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April 19, 2010, at 7:25 am — Arts and Culture | Music / / / / / / / /

Eclecticism and the Rise of Honest Music

Soundtrack to this post:  “the Slow Confetti” by DoF, from Suddenly Shifting Against the Sky

Greetings, Jungle people! This post isn’t consistent with the theme of the site currently, but i thought it would be a fun thing to post. It’s my final essay for my Creativity class with professor Mandy DeWilde here at GVSU, and it’s called “Eclecticism and the Rise of Honest Music.” It’s a long one, but hopefully you enjoy! Thanks!


Music is the one language that every human being understands. No matter your level of education, your origins, your interests or your perception of the world, if you’re a human being, then your soul can be expressed through music and then interpreted by others. When looking back upon the life of the world-altering, mile-a-minute convenience machine that is American culture, the condition of music has tossed and turned rather violently. However, we can pinpoint times in our history and define them through the era of music that we were enduring.

This gives further definition to the people who were young and influential during that time. For example, as soon as someone says “mid-to-late 60’s,” one’s mind jumps to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who. In this same light, the image of the young people that one recalls existing in that era is vivid. The young-culture and the music of the day facilitate and extrapolate one another. However, when we look at now through the same lens, we are met by confusion. It is increasingly difficult to choose one specific group of people and one specific sound in music that defines our generation. The problem is, there are too many, as diversity has skyrocketed in both areas over the last decade. We have no one “musical face” or “artistic identity” because we have thirty or so conflicting ones. This makes for a very peculiar, yet prolific time.

Now, what I’m talking about isn’t the music on the radio. For some reason, the medium of FM radio has become rather corrupted, and it seems only the most mainstream of mainstream can be heard on it. However, the mainstream of today has been horribly plagued by people who want nothing more than to make money. This is the kind of market that aggrandizes over-produced, commercial acts (that I will leave nameless here on the internet). The artificiality of these performers makes them products as opposed to artists. This section of the industry is solely based on profit, and in my opinion (for whatever it’s worth), therefore doesn’t qualify as art. Yes, I know I sound like an elitist, and I’m not usually rigid about most distinctions, but I find it hard to merit audio made with the lone purpose of making money as true music, because that cheapens the beauty that is achieved by real music on a regular basis.

For now, though, I’ll step off the high horse and back onto the ground. What I’m talking about is the real community shared by music lovers and musicians alike, which seems to be doing just fine without the utilization of the radio. It has flourished through the new perceptive universe of the internet, through the epic reprisal of the music festival, and through listener excitement reminiscent of the previously mentioned mid-to-late 60’s.

Being both a passionate musician and an audio engineer about to graduate with a degree in sound design, on the very verge of hurling myself into what joking elders call “the real world,” I’ve been examining and pondering this new musical climate a great deal. The big mystery to me for quite a while was why it felt cohesive. How could this new movement, in which the widely accepted general consensus is to make whatever music sounds beautiful to the individual you, ever possibly feel cohesive? For a while, I tried to deny the fact that it felt like a consistent entity, because I couldn’t figure out why it felt that way. That is, until very recently.

I realized that the common thread between all of these “indie” artists is so incredibly simple: It’s honesty. The one thing all influential music of the now has in common is its outward rejection of deceit and its raw expression of whatever human is creating it. Whether your voice wines and cracks or you can belt like an opera soloist, whether you’re in the top quadrant of the most proficient players of your instrument or you just slam out basic rudiments with whatever is around you, if you are truly honest in your intent to express yourself, we the devoted listeners of today, will see it, and due recognition will be given. Why? Because the now’s positive advancements in both technology and diversity, coupled with the unrest and uncertainty resulting from a dishonest leadership have trained us to do so.

In our simple desire for bare-bones honesty and truth, we have accidentally given birth to the most malleable, multi-faceted and welcoming musical environments that western culture has ever known. Everything from the most stale, calculated, computerized rap to the dirtiest, nastiest, grungiest blues-rock, to the quietest, most introverted acoustic-folk, to the fullest, most ethereal and haunted orchestral alternative – all of it can achieve full success. All of it can thrive and does thrive. From the shadow-ridden Radiohead to the sunny Dave Matthews Band, from the nature-born Fleet Foxes to the mechanical Daft Punk, from the dirty White Stripes to the clean Sufjan Stevens, from the energizing Mos Def to the soothing Sigur Ros, from the complex Animal Collective to the simple Ray LaMontagne, from the rude Regina Spektor to the kind Iron and Wine, from the urban Roots to rural Nickel Creek, from the loose Black Keys to the calculated Efterklang, from the thin Jose Gonzales to the thick Beirut: all of the ins and outs and the everywhere in between of human musical expression is present in influential artists of the day.

On top of that, think of the musicians themselves, and the insanely sporadic collective they’ve massed as. Take the first two front-men of the bands listed above for example: A wirey and brilliant-minded British skeptic with a bum eyeball and a South-African born, grass-smoking family man who speaks onomatopoeia. That is merely a snapshot of the diversity, and those two groups are the beginnings of the movement chronologically. The spread of interesting folks only explodes from there.

Even actual audio-production and recording has reach new exploratory realms. Take, for example, the reverb-cavern-i-zation of My Morning Jacket’s “Z” from 2005, the over-compressed mess of layers heard on Broken Social Scene’s self-titled record from the same year, or the lo-fi vinyl quality of the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Engineers, mixers and producers are taking full advantage of this colloquium of new musical frontiers, and are experimenting as well as enhancing quality. Just take a listen to “In Rainbows” in an expensive set of noise-canceling headphones and you’ll get my drift.

In accordance with the auditory art-work it reinforces, the medium of film and video has even followed suit when it comes to music. A new breed of “music video” has emerged that rejects falsity in tandem with our new musical interests. The “take-away-show,” a multi-camera or single camera video of a band playing live in a space for no particular audience, which is then made available on the internet, has recently made it’s rise. The main contributors to this new medium are La Blogotheque, the website/company responsible for the candid street performance-like videos for all the songs on Beirut’s album “the Flying Club Cup,” and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who started “From the Basement,” a series of in-studio live shoots of bands in… well… Nigel Godrich’s basement. Nigel decided to continue the project after filming Radiohead playing tunes for a VH1 special, and has since invited some of the leading innovators in today’s music. The wonderful thing about this “take-away-show” format is that it not only provides the most intimate experience of a live performance ever, but the fact that it is indeed a live performance. As opposed to the unauthentic and complex nature of the standard music video, this simple concept allows for true musicianship to shine through, and as a result, the listener/viewer actually gets to know the music and the people creating it. My hopes are that this format slowly overtakes the traditional music video so that bands who are not devoted to putting on a fantastic live show are pressured to do so.

So why is this happening? This is obviously not a complaint, nor a conveyance of distress, but quite the contrary. I’ve had an extremely eclectic taste in music my whole life and am now currently living in auditory heaven. I am having an absolute blast being an enthusiast in a time like this. I simply ask what is responsible for this movement; what worldly influence can I hang a personally crafted gold-medal upon the neck of?

It seems to me that this movement has evolved naturally from a combination of things. Our current culture’s general feeling of uncertainty and unrest has left us looking for something honest, something completely raw and human we can understand in plane language. Music is, after all, universally translatable. Simultaneously, our positive hope for the future has given us an excitement for innovation and an adventurous love for new things. The internet, a tool that can sometimes cause the fragmentation of art, has given music a new life. It has also given way to online downloading, which has caused the amount of money a band makes off of record sales to fall drastically lower than the amount of money bands make from playing shows. This, like the “take-away-shows,” is weeding out (or will weed out) those who just can’t cut it when faced with performing live. All of these factors and a melting pot of others have given rise to a movement of vast diversity and energy in today’s non-mainstream music world. I may not have been alive for some of the great eras of music, but I can say first hand that right now is an incredible time to be a sound recordist, to be an instrumentalist, and to be a music lover.


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