New Album? {Snore}

Dave Business, Cracked Up (Blog), Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal 3 Comments

I must have at least three or four posts that I’ve started, but then gotten distracted.

They’ll be out soon … promise!

This post is a bit of a rant on an all-to-common theme that keeps recuring with me.

I probably sound like an old fuddy-duddy with the “when I was a young buck…” or “you young whipper snappers have it so….”.

Perhaps it’s the old “crotchety” man emerging in me, but frankly, I don’t give a flying $#&*.

Sonny, Back in My Day…

…okay, I won’t start with that.

I have a voracious appetite for new music.  I go through about two or three albums a week.  I’ll acquire them, and listen to them at LEAST once through and do repeat listens on a different day or perhaps multiple times during the day … when I’m not busy with other things that is.  If I get saturated with the new music, I’ll go through the artists I have in my collection and see if something catches my fancy.

I’ve been unfortunately disappointed in the fact that a good majority of the artists and albums of the past 10 – 15 years in my collection don’t seem to get me excited to listen again.

When Old is New

This whole thing came about a couple of days ago when my podcast pal, Big Al, tweeted about Eddie Van Halen‘s 56th birthday.

Now, I’m a pretty big Van Halen Fan, but I must admit, I had a few holes in my Van Halen discography collection.  Noteably, a lot of the Diamond Dave years stuff.

I was a bit of a DLR snob (only really had VH-I, VH-II and 1984) until a while ago, but never really got around to filling in the holes until a couple of days ago.

I really got into Van Halen around the time of their 5150 album when Sammy Hagar took over as the frontman.  I liked the sound of the band and went with that.

It’d be interesting to do some sort of discertation paper on the band to trace the songwriting development and history through the singers / iterations… but I digress.

I picked up Fair Warning, Women and Children First and Diver Down a couple of days ago and…

…I was freakin’ blown away by those albums.

What gives?  These are all about 30-year old releases and I can tell that they’ve got nuggets and tastiness that I’m going to be listening and re-listening to for a while to come.  I’d heard a few of the tunes from those albums (Unchained, And the Cradle Will Rock… to name a few), but the rest of the songs were totally new to me.

Comparing Apples and Oranges

We’re obviously not in the same environment with respect to the state of the music industry.

Bobby Owsinski has a lot of cool insights into the music business and discusses a lot of the changes that have been happening the past decade or so on his Music 3.0 blog.  A lot of the differences between today’s and yester-year’s albums come together and are released are a result of the changes in the industry.

However, it doesn’t preclude the fact that today’s albums seem so much more homogenous and … forgetable.

Time will tell whether I actually pull out those newfound Van Halen albums again in a few weeks, a few months or even a few years, but what got me wondering was – what IS it about those albums that actually twigged my interest?

I think it comes down to a few different things:

  • the performances are utterly fantastic – there’s an energy, a on-edge”liveness” to the whole sound.  It’s like you’re riding along in a car at a speed you’d never drive yourself, but you feel that the one at the controls knows what he is doing.
  • the recording is great – there are dynamics! The arrangement is simple, but the sound is full and present.
  • There is VARIETY.  I think this is the biggest differentiator.  When I listened to these albums, I really had a fun time because every new track was actually different from the last!  I found myself looking forward to being surprised track-to-track
    What heavy metal band would insert a snazy slide-guitar kind of thing (Could This Be Magic? on Women and Children First), some smokey funky processed groove (Push Comes to Shove on Fair Warning), or even some dixie-land thang (Big Bad Bill on Diver Down)?

Muse is probably the only modern band that I can think of that has held my attention like this … and earned steady repeat listens.  When listening to their efforts I don’t really know if to put them into pop, prog rock, rock, … soundtrack…  all while listening to the same album.

I don’t know if it’s just me with these kinds of observations or odd views, but I don’t see why artists need to make everything sound the SAME?  Perhaps some people like this, perhaps artists / record labels are lazy … perhaps I’m getting too old and crotchety.

Please mister/miss artists of the world,

Branch out, Spread your wings, Stretch your legs …

Keep us on the edge of our seats … Surprise us!

Comments 3

  1. Well Dave, maybe you are getting a little crotchety 😉

    Seriously though… so many things I want to respond to…. First off, Van Halen. I’ve always loved VH as well, although I came to them in a very different way than you did. I got into them about the time that Diver Down came out and was mostly awed by Eddie and his acrobatics (being a 12 year old aspiring guitarist). I love every one of the DLR records through 1984 (though the earlier the better IMO). When Sammy joined, it just wasn’t Van Halen anymore (despite retaining the namesakes). Van Halen IS David Lee Roth AND Eddie Van Halen for me. Those two were like an 80’s party rock vinaigrette. Take either ingredient by itself and something seems to be seriously missing, but shake it up real good and DUDE!! ROCK!! Sammy just never did it for me, the music got a bit glossy for me and the fire was gone (that edge you were talking about). Of course this is all personal opinion, but hey, you started it 😉

    OK, so on to the state of music. I think you are completely correct that the many of the changes in what is out there now are due to the changes in the industry that are, obviously, still under way. To my mind, it really started in earnest back in the 90’s with the ADAT revolution. All of a sudden you could scrape together a couple thousand dollars along with your band-mates and have a very capable home recording setup. Small recording studios popped up everywhere and almost any band could produce an album that was commercially viable (at least from a technical standpoint). Sure your can argue that a lot of crap was all of a sudden pushed into the market, but that stuff filters out after a while and the fact is that a LOT of bands that would never have caught the ear of a major label now had a way to make a record. Still pretty hard to get distribution though. Jump ahead a few years… the internet just starts to catch up to the potential that it had been ascribed for several years, and now the avenues of distribution are blown wide open; Napster and Limewire give file-sharing a rocky start, but also lay bare the amazing potential of these new technologies, Itunes explodes and then the social networking explosion makes Itunes look like a firecracker. All of these things are going to conspire over the next few years to completely change the music industry. We ain’t seen nothing yet….

    So, quantitatively, what are we left with? A crapload of music to explore and hear and a crapload of ways to ingest it. I mean when I was 12 and first got into Van Halen, what were my readily available options for finding new music? I could listen to one of two radio stations that played music in Seattle… or I could watch MTV … or I could ask my friends what they listened to… but they listened to the same 2 radio stations and MTV, so there wasn’t usually much new there. Now, does that mean that the music that I listened to back then was crap? No, of course not. Those big record companies that were finding and signing bands like Van Halen were doing their best to sign talented, interesting bands that would be able to sell lots of albums for them. They did a pretty decent job at that as is evidenced by the long list of great bands that we all know and love. The big key here, though, is control. Because a precious few tastemakers held the keys to the studios and the distribution lines, you had a small percentage of the music being made actually getting to the vast majority of listeners. Today, however, social networking and the internet allow us to connect to the tastemakers directly, and maybe even become one. Control is more and more in the hands of the listener.

    OK, so my point is…. I think more than anything what has changed in the last decade or more is that there is so much more music floating around out there and it is so easy to access. Now, combine that reality with the fact that that same old record industry is still around and is desperately trying to hold on to that hold business model where they control everything. Ironically, at the same time, they are using some of the same tools that are going to eventually obsolete their business model to try to find their next hit-makers. Because of the pace of this new world though, they can’t wait for those precious few (the great ears like Jerry Wexler, John Hammond, etc) to tell them who to sign so they fall back on another of their old tricks… look for a fad and exploit it, so they apply some kind of quantified algorithm to extrapolate twitter trends and we end up with Katy Perry. Keep faith though, we are in the midst of a major transition and, I think, the beginning of a sort of renaissance period in music. It will take a few years for things to settle in and find a real groove, but I for one love the breadth and depth of variety that is out there right now. I find myself entranced with a new albums or groups much more often now than I ever have before in my life. It may take a bit more digging, but I think it is well worth it.

    All that said I’ll throw out a few records from the last few years that I love and continue to go back to again and again…

    Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am That
    Besides being a great record that I continue to go back to when I need a good jolt of energy their story exemplifies how this new era can foster great new bands. Check out their story here, if you don’t already know it… Basically, the buzz they built through file-sharing and youtube afforded them the clout and the confidence to do things their way both artistically and business wise.

    Janelle Monae – The Arch Android
    This album was my favorite of 2010. A futuristic psych-funk-hop concept album about forbidden love between an android and a human. Ambitious and sprawling but with plenty of accessible tracks. Talk about being surprised at every new track on first listen. I was completely amped the first few listens through this record. There are strains of everything from Stevie Wonder and James Brown to Bowie to Fairport Convention to James Bond.

    Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
    Brand New! Been listening to this a lot the last week or so. I’ve loved Sam Beams music since I first heard it a few years ago. I think his sense for melodies is absolutely spot on, and he really knows how to set a mood. Like many albums I love, this one has a really nice mix of feels while managing to retain a very cohesive feel.

    Jonsi – Go
    Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi’s solo album. I can only describe him like this…a freaky Icelandic elfin angel with cybernetic sampler implants. It’s hard to say why I love this album so much, but it just makes me feel good every time I listen to it.

  2. If you go back through the past, say, 60 years of pop music (since the dawn of rock-n-roll), and really look at it–even just peruse the Billboard charts–you’ll notice there’s always been a lot of junk. One-hit wonders with otherwise forgettable albums and B-sides, inexplicable trends, fads and fashions. When the Beatles ruled the charts, there were also a lot of muzak-style schlock instrumentals too. In Van Halen’s heyday, we also had Debbie Boone and the whitest of the late diluted-disco bands. We remember and still play the quality acts, and forget the large quantity of dross. Those Billboard charts have a surprising number of really bad #1 hits.

    That’s one reason: we’ve forgotten the old crap, and notice more of the new crap because it’s everywhere. For now.

    I remember thinking the same thing during my teens in the mid-’80s. I wasn’t a synth-pop type, so I gravitated to music made before I was born. There was a ’60s music revival at the same time (Vancouver even had an all-’60s radio station!), and I recall thinking that ’60s music was waaaaay better than the new junk on radio and MTV at the time. But somehow, now there are ’80s classics too, and aside from the VH1/Much More TV retrospectives of ’80s music video fromage, you don’t hear much of the stuff I didn’t like then anymore.

    Plus, as Purkolator and others have pointed out, the industry works differently. We’re back into a more singles-oriented, iTunes Store market. Album tracks and B-sides are less relevant, and often less thought out (if they exist) than they used to be. And the hits that appear on what’s left of commercial pop radio and TV commercials are heavily limited, Auto-Tuned, and structurally unimaginative because that’s the trend (like cheesy synths were the trend in the ’80s, interminable guitar solos in the ’70s, distorted angst vocals in the ’90s, and so on), and they have to catch attention the first time–listeners will switch to something else if they’re not hooked fast.

    However, variety and dynamics are still there. What you have to do is find them in DIFFERENT ACTS and build your own playlists of dynamic, interesting music that you find in a variety of ways. A single act, or a producer, or a record label, isn’t going to do it for you anymore.

    I too think this stuff will sort itself out. But remember too that when you’re in your 40s, the music the kids are listening to always seems bad compared to your favourites. That’s in part because teens are musical sponges, and listen to the good and bad. They haven’t fully developed the musical tastes they’ll have as adults (will they still be listening to Ke$ha in their 30s? I doubt it). And they’re open to musical ideas that long ago ossified in us. I know I’m simply a bit too old to really GET hip-hop, and I have to accept that. It broke big when I’d already established my musical tastes.

    My daughters will probably think that a lot of what their kids listen to in 30 years or so is crap as well, fondly remembering the quality music they listen to today (which, incidentally, includes a lot of Beatles!), and forgetting the fly-by chart-toppers that don’t have the mojo to become real classics.

  3. Post

    A couple of things:

    Yes, I have long ago seen the err in my ways and fully appreciate the VH of DLR years much more than I used to. Sammy had some interesting stuff, but brought more of a structured song-writing approach to the band that, although gave them some high-profile billboard songs, kind of robbed them of their experimentation.

    I gotta check out Janelle Monae – that sounds interesting!

    It’s really the “Death of the Album” that I’m lamenting about I guess. I’d heard the term, but never really took much stock in it as I was like: “What do you mean? There are TONS of albums out there!”

    It really didn’t hit home what that meant until I listened to – not just one, but – three old Van Halen album that I had never really bothered to listen to from end-to-end.

    Bobby O had an interesting post on this the other day: Are Listening Clubs the New Book Clubs?

    I’m not really lamenting about having to filter through the crap out there to find the gems, but rather finding an artist who puts out an album that takes you on a musical journey – explores things and takes you places far and wide.

    I feel that very few albums have a diversity to them anymore – they take you on a tour of the immediate neighbourhood rather than the entire city or surrounding sites.

    I think Derek – you kind of hit it:

    “However, variety and dynamics are still there. What you have to do is find them in DIFFERENT ACTS and build your own playlists of dynamic, interesting music that you find in a variety of ways. A single act, or a producer, or a record label, isn’t going to do it for you anymore.”

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