The Sound of Modern Music

Do you get fed up of hearing people say things like; “There’s no good music being made anymore.”?

I read something by a songwriter who was of the opinion that if you’re one of these people who thinks that music is over, or that there was some golden era that has been and things aren’t as good as they were then, you’re just living in a time-warp, stuck in the past, and your songwriting, art etc will reflect this.

If you have your blinkers on your style of writing will be dated, and not in a timeless way.

This idea both intrigues me, and resonates as having a lot of truth to it. you don’t hear anyone who makes their living as a musician today saying that ‘there’s nothing good anymore’.

It’s both defeatist and lazy.

Many people gravitate to music of certain eras, each formed usually by their own preferences and based around what hit them during their formative musical years, usually sometime between their early teens and up to their mid-20s – as this is when you are exposed to things for the first time, with fresh ears.

For example someone growing up in the 60s and never listening to music that was made after 1979.

As someone who views the past, present and future as one inseparable whole, I’ve never really bought into this idea that there has ever been, or will be a golden age of anything.

The point of this preamble is that in terms of view of craft, business, and competition, I think it is important to stay abreast of anything that’s going on. As a matter of military preparation, I need to know what’s going on.

It’s no good to say “everything sucks nowadays. No good music is being made…” unless you’ve gone out of your way to research and hunt down every possible musical avenue available and found nothing at all that you like.

So…..

I’m reaching out and asking for musical recommendations from the last decade or so.

  • Which bands have drawn a line in the sand between them and the past to any notable degree?
  • Which bands have done something that seems new?
  • Who has marked a turning point in modern song construction/production?
  • What are the greatest songs of the last decade by new acts?
  • What are the greatest albums of the last decade by new acts?
  • Is there anyone who has made some leap forward with music?
  • Who has really dug deep and found something dark and magical and unexpected?

For the sake of keeping on point I’m mostly interested in bands who are ‘new’ in the sense that they haven’t had anything released prior to the late 90s, but I’m always interested in musical recommendations generally.

I’ve been doing research of my own, and checking out bands that are really big but who I haven’t really listened to etc

There’s a beautiful saying:

“Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even for bands I don’t like, I’d like to know what people think is special and noteworthy about them.

So what do I need to hear?

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6 Responses to “The Sound of Modern Music”

  1. I still say that LEN’s Can’t Stop The Bumrush is stupidly underrated, eclectic and just a great listen all the way through. I also think Mark Ronson’s arrangements for some songs are great but i know you’re going to hate me saying that. For me, there are also genre-mixing bands like sonic boom 6/skindred/random hand/dirty revolution who bring something a little new to music. King Blus has introduced some of the great lyrical stylings of Itch but unfortunately i feel their music has gone a little downhill. Save The World, Get The Girl is a great album to listen to if you like bit of ska, punk and Streets-like chill out. I cant really think of anything else although im sure ive thought of people before.

  2. Well I can give you the Jazz slice.

    The most innovative take on jazz I’ve seen to date is this, beatjazz http://www.ted.com/talks/onyx_ashanti_this_is_beatjazz.html

    The musicians who are really pushing the confines of melodic structure would be Pat Metheny, Brad Meldau and Joshua Redman. Some amazing new ideas have come out of these career musicians.

    For rhythmic I would look to Brian Blade http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ICJUFOJa2g. But in honesty almost any Jazz drummer from the last 70 years will be playing more interesting rhythms than those found in the mainstream. Just listen to Elvin Jones in the ’57 album live at the village vanguard, he was playing stuff no-one had even thought of!

    The thing is most of these musicians are playing ideas that are too advanced for the listeners ears, alienating the majority.

    My top albums right now are Elastic – Joshua Redman
    Due reverence – Ralph Bowen
    Question and answer – Pat Metheny

    So many more!

  3. Kevin Moore’s band, Office of Strategic Influence (O.S.I.). His “ChromaKey” stuff was excellent… then he went heavier. Latest OSI album (“Blood”) is amazing. A dark and magical blend of metal and electronica.

    He uses Ableton Live as his recording platform, which offers a very non-linear approach to songwriting and recording. The result is the ability to dream up ideas on the fly, as your current tracks are playing; try out new ideas, hear them instantly, ditch them or keep them. (As opposed to laying down tracks with everything planned in advance.)

    In my opinion, he took things to a new level. Introspective, yet heavy. Fresh. Diabolically so.

    I’m one of those people who is guilty of never turning on the radio these days… Admittedly, I’m pretty underwhelmed by the state of most music these days, and I turn more and more to 1950’s jazz for inspiration as I write my own music. (www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com). But OSI is one example of new music that I simply love.

  4. Taken me ages to reply because I was thinking of writing a response to the whole post but I realised it would really just be a big list of all the ways I disagree with all of it, so I decided against it 😉

    To answer your question, basically Cee Lo Green/Gnarls Barkley (same thing really except Gnarls has more interesting production) and Anna Calvi are the only people I can think of who meet the criteria. For the record, I don’t think either of them hit the mark of the classic artists they’re clearly aiming for, but at least they’re aiming in the right direction, which is more than I can say for most current recording artists.

    What I don’t like about the majority of modern acts has nothing to do with era – the 60s wasn’t great because it was the 60s, it was great because those artists were making it up as they went along, and everyone since has been copying them in increasingly weak and ineffectual ways. There were no boundaries and no shadows to escape, so imagination was the only limit to what they could accomplish. That’s not a liberty any of us have had since then.

    The response most modern acts seem to have is to pretend they’re doing something new and exciting, when in fact every single one of them is a weak third- or fourth-generation xerox of something that already came decades earlier. I would LOVE to be proved wrong, but I’ve yet to hear any evidence that it’s even possible to operate outside of the shadow of the first generation.

  5. Hey guys, thanks for the responses and apologies it’s taken me so damn long to respond. The past month I was mostly in the studio, sleeping, or on a train in between those two things.

    Miller: I think you’re onto something with the genre-mixing thing. Being in the post-modern era when, Like JB says, there is a huge tendency to dig up the same ground (which has always been the case, and always will be because it’s seems like the easiest thing to do for many people). One of the keys to me about interesting sounds is by blending a variety of influences together.

    Max: Thanks very much for the recommendations. I checked out Brian Blade so far and it was pretty intense. I’m going to get onto listening to the others shortly (That TED talk is loading up on my browser as I write this). I’ve been trying to stretch my Rock n Roll skills into some more sophisticated areas recently by trying to get to grips with more Jazz stuff. Any tips on that front?

    Tim: Again, thanks for the recommendations. I’m still making my way slowly through the mountains of music I’ve been sent/given/told about by friends of mine when I brought this subject up. Some of it is great, some of it much less so, but the whole process is very interesting. More and more so I’m convinced of the notion that people who can’t find anything to like, are not looking in the right places, or at all.

    JB: I don’t know about that. The biggest thing for me about music is the emotional charge it carries and the emotional effect it has.

    That happens to me regardless of when the music was made and the ability or inability to make someone feel something is timeless. Thus, I can’t really feel that ‘3rd, 4th generation’ thing as having any effect on whether I like a piece of music or not. There’s no way to fake emotion.

    I too, had lots of things to say about this, but found 3 quotes that summed up how I feel about these things much more eloquently than I might be able to.

    “You are you and you can do whatever you want to do, so long as it’s within your limitations. And those limitations are always changing. The fact that Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page seem to have done it all already doesn’t fucking matter.

    The notion of the past as somehow representing certain limitations for you today is bogus.

    I used to have so much reverence and respect for the great accomplishments of past artists that it stifled me into thinking, “Gee, I could never do any of this.” But the whole point of making music is that it’s an expression of who you are, be it angry, happy or sad. If you can somehow reflect that musically, you’ve achieved something.”

    – Billy Corgan

    In terms of having everything limited only by imagination, I still feel that things always have and always will be primarily dictated by how true someone is to their artistic urge, regardless of era.

    The idea of things having been done before seems dry and academic to me. The sort of thing a music critic might say but wouldn’t really mean or explain whether the piece of music was good or not.

    There’s a great bit in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, a discussion between the protagonist, and a Jazz musician.

    “Well,” he said with equanimity, “you see, in my opinion, there is no point at all in talking about music. I never talk about music. What reply, then, was I to make to your very able and just remarks? You were perfectly right in all you said. But, you see, I am a musician, not a professor, and I don’t believe that, as regards music, there is the least point in being right. Music does not depend on being right, on having good taste and education and all that.”
    “Indeed. Then what does it depend on?”
    “On making music, Herr Haller, on making music as well and as much as possible and with all the intensity of which one is capable. That is the point, Monsieur. Though I carried the complete works of Bach and Haydn in my head and could say the cleverest things about them, not a soul would be the better for it. But when I take hold of my mouthpiece and play a lively shimmy, whether the shimmy be good or bad, it will give people pleasure. It gets into their legs and into their blood. That’s the point and that alone. Look at the faces in a dance hall at the moment when the music strikes up after a longish pause, how the eyes sparkle, legs twitch and faces begin to laugh. That is why one makes music.”

    I’ll leave it with a quote from John Peel, a man who in his life, listened to more popular music than you or I, or most people could ever manage. His attitude sums up what rings out to me as the only positive, constructive and present take on music that really matters.

    “People ask me, ‘what was the best year for the music?’ I always say, this year is the best year for music. Prior to that it was the previous year.”

    Thanks to all of you guys for your comments, and for taking the time to read what I have to say. I appreciate it.

  6. […] 5 posts that got the most views this year: 1 ‘Art is Work’ 2 Top Ten Alternative Queens 3 The Sound of Modern Music 4 Do You Remember the First Time? 5 Why Don’t You […]

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