Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 in music

Now is the time of year when people publish summing up stories. The Wall Street Journal has one on the music of 2011 here. I like to check into popular music from time to time because sometimes you find some really good stuff. So I started reading this article with interest, hoping to discover some interesting music. Lucinda Williams? I tried out a couple of songs, but really? Same old country blues. I didn't hear one thing that was interesting.

Next, Paul Simon. He's done a lot of good things over the years and the song "So Beautiful So What" isn't bad. But has he completely given up on harmony? I mean the musical content of this song is a single lick that never changes and the contrasting chorus simply consists in stopping the lick briefly. The harmony never changes.

Next, Elbow's album Build a Rocket Boys!

The previews are perfect for my purposes because I just want to see if there is something going on. They have the flattened affect that so many of the new bands seem to have. But some interesting things for sure. For one thing, they seem to have more than just one sound. And there are references to other musical styles. Sometimes a kind of lyrical hymn-like quality. Occasionally a melody. Worth some investigation...

Next, Anna Calvi.

Now this I liked! Some passion, some harmony and the music had some real direction. And these things are not unrelated... Next, Joy Formidable, The Big Roar. The first half of the song sounds like The English Beat with a ska-like riff. The second half seems to have succumbed to the tedious influence of Radiohead.

Next, an interesting cross-cultural collaboration: Vincent Segal and Ballak√© Sissoko's "Chamber Music" 

Now this is pretty nice: subtle, restrained and with a floating charm. Not terribly common qualities these days! How about someone else from Mali? The guitarist Vieux Farka Tour√©.

At first this reminded me of the "high-life" music of King Sunny Ade, but more one dimensional. By three minutes in I was really longing for something to happen. But it never did. What King Sunny Ade had was a spectacular rhythm section backing him up:

The next collection in the article contains the work of "high-profile rappers" so I think I will stop right there and let you go on and check out the others for yourself. I want to mention that the original article itself is rather odd, though. It's not a traditional puff piece which is solely to promote a single artist. It is not a work of music criticism as it contains not a single critical comment. What it is, is a kind of rhapsody of purple prose glorifying everything in sight. You would almost think that 2011 was the greatest year in music since 1965. Or 1721. The writer sounds as if he just loves everything. Everything is an "absolute delight". I don't know what to think of that. How can everything be an absolute delight? It can't, of course. So how does he sort out the more absolutely delightful from the less absolutely delightful? 


Maury said...

They have the flattened affect that so many of the new bands seem to have.

I have been interested in the general change of pop singing over the decades from the boisterous and melodic vocals of the 60s and 70s to the progressively flatter more affectless vocals more lately in vogue. Sometimes the vocals are not so much affectless as almost deliberately amateurish. This does not apply to the top 40 generic pop singers appealing to teenagers mostly, just what used to be alternative pop.

Perhaps Astrud Gilberto is the most influential pop singer of our era. Some noteworthy affectless singing is by the guitarist dba Durutti Column. There was also Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine who was very eerie in that style. There have been many others.

I have asked younger people why these types of singers seem so popular. Through repeated surveys it does seem that many younger people have an aversion to anything that seems too professional. So even non professional singers who have good voices and can sing accurately still qualify as professional singers in their view. That also seems to apply to some extent to instrumentalists. There is more fascination with chords and riffs than sustained melodies/solos.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hmm, that's interesting and somewhat depressing.