Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mike, I knew you would fit right in. So all that being said, I think it's been a strange decade of music, in terms of pop history....I guess the major trend I'm hearing is the continuation and further development of lo-fi (which ties into fewer barriers to making music), and an even stronger return to melody and psych-pop and psych-folk music, often with an undercurrent of sixties song stylings.

And yes, I do fundamentally believe that pop (or folk-based rather than compositional) music is ephemeral. For me, if one is writing the history of music I think it gets a fairly brief chapter. Not to downplay its importance to us (obviously we adore the stuff) or its social power, which is where I think it is most meaningful.

Derek - where are you?

Kyle, re Pandora, you're right that I must have a US-based IP address at BMO. Strange indeed. And too bad for the rest of you, as it's a fantastic on-line service.

In terms of new (or newly discovered) music, I've found a few interesting items on emusic in recent weeks. On the indy-psych-folk front, I'm enjoying the Bo Iver disk (thanks Kyle), and also am liking Phoenix Foundation (from 06). More on the rock side, the Foundry Field Recordings, New Ruins (which Kyle - I think - put on a mix for me previously), The Whigs, and Maritime deserve a listen, and on the light side of pop, the Headlights, Liam Finn, and Oscar winner Glenn Hansard's record all sound worthwhile on the first couple of listens. On the jazz front, I unearthed a couple of great old George Wallington disks, plus a plethora of Joe Henderson (post Blue Note) which I'd never looked into before, and most intriguingly, a cool jazz fusion record by samba jazz guitarist Luiz Bonfa, who unexpectedly rocks out with a large group of fusion stars (Stanley Clarke, Randy Brecker, many others) on a 1973 record "Jacaranda". I guess I'm warming up to fusion, because I quite like this.

Monday, February 25, 2008

As to the role of the music critic, I've never spent too much time reading critic's reviews anyway. I like Abraham Lincoln's approach to reviewing, which was, "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like". What I've always found more useful was a trusted source - somebody whose tastes I knew and respected who could point me in the right direction. I've had several such friends over the years, the most long-standing and prolific of which has been Brian. There is no question that the Internet makes it possible for such people to spread their advice more readily, but it also creates a real challenge in sorting out the good information from the bad (the good being those people with whom I generally agree, and the bad being everybody else).

As for the "next great thing", I don't see a problem there. There is a natural evolution that goes on all the time as artists inspire each other. You couldn't keep it static if you tried. The challenge from my perspective is to find the artists that are creating things that I like amidst the enormous volume of stuff that is out there. is a great example - I've never heard of most of the bands there, and I don't have time to sample them all. I do believe that the big companies played a role in this with their enormous marketing budgets. They helped artists get exposure and find their audience, but their work was limited to a relatively small number of carefully chosen artists. And they won't go away - regardless of how technology empowers independent musicians to create and release music, it will still be profitable for companies with bigger budgets to create and promote pop stars.

I take umbrage at your suggestion that pop music is ephemeral. Going back to Kyle's point of the subjectivity of music, on what basis can you condemn such an enormous volume and variety of music? Within the banner of pop music there is stunning musicianship, deeply insightful commentary, innovative arrangement and production - and a whole lot of drivel, of course. But what makes music great? I have a friend who is into superb acoustic guitar playing, and who sends me links like this. Jaw-droppingly good playing, but I don't have any desire to sit and listen to a whole album of it. Is that superior in some fundamental way to "Don't Wait for Tom", which is the song that most recently really got me going? Some of this pop music is going to last for ever (or at least for as long as people are recording and saving music).

Finally, the value of the album. I think that a song in isolation is more limited than a song in the context of a larger work. Within the context of that larger work, the artist can explore musical and lyrical themes more effectively. It doesn't have to be an "album" of course, and I think that we'll see more experementation with form and structure in the future. And with that, I must go and cook dinner....
Mike - welcome to the blog! And look at you, already linking in web articles on your first post. That took Stuart and me seven years to learn.

Good articles on rev share and technology, and the shape shifting that's going on in the industry. Personally I think it's nonsense to think that the role of the music critic is on the wane; if anything, (to your point Kyle) with the dispersion of music that's happened with the veritable collapse and therefore influence of the traditional recording industry, and the availability of technology to record and distribute music, there is an enhanced role for someone to navigate you through all of the (inevitable) dreck. Let's not confuse the ability to post an opinion on the web with a compelling discussion of music's merits. If there is no value, then why the rise in popularity of Pitchfork. And let's face it, in the end the economics for this sort of endeavour justify themselves or they don't.

And in a way, this leads to my next's interesting that we're all talking in negatives (ie what didn't happen this decade, what we don't see trend wise), as if that is a good thing. Playing the devil's advocate for the moment, where is the momentum to change music, move it forward, find the next great thing? And while I am as small a fan of traditional record company oligopolies as anybody you know, is there a case to be made that their tight-fisted control of the role of hitmaker helped pop music? They had programs to "develop" artists, push them for bigger and greater (mostly measured in sales, I grant you), and there was a holy grail (mostly measured in dollars) that successful artists could strive for. Many of these things are changing and will continue to change in the new world.

Keeping in mind that pop music is, in my view, a pretty ephemeral (read:minor) genre in any big scheme discussion of music (though we love it dearly), the question is, where are we headed? Is the impact of the collapsing music company infrastructure still playing out, and will it lead to better music, more excitement, through access on all fronts (to create, distribute, sample, buy), or will a "random" factor dominate and render the whole thing listless. I hear an element of this comment in all of your synopses of the decade so far, and crystal balls into the future.

This ties into the point about albums versus singles. Albums as an art form have only really existed since the fifties (and early on, serious albums were really only made in jazz music) and who's to say that it is a more exalted form of pop music? Surely with the breaking up of record labels there's an opportunity to re-consider the standard tried-and-ture packaging of songs as well? The next generation likely won't care as much, I can tell you that.

I'll lob this one out and write a bit more later.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Welcome, Mike. Believe it or not, your first of what I hope will be many posts already puts you at the top of the list of most frequent posters at this site. Well done!

I'm not sure if the Canadian songwriters association thought through their proposal thoroughly (3 points for alliteration). I saw one of its members being interviewed on CTV a few days ago and he seemed pretty vague about the mechanisms for distributing revenue based on what's being traded/downloaded online. I'm guessing the pool of money will be large enough, given the number of internet subscriptions across the country but I'm not sure they're able to adequately address the other questions you've raised. Also, would we have to add another $5-10 per month to compensate artists from other countries? Would Sympatico/Rogers/Shaw etc. customers who don't download music be willing to fork out another $60+ annually for services they don't use?
Will be interesting to see if this proposal goes anywhere...I suspect it will die a quiet death, at least for the next year or so.

As for the trend towards single downloads...yeah I'm seeing that happening as well. I've kind of resisted it myself (90 emusic monthly downloads--older, grandfathered plan--makes it easy for me to just take the whole album) but cherry picking songs here and there seems to be the order of the day. I haven't noticed a shift on the part of artists to abandon the album concept, at least not yet, or not for the bands to whom I listen. But it may be coming....

I'm sensing you think this is a bad thing, Mike, and I agree. Even though I enjoy and use the shuffle feature, especially when on the go, there's nothing more satisfying than relaxing at home and listening to an album in its entirely. Often the in-between, non-hit tracks are more interesting than the big singles. With a lot of the albums from emusic, I don't even know what songs are the 'hits' until 3 or 4 listens. Case in point, the Bon Iver disc, which I heard the first time yesterday while reading the paper. Reminiscent of Sparklehorse and Baxter Drury, perhaps with a simpler, traditional folk-rock arrangement, each new track offers variations on a dreamy, intimate space, with gentle guitar strumming, sweet falsetto harmonies, the odd violin serving as constants. While I did sample a few tracks before getting the whole thing, I don't think a few tracks on their own would have been as enjoyable.

Another recently available disc on emusic, that I think I mentioned in a previous post, is Atlas Sound's Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel , which I previewed at Soundscapes on Friday. For those of you who like Panda Bear, this should scratch you where you itch.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hello all. My good friend and perennial hockey pool adversary Brian invited me to join this group, and I’m delighted to be here. Kyle submitted a one-liner last week about the songwriter’s association proposal of a monthly music fee which I think bears further discussion – and which ties into the other theme of just-what-is-the-personality-of-the-decade. I think that one of the big trends in music at the turn of the century (“the aughts”?) is the trend away from album-oriented music consumption to singles-oriented music consumption. With so many people listening to music on mp3 players in shuffle mode, I think the notion of the album is in danger of disappearing. But back to the proposed fee - I currently pay $10 per month on emusic for 40 songs, which I consider to be good value. But I’m not willing to pay $1 per song in general – that strikes me as too much. $5 per month for all you can eat seems too little; how can that approach generate enough money to sufficiently compensate everyone involved? And which artists will be compensated? Will this cover only Canadian artists, with other additional fees later imposed for international artists? How about indie bands – will their music be tracked and compensated from the same pool of funds? The existing system for calculating and sharing revenues is pretty complicated, and not entirely equitable. It should be possible to create something simpler and fairer online, but it will probably also be hard to monitor and maintain it because the technology changes so rapidly.

Friday, February 22, 2008

An interesting essay that I came across last night, arguing for the end of pop music critics. Much food for thought. I actually should get some work done today so I'll add my comments next week but thought it would be an interesting read for you all since the essay touches on what we do here (blogging about music) and what we like to do elsewhere (read music reviews).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

i agree with stuart agreeing with me. had also forgotten about the trend for bands like the white stripes and led zeppelin to return to rootsier fare, at least in collaboration w/ acclaimed country singers from years gone by (in the case of the loretta lynn project) and the present (allison kraus album). also hadn't considered the caribou disc, which was one of my faves from last year. hopefully no one tries to bandy about terms like 'folktronica'.

also, in an effort to spur more activity/posting here, i've decided to try to include regular (daily may be too much of a promise) links to free music. today's freebie is a complilation from the adult-cartoon network 'adult swim', featuring bands like tv on the radio, broken social scene, adobi seksu and (egads) les savy fav.
I agree w Kyle that its a little difficult and maybe "what its not" helps... I also think it is very difficult to describe a style or intellectual movement or direction, which one is actually in it...I find you really need to distence yourself from something to see it clearly, so this discussion is perhaps premature, however that said , I see there is a return to folk influences and analogue like realness in music (of course I may be reading "the rest is noise" to much) , but if you look at that whole folk sych movement and even Carabou returning to natural sounds and instrumentation... Fiest with a world music type of sound....also the simple rock realness of the strokes, the white stripes going back to rural blues influences, led zepplin returning to critical aclaim...etc,...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

btw...interesting idea from the songwriter's association of canada on a monthly music fee....i'm on board....
first of all, how is it that you are listening to pandora? are RBC's server's located in the US? has a canadian version of the site been created (if so, is not the correct url, as it leads to an online fiction store)? when i try to connect to their site, i get this message.

as to your questions, hard to say how i'd define this decade, or even what i'd call it. the 'zeros' is slightly preferable to the 'two thousands', but both don't seem a little awkward. what's really defined the decade for me is the increasing number of releases each year, in an expanding number of genres and sub-genres, that make it extremely difficult to identify a broad trend. the popular music scene is diversifying more each week, it seems. there have been cross-over artists, as there always are, Feist and Kanye West are two that come to mind for this decade, but these seem fewer than in the past.

maybe the best way to proceed is to figure out what this decade definitely isn't about and that is 'modern rock' or any of the 'grunge'-like or -lite sound that typified the 1990s. musical acts that came to prominence during the last decade have forged a new sound with their releases of the last 8 years, either by embracing electronic sampling and collage (radiohead, the flaming lips) or by adopting a more acoustic singer-songwriting direction (beck). other than coldplay, i can't think of a really big name alt rock band of this decade, and i'd say they've pretty much faded from view over the last couple of years. does anybody give a shit about the red hot chili peppers or the latest chris cornell or billy corgan side project? hard to even find in in the mini-story ap/reuters section of arts pages these days (though to be fair, they may be getting bumped by important updates on the downward trajections of ladies winehouse and spears).

the only trends i'm noticing in my own music purchases over the last couple of years are:

-25% hip hop and electronica
-25% jazz and classical
-25% folk-influenced acoustic guitar based music
-25% all other electric guitar indie music

but i'm not sure that i'd be willing to extrapolate a trend from my own experiences.

as for your earlier question regarding 2008 releases, i've been enjoying:

-There Will Be Blood soundtrack
-Adele - 19 - bit too much of the same throughout but strong arrangements, vocals
-Dengue Fever - Venus on Earth - kind of growing on me

Has anybody purchased the new British Sea Power album? If so, is it worthy of the critical praise?

Update [2:50pm] For all you emusic subscribers out there, they have a pretty good feature on some of the albums that were released yesterday (February 19th), with some interesting sounding bands to whom I've yet to listen. Downloaded the Raveonettes but will have to wait until March and my download refresh to get the others. Atlas Sound, No Kids, Ben Benjamin, Pete & the Pirates, Headlights, and Bon Iver contain some interesting tracks.

Friday, February 15, 2008

And another thought, likely to spark an equal amount of activity:

It's 2008 now, less than two years from the end of the decade and the beginning of the next one. This one has gone by especially quickly, for me.

Musically we tend to group styles and memories into decades - one thinks of the 90's very differently from the 80's, for example - and the continuum of time is thus organized into discrete, framed periods. Partially this is due to writers, critics, historians, etc, partially this is just the way the human brain works.

And so my questions are these - how will we look back at the muic of the "0's" the "noughts"? How will it be summarized? What will be its top few defining musical moments? And who will emerge to lead music into the 10's?

As an aside, I'm listening to Pandora (I'm sure you all know this on-line "music genome" site, but if you don't it is amazing for programming music while you, and I'm running a Hayden mix in honour of my question...since he's a guy who has straddled the last two decades, though still sounds very "90's" to me (which means what?). Anyway, I'm getting a nice mix of mid-late 90's sounds, and loving it in a largely nostalgiac way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Time for a new blog trail: What's been purchased or downloaded since 08 kicked off that you like or think you might like?