Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't Let Other People Ruin It For You

There are many random music downloads and purchases I have committed myself to over the years. Many years ago I used to do it when I wanted to hear something new so I would search something vague like “classic rock,” and search until I found something I did not recognize. Now of days I am more systematic about my approach. Now of days I publish an amateur music critic blog. Now of days it is a job.

In an effort to be open minded, and current, I often browse other music critics’ sites and see what they have posted as the best songs of the year. It is always an interesting experience. Some sites post the top 40, as they appeared over the course of the year, so an abundance of pop songs are present there. Some sites are very hip-hop and dance oriented, and despite my best efforts I still struggle to appreciate hip-hop. Many sites are published by people like me who are trying to find hidden gems and share them with the world and most critics like that love the underground. Any song you have not heard of is awesome, this is their mantra.

This is good and bad.

It is good because it exposes me to a lot of music I would not have heard otherwise, and while it sometimes surprises me just how much mediocre (and ultimately boring) indie rock music is out there, I always find a few songs I really enjoy, and this opens the doors for finding more music in the future. This is now I discovered bands like Frightened Rabbit and Cloud Cult. Just the other day I heard the song “Shell Games,” and I was rather impressed, so when I looked up the artist and found it was Bright Eyes, I stopped for a second, and thought “wait isn’t he THE emo pussy,” not A emo pussy, THE emo pussy. Well... he won me over for this song.

It is also bad, not so much for me, but for the person publishing these kinds of articles. Perhaps it is not my place to judge, but it is very much in my nature to psychoanalyze everyone and everything, and when I see someone’s list of songs they love and it is all indie rock songs, I think to myself “this guy would also love bands like; Bloq Party, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, and Mumford and Son.” Alas you will rarely or never see bands like those on their lists and for one reason only those bands are all commercially successful.

There is a saying I have when talking about music, “don’t let other people ruin it for you.”

I love the Arcade Fire, I would probably go to war for them if it came to that, but when I start to ramble about them to some of my friends, they like to point out that, “they have a lot of fans who are hipster douche bags.” My friends are of course correct; Arcade Fire does have a lot of pretentious fans, but their reasons, good or bad, for liking Arcade Fire does not change the reasons I love them. Artsy pretentious douche bags are not going to ruin Arcade Fire for me.

I see this long standing trend for what it really is.

The conformist to the top 40 will always use the argument to defend the music they listen too by saying, “look at all the money they are making,” which is another way of saying, “they must be good, they are popular.” Flawed logic if there ever was any, the power of persuasion in the music industry has been refined to capture the maximum number of minds possible, or to quote my beloved Uriah Heep, “There is no strength in numbers, have no such misconceptions.”

However the anti-conformist-conformist of the top 40, whether they be punks, indie, or metal fans, often use the opposite argument “these guys are doing their own thing, they’re special.” This of course is just another way of saying, “no one knows about these guys so they are special to me.” This is a fair sentiment. I feel like I am partially responsible for the success of Avantasia in Canada (limited though it is) since I was the first person to parade for them in Calgary, and I am fairly certain I am the very first person to make such a big deal about them in this city, and because of this, it feels like Avanatasia is my band. But just because a band is unknown that does not mean they are good, sometimes bands remain in perpetual obscurity because they are not very good or interesting; in fact that is exactly the case most of the time. Having said that, there are lots of songs out there worth searching for, that’s what the anti-conformist-conformist are looking for. That’s why I started the music in review.

You may hate the top 40, but if a song stands out to you, and it crawls its way onto the charts are you going to disown it because of your hatred of the corrupt music industry?

You may hate hipsters and their ilk, but if you happen to agree with them on a certain band are you going to disown them just so you can continue to distance yourself from that social demographic?

If you disown music for any reason influenced by others you are being shallow and worse than that you are being dishonest to your own feelings. When a musician writes a song they hope to reach other people, make a connection with them, be it in the form of shared feelings or experiences, or simply to share the beauty or sorrow of sweet sweeping sounds that we call music. Are you willing to deny your heart the embrace of such a thing for something as useless as petty prejudice?

I don’t scour the top 40 as much as I used to, and that is only because I do not watch as much TV as I used to, and honestly I would watch MuchMusic a lot more if they played the countdown more often. Even when I hated nearly every song on the top 40 I would enjoy watching it, for no other reason than curiosity. I was curious what other people heard in these songs to make them love it so. I know often times it is the corporate machine playing tricks on people, but other times these songs must have struck emotions I have either for longed or forgotten, and this last point, this is where the real curiosity comes from, what are you feeling that I am missing? What emotions, what connections, do people form with these songs? Perhaps there is beauty here my ears are missing.

The same holds true for my browsing of other music critics, I want to hear what they say, and understand what they feel. But the primary motivation of some music critics is sometimes obscured, these critics want to be the first to discover a band, and be able to parade their findings to the world, and sometimes I know they are looking too hard. They accept things not because they are good but only because they not popular. It is a tricky tightrope to walk being an anti-conformist-conformist, hypocrisy waits around every corner. You hate the conformed but you yourself have conformed to the opposite, and now tragically you are no better. These are the people who assume everyone is going to agree with them for every song, because they see themselves are purveyors of true music, not remembering that there will always been a level of subjective feelings in anything we call art.

So what is the solution? The ripe old cliché “be yourself.”

Don’t care what the top 40 says, or what the hipsters say, find music you like and don’t let anyone ruin it for you. This is the biggest reason I won’t review music I do not like, I do not want to rain on anyone else’s parade, I only want to share with you the reasons I love, not the reasons I hate. If I tell you why I hate something you love, you may begin to hate the things I love in an involuntary human emotional reaction, and then we lose common ground, and we may begin to lose each other.

No one loves the Music in Review in its entirety, of course you don’t; you are not me. You do not feel everything I feel. You will never hear, or see, or feel, all the things I do, and I only hope you are open minded enough to at least see my perspective, and sometimes let yourself enjoy a song I recommend, and take the chance to hear, and feel the same things I do.

I hope for nothing more than that.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

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