Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cautionary Advice and Musical Superlatives for 2015

Don't Mask Laziness With Blanket Judgments

More times than I care to admit in the past year, I’ve heard the oft-repeated comment that goes something like this, “There hasn’t been any good music since __(enter preferred year/decade here)___.”

What aggravates me about this comment is that it can generally be translated thusly: “I’m too f*&king lazy to actually seek out new music. I don’t have time to give it my attention. And I don’t like the predictable monotonous tripe that shows up on whatever radio station my friends or kids listen to. So I'll just say it all sucks. That takes me off the hook.”

If you don’t have the time or inclination to seek out good new music, I dig it. Life moves pretty fast*, and the older we get, the harder it is to find time to carve out for something most people think of as a good distraction while they’re ironing or driving. But please, pretty please do me a favor. If you don’t actively seek out new music, quit knocking it, because disguising your ignorance under the veneer of musical snobbery is lazy and insulting. It's childish. It's like when my children say they've lost something and can't find it, and they're crying or fighting back tears from having looked so hard, but it only takes a parent 20-30 seconds to find it. Because we know our kids, and we know where to look, and we don't give up. Sometimes they haven't quite learned how to look hard for something.

With music in the 21st Century, sometimes you gotta look really hard. It takes effort. The halcyon days of MTV Top 20 Countdown and SPIN magazine being “hip” are long gone. But trust me, if you want to find good music, it's out there, and it's awesome.

If my musical yearbook were to be published at the end of December, here would be my Sonic Superlatives for 2015. But first, an introductory thought.
Best Thief/Genius Piggyback Move:
Ryan Adams - 1989

Best Comeback:
Veruca Salt

Bastard Child of the Replacements + Sugar:
Beach Slang

Best at Treading Water:
TIE - Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves

People Who Can (at Times) Do the Isbell Thing As Well As Isbell:
Will Hoge, Josh Ritter
Most Buyer’s Remorse:
Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect

Solid Effort... Yet Still Disappointing:
Coheed & Cambria - The Color Before the Sun

Most Likely to Be Praised for Doing Absolutely Nothing Different Now Than in 1977:
Jeff Lynne

Freakiest Pop Chanteuse:
Florence (of + the Machine)

Freakiest Child of Florence Not Actually Born to Florence:
Ryn Weaver

Most Likely to Be Florence’s Mother:
Kate Bush

Best Canned Predictable Overproduced Pop Song:
Fight Song - Rachel Platten

Adele Before There Was Adele:
Lionel Richie

Chvrches - Open Every EyeThe band’s sophomore effort proves that their embrace of the synthesized pop and alternative music of the 1980s is genuine and more than mere fad. That lead singer Lauren Mayberry has proven herself to be an aggressively opinionated woman who doesn’t much care what it does to their “brand” makes me respect them even more… even if it also seems inevitable that their days as a band are numbered.

James Bay - Chaos and the CalmAlso my “Biggest Surprise of the Year,” Bay’s album received mixed critical reviews because it isn’t out there breaking new ground. But what if we’re not always looking for music that breaks new ground? What if we’re looking for something that can take the familiar but manage to take it on a few new twists and turns? Nothing wild. It’s like meeting someone you’ve never met who reminds you of your best friends, and you know you’ll get along just swell. Bay’s album is replete with up-tempo (“Get Out While You Can,” “Hold Back the River,” “Best Fake Smile”) and crooning hits (“Scars,” “Incomplete”) worth heavy repetition.

Josh Ritter - Sermon on the RocksTwo weeks after I bought this album, it was nowhere near my favorite album of the year. The lyrics, like most of Ritter’s music, are packed in. The words pour out at an almost rap-like pace, and it can be very difficult to find the time and attention necessary (see my initial comments) to appreciate what’s going on. And what’s going on is two things. First, it’s Ritter’s most up-tempo album ever. Second, it’s the closest thing I might ever find to The Perfect Christian Album. Which is to say it spends most of its time shining a harsh, critical, damning light on how we seem to be approaching our Bibles lately. But it’s also the kind of light one can only shine with a healthy history -- and love -- for the subject matter and the people in question. Many Christian types will find his songs offensive, insulting. Perhaps they should. But those who truly listen will hear someone who shares our frustrations and wonders where we went wrong and how the frick we might be able to get back on track.

* -- Life moves so fast that 2016 will be the 30th Anniversary of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

1 comment:

Bob said...

Dillow made me listen to that Josh Ritter. It is quite affecting.