Someone Stop The Muzak
When one of your favourite pieces of music becomes Muzak, piped into an elevator or played in the background at an airport, you can sometimes feel indignant. When I heard the Garcia-Hunter track, Crazy Fingers (off The Grateful Dead’s 1975 album, Blues for Allah) playing in a muted sort of way at an American airport, I was genuinely upset. I mean, come on, when we used to listen to that album it had to be in a darkened room, everybody had to be quiet and the use of additives was, well, let’s just say not actively discouraged. And here I was at a bustling JFK terminal and I could almost hear the late Jerome J Garcia’s voice going “Your rain falls like crazy fingers/ Peals of fragile thunder keeping time/Recall the days that still are to come some sing blue….” and so on. Only it wasn’t him singing but a synthesized, unreal sounding electronic tune of the song.
It’s just not fair turning that song into Muzak but I guess it is inevitable. A band whose music spawns a cult following willy-nilly garners mass appeal sooner or later and then, horror of horrors, turns into Muzak. I can hear derisive chortling down the corridor from my office where there is at least one anti-Deadhead who must be going: “Heh, heh! Serves you right, bloody hippie!”
Yet, I don’t know whether you’d agree with me but once a band that you liked gets its music converted into a synth-driven tune meant to make your ride up the escalator or the wait at a ticket counter less stressful I think it loses its appeal. The Beatles have probably suffered the most. My barber’s shop plays strange versions of songs from The Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s and even The White Album. No words, mind you but a silly digitized electronic derivative of the tunes.
You don’t even need a song to be murdered synthetically to not like it any more. Just the fatigue factor of listening to the same band’s same tune being played over and over can have the same effect. I used to love Coldplay when they first burst on the scene and I liked all of their albums (except perhaps X&Y, which spent a fleeting moment in my CD tray before being banished somewhere) but having to listen to Yellow every time you switch on the radio or walk into a café or go to your gym can take its toll.
That probably doesn’t happen to everyone. Only the other day, I’d gone to a popular bar to watch what turned out to be a terribly boring World Cup soccer final only to find that at half-time the DJ was playing Jon Bon Jovi (Always), Guns ’N Roses (November Rain) and, of course, Coldplay (yes, Yellow, again) and it had the patrons, mostly regulars, screaming out the lyrics to every song. In fact, people were vying with each other to be heard. I made some enquiries to find that these people come to the bar almost every night and the playlist has been almost the same one now for years.
Different strokes, I guess, for different folks. I like my playlist to be refreshed every now and then. Of course, I get obsessive about a band or two and go on listening to them for weeks but then along comes another bunch and I begin exploring those. So what’s been catching my fancy this summer? I’ve spoken about the three bands whose new albums wowed me no end – The National’s High Violet, Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record and The New Pornographers’ Together – several times so I won’t bore you with those. But if you ask me to choose three other new bands that have stimulated my interest this summer, here’s a quick list:
Best Coast are an indie rock duo from Los Angeles whose first full-length, Crazy For You, is scheduled for release on July 27. I heard a preview of the band’s infectious music, fuzzy, happy, surfer music and am waiting for the album.
Local Natives. Also an LA band with a three-part harmony, great guitars and nice vocals, they released Gorilla Manor this year and I bought the album because the discerning website, Pitchfork, gave it a 8.4. They didn’t disappoint. I like the album and it’s on rotation on my iPod. Best song on it: Airplanes, an enigmatic love song.
The Tallest Man on Earth. It’s the moniker that Swedish musician Kristian Matsson goes by. His new album, The Wild Hunt, grew on me rapidly and initial temptations to compare him to Bob Dylan (just because of their shared vocal rasp) quickly gave way to pure admiration. A must-listen this, especially the song titled The King of Spain.
These are just three of this summer’s haul. I’m sure as the months go by, I’ll get to sample more new music and probably, sadly, see some more of my old favourites turn into Muzak. Come to think of it, they were playing The National at my gym the other day!
Three To Tango
Bandana Blues: From old Fleetwood Mac to Frank Zappa; from B B King and Bobby Bland to Bonnie Rait and Charlie Musselwhite. Two hours of live blues tracks on this episode.
Indie Music Finds: As it says on the website, it’s a blog devoted to highlighting new indie music for you. Nice pointers can be found here.
Pitchfork TV: Watch videos of mainly indie musicians and bands. There’s great stuff and a huge archive.