TV On the Radio’s Million Miles Video

My last post was a diatribe against the modern indie scene.  If you are curious to know what indie bands I do like, TV on the Radio one of them.  They thread that needle between intellect and and passion.  They can be experimental and strange, yet seem to have enough understanding of tradition to be able to pay tribute and subvert the past at the same time.  Also, there is often a sensuality in their working lacking in most indie music right now.  I wanted to post something from their brand new album Seeds, but for some reason their new videos were not working on YouTube.  This is a single called Milion Miles that they put out last year.

Passionless Voices and The Death of Sex in Music

“It’s a miracle that I’ve lived this amount of time without having destroyed a person. But I still have a little bit of time.” – Maurice Sendak

I got a bunch of iTunes gift cards yesterday for Christmas.  I was combing the indie rock websites Louder than War and Pitchfork hoping to discover the great new indie band.  Fucking hell it was frustrating.  It just seemed like style after style with no substance, or great music with an incredibly dodgy singer.  Everything just seemed like an elaborate rouse with an empty center, kind of like most Christopher Nolan movies.  Especially if you compare the indie scene to the great post punk indie scene of the early 80’s, it just seems like children playing with toys.  (And I was too young to enjoy that scene when it was happening so you can’t peg me with nostalgia.)  Too many musicians that figured out how to make cool sounds, without understanding how to organize those sounds for maximum impact.

I kept thinking about this Camille Paglia article about Lady Gaga called:

Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex

Now of course I realize that Gaga isn’t indie.  But these two paragraphs really struck me and also make me feel like you could insert any number of indie bands in place of Gaga’s name:

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”. Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion. 

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.

Although there is a lot of new music that sounds somewhat emotional, it is that fiery passion, that ability to do something visceral to connect, that seems missing.  One of the reasons most of my best albums of 2014 were older artists, some of them my Dad’s age or older, is that those artists have a strong personality that cuts through any musical style that they might be attempting.  They have something to say and aren’t afraid to say it.  Not only that, but their singing voices are the voices of those that aren’t afraid to communicate passionately and directly.

My Dad and I were talking last night about why there is no strong social movements like there was in the 60’s.  He even commented that he felt music was one of, if not THE, leading force in changing peoples’ consciousness so that they got involved at a political level.

Now I think that one reason that strong passionate music is not on the airwaves, whether that be mainstream or indie music, is that radio DJs are now exponentially more constricted than they were in the past.  Unless it is public radio there are very few radio stations that are driven by restrictive playlists.  There are music lovers that like me will sift through music for hours to find something inspiring.  However, a great deal of people are only going to be made aware of something if they hear it in some fashion.

On top of this, again, I think you have too many singers that cannot use their voices to communicate true passion.  Autotune is obviously partially to blame, as it robs singers of their personalities in order to make singing more perfect.  (I do like when Autotune is deliberately used to make something sound like it is emotionally distant as on Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreak or Laurie Anderson’s Homeland.)  But too many singers now, those that sing with their natural voices, seem to have thin reedy voices that by their very nature do not sound passionate in anyway.  Even the ones seem like they are trying to sing passionately seem more like they are imitating it than actually feeling it.  Music is a highly emotional art form.  If you don’t convey what you want with any real passion, can you really complain when nobody gives a fuck about what you have to say, in a way where they actually might be moved to do something different in their lives?

Anyway, I need to go take a musical shower with some records that don’t make me feel like I’m listening to someone on Xanax…

Young the Giant and the Importance of Singing in Pop Music

I’m looking forward to hearing the new Young the Giant album Mind Over Matter.  I enjoyed their first album for its California sound and most of all because of their singer Sameer Gadhia.  Even though his singing accent is more modern, there is something about his effortless voice that reminds me of an early 60’s soul singer.  To compare anyone to Sam Cooke is insane, but there is something in Gadhia’s voice that hits a similar pleasure spot in my brain. Listen to the track I Got from their first album to understand what I mean.   I feel as if that song were arranged differently it could have again taken place in that early 1960’s pop music period.  Also, for reasons that I can’t explain their first album just reminds me of Northern California beaches.  I was in Northern Cali on route right before I got their album, but it is more than that.  It has the same sort of beauty and lonesomeness that one feels on those beaches.

Their first album is not incredibly deep in any way.  They are young though and I will give them the benefit of the doubt.  That’s not to say that their lyrics are dumb or embarrassing.  There are definitely moments of intelligence.  It’s just that their lyrics neither add nor detract for the most part in your enjoyment of their music.

The music is also well played indie rock, and the seemingly direct recording of it lets you know that the band can definitely play.  I hear that they have changed production approaches on this second record and I am curious as to how this affects my opinion of the band.

However, what really separates this band to me from countless other indie bands is not the music or the lyrics, but it is again the fact that they have a singer with a unique voice that has an effortless charm.    I read an interview with Gadhia and it seems as if he has been reading a good bit.  I am hoping that this willingness to challange himself will take his lyrics to deeper places in the future.  At some point a band must have something to say, not necessarily that they need to say something meaningful from a sociopolitical standpoint, but they just must have a lyrical identity and point of view for me to become long term invested in them.

But they have the most important part of the pop music equation down.  I can basically listen to any offshoot of pop and rock music as long as the singer of a band has some kind of individual presence in their voice.  Good singers have their own voice.  This is usually derived from them incorporating a lot of singers into their own style, or in being completely unlearned to as where they don’t know any better.  The worst singers are just pale imitations of other singers that have gone before them.  You can see this in many of the bands that came about after the initial grunge movement.  Many people after the wake of that initial movement just sounded like pale imitations of Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder, as if they were the only singers that they had ever heard in their lives.

I am rooting for Young the Giant as they seem one of the only bands that has cracked the pop music world recently.  They also seem intelligent and willing to learn.  They clearly want their music to mean something beyond just serving their own fame and fortune.  I hope their early promise is not the end of their story.