the first time ever at the Grammy's, doing a tribute to the late Solomon Burke, and showed everyone why he is one of the best front men in rock and roll.  His showmanship made all these young stars look second rate. He really is on another level.

-I really tuned in to see Arcade Fire perform for the first time at the Grammy's, and they kept me waiting. Fortunately, they did not disappoint. They livened up a lethargic show when they performed "Month of May," probably the most rocking track on The Suburbs. Best performance of the night, and hopefully, they won over some new fans.

On the topic of Arcade Fire, I was rooting for them to win Album of the Year, but was expecting Lady Antebellum to take it. I was shocked when Arcade Fire won the award. and so were thousands of viewers, who took to Facebook and Twitter to share their disgust. This site catalogued some of the best responses. It's amazing to think how many people thought the band was named "The Suburbs."

There has also been a backlash brewing among the underground community towards Arcade Fire, claiming that they sold out. There is nothing I hate more than that term. just because a band or artist reaches a wider audience doesn't mean they have sold out. To me, the term means that you sacrifice your principles in order to make money. Shouldn't you want a band to be successful, and not playing the same shows in front of the same people? Sure you may feel something special, but this special feeling doesn't pay the gas money for these bands. People who label anything underground that becomes popular as selling out are not real fans of music.

Though, I'm really happy that arcade fire won, and you could tell they were overjoyed as they closed the show. The Grammy's get it right once in a while.


This week continued with the announce that Radiohead would be releasing their new album The King of Limbs digitally that Saturday, later bumping it a day early. Now here is a band that I used to loathe when I was a teenager, mostly because i thought they were boring. Though my opinion changed when I started volunteering at CKUW around the time In Rainbows was released. This album was not released with the pay what you want model that In Rainbows used. you want the album digitally? $9 for MP3, $14 for WAV. i went MP3.

I read a lot of mixed opinions across the internet. I think that people put this album on a pedastal and as a result, they were disappointed. It is not a game changer like previous albums were, but it is still very good. Musically, it reminds me a lot of Kid A, with some added influence from Thom yorke's solo recordings and In Rainbows: it is a challenging listen, built around electronics and minimal guitar. But, you spend some time with it, and songs start to grow on you. The album feels a lot like a concept album about the relationship between technology and the natural world. If you listen to it, you will understand what I mean.

Again, it's a very good album, but it's not for everyone. Choice tracks: "Morning Mr. Magpie", "Lotus Flower", "Give Up the Ghost", and "Seperator."

Though I'm still trying to figure out what exactly a "newspaper" album is...

In case you are wondering, here is how I'd rank Radiohead's albums right now.

1. OK Computer
2. In Rainbows
3. The Bends (very underrated)
4. Kid A
5. The King of Limbs
6. Hail to the Thief
7. Amnesiac
8. Pablo Honey


Maybe we are at a cultural shift.  Maybe last week was the start of something. It's happened before; an era where art triumphs over commerce. These next few years will be interesting to watch.

But, as long as there are artists who continue to make good music, challenge the conventions of their genres, and get rewarded for it, I will always believe in music.

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