Wednesday, January 19, 2005

On Music

I was listening to some Beatles recently, the albums Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. What struck me about these was the way they were incredibly experimental, and yet extremely popular. These albums were breaking new musical ground, but rather than doing it in obscure genres, they worked with songs that were easy to get behind, and enjoy, either as just catchy pop songs, or as a work of art. I could almost compare it to someone like Quentin Tarantino, who's making really personal, arty films, that are also easily enjoyable by a mass audience.

When you compare The Beatles to rock today, most notably radio successful rock, what immediately comes to mind is the fact that The Beatles is so much more pop. The most popular bands on the radio are either pop punk, which I just don't enjoy, and certainly doesn't aspire to be anything more than a catchy riff, and a decent chorus, or angry rock, from people like Linkin Park or System of a Down. Angry rock is probably my least favorite genre of music. You're successful musicians, what have you got to be so angry about? But, that's not even my main problem. It's more the fact that it just doesn't sound good. It sounds harsh and nasty, whereas music, even dark songs, should have some beauty in them. So much of radio rock today has no beauty.

The Beatles had really beautiful songs that did rock, but also were successful on an artistic level. They were more ambitious than any popluar band before or since. Which isn't to say that they're the greatest band of all time, though a good argument could be made, it's just that the great music being made today, and what's popular isn't in line.

On a semi-related note, something that really bothers me is that popular music today is basically two genres. We've got rock and we've got hip hop/r&b. I love all kinds of music, and listen to a wide variety of stuff, but I often find myself wanting an even bigger variety. One of my favorite albums of all time is Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, a fabulous album of lounge/trip hop songs that is also completely unique from anything else out there, except perhaps the song "I've Been Thinking" on Automator's new Handsome Boy Modeling School album. That song and the album are an example of an updated version of the sort of songs that were popular in the pre-rock era, singer driven, but surrounded by interesting instruments, just really cool songs, and notable, in the fact that they're not guitar driven. Ever since the creation of rock and roll back in the 1950s, the vast majority of popular music has been guitar driven. Now, there's the exception of hip hop, but that's its own thing, that I'll touch on later.

Because everything is guitar driven, it's tougher for people to adapt to an album like Lovage. It has choruses, but rather than instrumental hooks, it has bass lines, and instrumental samples to construct the melody. Lovage has a level of sonic experimentation that only the best rock can match. You don't know what to expect from song to song because The Automator throws a variety of beats at you. When rock took over, the use of different instruments, other than the guitar, generally fell out of favor.

Now, there is electronic music, and I do love it, I love the combination of electronic with different real instruments the most. Electronic stuff is just another resource, and the best bands take advantage of everything. One of the reasons I love The Polyphonic Spree is the vast variety of instruments they work with. You get a great variety of sound from them, and it makes them really interesting to listen to.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't just rely on guitars, make songs that use all sorts of instruments, and don't be limited by the dictates of a musical genre. The Beatles certainly weren't.

Related Posts
Handsome Boy Modeling School: White People (11/13/2004)
Lovage: Music to Make Love To Your Old Lady By (11/19/2004)

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