Learning More about New Music!

A few weeks ago I ruminated on the difficulty of learning about music (in a dependable way) in an age when we are overwhelmed by both the number of bands available and the media outlets discussing them. It isn’t so much that there are more acts out there (though, there may be) but that we hear about them all. One of our frequent commenters, londongigger, who has a very nice blog where he reviews live shows, noted that in London there are literally thousands of performances a week.

From experience, I know that the scene is similar in places like New York City and Austin, Texas. Learning about new music by seeing the bands becomes a full job, a needle-in-the-haystack obsession. Who has the time (or money and stamina) to keep up with this?

At the same time, another thing I failed to mention is that the digital age has sapped the power of critics and tastemakers. While this is good (freeing up both artists and audiences from certain hegemonies) it has the unintended effect of splintering music experience and reducing the framework provided by a common canon of music. I don’t know if I am lamenting or just observing.

Anyway, writing this blog has both forced me to engage with newer music more fully and to seek out new artists at a faster pace than previous years. Recently, I have been aided in this by a younger friend, The Only D. After I reacted (with some speed) to his last list of suggestions, he hit me up with another.

Here we go.

Band: Walk the Moon
Song: Anna Sun

The Only D says:  These guys are starting to become a little more popular, but right now (video is sponsored by those VEVO asshats) they are that band that has a song everyone recognizes but has no idea who does it (like The Lumineers or Imagine Dragons). It’s pretty good indie-pop, no folk stuff yet. Check out Tightrope as well, it’s the one I seem to hear the most.”

I like the vocals, but the first verse seems to have way too many words in it. The instrumentals seem a little busy (there is a moog mixed in there somewhere, but there is too much sound). Yet, you insist that I listen to another song by the band? “Tightrope” you suggest in another email?

In this song, the lead singer’s vocals are a little too Snow Patrol.  I like the strong bass and rumbling drums but I think that the instrumentals are still a bit too busy. I feel like they’re trying too hard to fill up empty space for fear that the rest of the song doesn’t have enough in it. Not a great motivation. (The Song does get better near the end).
Band: The Lighthouse and the Whaler
Song: White Days

The Only D Says: “Here’s your folk-rock-pop amalgamation. I haven’t listened to that many songs but Venice is another good one.”

Ok, Ok. I like the sound of the band. The bells are a little much and the song seems a bit like a less clever Belle & Sebastian. I do like the pop rock sound, but I can’t get over the feeling of stylistic issues. The singer sounds like he grew up listening to too much Radiohead, Coldplay and the like. His falsetto is a little weak for what he wants to do with it. See, you can have all of the pieces and just not put them together right. To be fair, the song is good enough to listen to the second one you mention.

I like the sparer sound of this song—I know, I know, I always seem to be channeling a “less is more” mantra—the plea “why don’t we all fall in love” is a little lame. I still feel like the vocalist is a bit lost and searching for his own style. I don’t think these songs are enough for me to buy the album. Although, I do find myself interested more in the way the song ends where they seem to be trying less hard and just making music. The string quartet, however? Overdone.
Band: Fun
Song: The Gambler

The Only D says: “So these guys are full on popular right now. Why include them you ask? Because they’re actually a pretty good band, and for a seemingly pure pop group the lyrics don’t completely suck and are nowhere near the infantile mess I hear from most “mainstream” artists. This song is off their first album and is a nice minimalist piece that is completely opposite of the big hits We Are Young and Some Nights (which I can’t get away from it seems).” 

I was a bit hate-obsessed with Fun last year. Yet, the more I hear their music the more I respect the lead singer who exhibits more than a few shades of Freddie Mercury. The music is still a little too theatrical (as if the kids from Rent grew up and had kids and their children formed a band). I suspect that the entire album might be worth listening to. I don’t know if I can bring myself to download it. (Bonus points for French horn and piano in this song).

Is this your generation’s Queen?

Band: The Wombats

Song: 1996

The Only D says: “The Wombats are starting to break out a little after last year, they have one song on the radio and Jump Into the Fog doesn’t suck and is a good place to start. But it’s also the only song that radio will play of them but I think 1996 is better in almost every way. If you want to do a post on how new music makes you feel old, the lyrics to this song will make you a nostalgic mess (if you want to go down that road I’ll find some more songs that are already making me feel old). There’s a bit of an 80’s synth-pop sound in this band but they make it work.”

I like the first few moments of synthesizer a lot.  It reminds me of a heavier version of The Rentals (a 90s band building off of nostalgic sound and formed by the original bassist of Weezer).  The Brit-accented vocals? I don’t love as much. The synthesized drums are a bit harsh on the upper ranges (the levels could be adjusted, as it is I find the sound a little bracing). The heavily-nostalgic sense s of how great things were in the 90s is a little attractive, but it seems a little calculating and flat. When it comes down to it, I don’t find the melody and sound as compelling as it could be. Is the quasi-guitar solo supposed to recall the music of 1996? Otherwise, it seems out of place.
Band: M83
Song: Steve McQueen

The Only D says: “M83 has no doubt broken out and their 2012 album Hurry Up: We’re Dreaming is the reason for itI included them because I don’t know if you know any of their songs and it would be a shame to only listen to their most recent albumThe ubiquitous Midnight City is off that album and so is this song. But Steve McQueen not only has a trippy video, it has a little more to it than its more popular counterpart. Most of the songs off Hurry Up: We’re Dreaming are pretty good (Outro was used in the Cloud Atlas trailer), and there are a few good songs from 2008’s Saturdays=Youth like Couleurs and Skin of the Night.”

Shows how much I know that I don’t know that this band has made it. The beginning of the song just seems like another run of the mill “more sound is a good sound” schtick. I kept waiting for the break, for some quiet to help the noise make sense (you know, like the Pixies taught: loud, quiet, loud again). When it happens, about 12 measures too late, the beat is nice (like some of Dntel’s best). I just can’t help but shake the feeling that this is all about  raves and shit. Dance music, you know.

(The break halfway through the song with fingersnaps is refreshing; that section reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros, or a cross between Sigur Ros and something made for a Microsoft commercial designed to imitate an Apple advertisement. Sorry, I don’t know why I am being so negative. I’m a jerk I guess.)
Band: Puscifer
Song: Momma Sed, Tumbleweed

The Only D says: “You need to give Puscifer a chance. If Fair to Midland wasn’t too loud for you most of Puscifer’s songs shouldn’t be a problem. As you know the Singer from Tool fronts this band, and yes some of it is a little weird but there are some real good songs there, especially on the most recent album Conditions of My Parole (their most “mainstream” album). This song is off one of their first EPs and some of the music on those albums does get a bit…odd. But there is some obvious talent (beyond Maynard James Keenan) and it shows. Other songs to check out if you can get past the name are The Humbling River, Potions: Deliverance Mix, Conditions of my Parole, and Green Valley.”

I don’t know why you think I am such a simpering baby that I can’t handle hard music. Have you not heard of my love and respect for Fugazi? I just think that heavier sounds need to be justified by being matched well to their material and measured against breath and rest to develop more power and tension.

You probably suspect that I hate the name of this band with an absolute passion. But I think that you may have played me all the way by putting this real music after so much synth. Well done, sir.

I like the guitar playing in this first song a lot and the sound of the vocals reminds me for some reason of Alice in Chains (or what would happen if you dropped Alice in Chains a fifth or seventh).  This song is something from Metallica’s smarter cousins during an unplugged performance. I don’t love the song, but I like it enough to listen to the next one.

Ah, my love, the banjo. Well played, again. Here’s something else I like about the band: they’re sound like cowboys in space. I know that sounds lame, but I think that if Joss Whedon had commissioned a decent album (instead of his own song) for the show Firefly, it would have sounded like this (if it were good).

I must confess, I like this song a lot. It builds the crescendo well; they use real instruments well; the vocals are well thought-out and well measured. This is a great piece. (The female singer gets a little bit of a vibrato later on that I don’t love, but the song really grows into the space around it well).
Band: Joe Bonamassa
Song: Driving Towards the Daylight

The Only D Says: “This is off his most recent album and has the most traditional blues-like sound than his other albums. Give him another shot, obviously this guy can play that guitar pretty well, and is the most talented guitar player I’ve ever seen live.”

Look, I am not going to dispute the talent and potential here. My brother and I have many debates about talent vs. actuality when it comes to art. At some level it comes down to taste. For one, I think that this guy needs new producers to keep him from a glitzy saccharine production value that uses too much reverb and too many aesthetics left over from the 80s and 90s. I bet that I would like this guy more live because the sound wouldn’t be so polished. The vocals seem like they could jump out of a thousand other songs—somewhere uncomfortable between Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen.

This song is a little better—the vocals have a little more blues and a little less John Mellancamp to them. JB still seems to me to be a great musician who hasn’t figured out how to be a great artist. That may be harsh, but I feel the same way about someone as famous as Eric Clapton whose work largely seems to be touring through styles and methods without finding a home. This song seems like it is also destined to be the soundtrack of a criminal-centered cable drama.

What about you, my brother? Hear anything you like?

7 comments on “Learning More about New Music!

  1. Another J says:

    I’ve only heard a few songs by M83, but I cannot listen to “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” without smiling. It might just be a little kid talking but it could also be a little kid talking after getting into the medicine cabinet. It’s that conflict that drives the song. http://hypem.com/track/1e5ns/M83+-+Raconte-Moi+Une+Histoire

  2. theelderj says:

    The Only D keeps on me about M83. I think I need to give them a chance to be fair; but I have had no time because I have been listening to everything put out by frightened rabbit!

    (thanks to you?)

    I asked about Lord Huron in a tweet. Did you ever check them out?

    • Another J says:

      Yes, thanks to me. And I’m expecting a comprehensive review of their whole catalog soon.

      I haven’t listened to Lord Huron yet, but will soon. I also should check out more from M83 because they seem to be highly regarded by many people.

  3. […] I didn’t know about before. The overall effect has been salutary: I have discovered more new music I like since we started the blog than in the five previous years. And, I am starting to get worried […]

  4. […] another week, another list of songs from the Only D. He got lazy this week (I could say he had a ‘weak week’, but that would be a lame pun) and […]

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  6. […] out this interview with a drummer from one of the most unique bands in music today (Sigur Ros). I haven't talked enough about how much I like this band, but maybe now I'll get around to it. […]

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