New music, anyone? Earlier this week I followed a couple of conversations about the state of today's music. First, over at 100 records, Tesco posted about the state of "new" music (new punk in particular), and how it isn't really all that new anymore:
... new music isn't gonna floor you like it did back then because honestly? it's not new anymore. No matter how much you try and move it around, over-produce it, under-produce it... mix it, whatever, it's been done. Seeing and hearing it now on the MTV awards doesn't help either.
Maybe it's because as we get older, with more history and more listening behind us, we can hear all the influences embedded in these new bands, so nothing ever really sounds "new" anymore, the way it did when we were 15. But I think there is good, new music out there these days. But it's not going to speak to us the same way it did when we were kids because we're not those people anymore. Different concerns, different life paths, different reasons for getting up in the morning. It's easy to get complacent as adults, and stop trying, which is entirely why we NEED to keep looking for music that excites us still.
In this year when a 65-year-old Bob Dylan reaches No. 1 with his new (and critically acclaimed) album, when a geezerish Bruce Springsteen hits the charts covering Pete Seeger songs, when old Paul Simon surprises us with a decent release, it's a question worth asking. Is there anything new to listen to?
Here's my take (slightly edited and expanded from a post I left on Courtney's blog a couple of evenings ago):
Music is an amazing, marvelous thing. When you consider there are only eight notes on the scale, it astounds me that so many musical genres and variations can exist. But music consists of more than notes on a scale. It is rhythm, tempo, timbre, tone and so many other variables that can come together in so many different ways. Sometimes those ways work, sometimes not.
Music, like other art forms, builds on its own legacy and musicians add new layers, new flavors into the mix. They do it by imitating their idols. Or by playing variations on a theme (many classical musicians were experts at this: Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Gershwin). Or they take a reactionary stance to the 'old' stuff, strip it down, and create an entirely new genre that isn't really all that new. (Consider '77 punk. Listen to that pudgy guitar sound of Steve Jones as a Sex Pistol and tell me you don't hear echoes of Chuck Berry or Gene Vincent.) They merge and mix styles, combine influences, plug in or unplug, and on and on.
New music is out there and much of it is good. I plug eMusic on this blog occasionally because I think it's one of the best sources of new music around. (I downloaded the new Lemonheads album from there this morning. It sounds comfortingly familiar, but not familiar in an old Lemonheads way. It's less folky, rocks harder than the old Lemonheads.) But if we narrowly define "new" as something totally incomparable to anything else to ever come before it, something that is truly unique, then I don't think there's been anything new since the first caveman (or woman) pounded a stick on a hollow tree.
So, I take the Ecclesiastes approach to music: "There is nothing new under the sun." But there are new ways of combining old things to create new sounds, new feelings, new excitement.
I don't feel sorry for the kids today. They have plenty of new music, and they know where to find it. Plus, they have more good "old" music to mine through than we ever had when we were kids.
Anyway, who has some new musical finds to tell me about? Leave a comment.