The New Sound of Music
I don’t know how many people read this column regularly (four, perhaps?) but ever since Download Central began a little over a year back, I’ve heard one common response: “Why do you write about bands that we’ve never heard of?” This has become such a refrain that I’ve often felt a twinge of self-doubt. Am I really writing about completely obscure bands that no one knows or cares about? If that was indeed true, what was the point of writing the column?
But that is the point of Download Central. To unearth great new music that one could nudge other people towards them. The internet has made it easy to discover a treasure trove of bands and simple to share music that you enjoy with other people. And Download Central aims to do just that… so that great new musicians who’re not in the mainstream (and, therefore, not in the music stores here) can be discovered by others. But what if people thought these were obscure people making unheard of music? Wouldn’t that defeat the very objective of Download Central?
So last week, with a hint of the blues, I was mulling the future of this column, when suddenly the light shone brilliant and bright. I was reading the All Songs Considered blog at NPR (a great source of new and indie music for me), which had just posted the ballot results for the 50 best albums of 2009 as picked by listeners and I realised that not only had I heard and liked at least 20 of the top 25 but I’d also mentioned them all in Download Central over the past year.
Topping the NPR list was Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, followed in the second spot by Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Then there was Middle Cyclone by Neko Case, who’s also a member of the
Canadian band, The New Pornographers, and Andrew Bird whose album Noble Beast wowed the indie scene this year. And, of course, The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love, Wilco’s Wilco (The Album), Bon Iver’s Blood Bank’ and The Avett Brothers’ I And Love And You… all albums and bands, you will notice, that have found mention in these columns through the year, sometimes more than once. So, some people out there are listening to the music that I am too. Hmm… makes me feel good!
On a more relevant (and less narcissistic) note, the list of 50 top albums, as chosen by NPR’s listeners, is an interesting retrospective of what happened during the year on the predominantly indie or non-mainstream popular music scene. I say ‘predominantly’ because there are some mainstream acts as well on the NPR list—I’ve linked to the entire list here (where you can also listen to all of these artists and, in some cases, even download their music, live or recorded).
I liked the NPR listener’s ballot list mainly because it helped jog my memory of the past 12 months. It’s only when you look back at all these albums and bands you realise what a wonderful musical year it has been. And I’m not only talking about indie music. Consider: Bob Dylan had a good album, Together Through Life, out this year (it made it to #35 on the listener’s list); U2 had No Line on The Horizon, which was, well, kind of okay (it made it to #27, though); and Pearl Jam had Backspacer (I wonder why it made it only to #29; should have been much higher).
But what the NPR poll results really made me do was to dig out all of those lovely, lovely albums of the year and listen to them again. Scottish band, Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career with Tracyanne Campbell’s exquisite voice became part of my commute time playlist as did Modest Mouse’s No One’s First, And You’re Next, a short, 8-song EP but one that shimmers and satisfies like rock music ought to.
This year also saw a new project by Jack White, Dead Weather. On their debut album, Horehound, White, the guitarist, actually switches to the drums and the band is a kind of a supergroup. There was so much more this year, mainly from women singer-songwriters who’ve become stars of the indie scene. Besides Neko Case, who I’ve mentioned above, there was St. Vincent’s (aka Annie Clark) fantastic exploration of the inner anxieties of women in her album, Actor, Bat for Lashes’ (which is the stage name for Natasha Khan, the Anglo-Pakistani singer) Two Suns, an album that explores the singer and her alter ego, and the Soviet-born New Yorker, Regina Spektor’s anit-folk, quirky, Far.
Well, of course, Download Central has mentioned all of these and so many of the NPR listener’s top 50, through the year. Didn’t you know this column is all about obscure music?
This week’s reccos:
- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: The fifth album from French alt rock sensations, Phoenix. Grammy nominated. You can’t not listen to it.
- Spiritualized: English space rock band from the 1990s. This is a live concert from 1998 at Cane’s Bar & Grill in San Diego, while they toured with Radiohead.
- Cat Power: Two songs from the critically acclaimed minimalist American singer-songwriter–He War and Speak For Me.