Posts Tagged ‘music you should like’

The rock of the 1960s was revolutionary. The rock of the 70s was virtuosic and could be prone to self-indulgence. In the 80s, it became commercialized, synthesized, and downright narcissistic. And in the 90s, Kurt Cobain looked across the music landscape, saw the commercialism and narcissism, and made rock nihilistic. Then he saw his art become a commercial product itself, and shot himself. The nihilistic, I’m-no-good angst quickly became a product, and reached its cynical, artless nadir in bands like Creed and Nickelback.

But looking at the history of philosophy, the response to nihilism was existentialism. People refused to believe in nothing. I think it’s fair to say that in indie music, there is a bit of existentialism in response to music’s recent nihilism. And it is in this light that I am interpreting Mumford and Sons.

This is music that believes in something, that refuses to surrender to despair. In the title track of their latest album, Sigh No More, the singer acknowledges his faults and frailties (“My heart was never pure/You know me”). But he doesn’t wallow in his humanity, nor is he trite about it. He celebrates it: “Love, it will not betray, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free/Be more like the man you were made to be.” The guitar sets a percussive rhythm, the banjo is frenetically joyful. The foot-stomping kick drum is completely unironic; it’s the pounding heartbeat of someone realizing that a lover they thought was gone forever has returned. It’s a sunrise, and wonderfully sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The music is sincere, and brimming with life and energy. Absolutely worth a listen.


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I have the utmost sympathy for Derek Webb. He’s (judging by what he’s written) an evangelical Christian who recognizes that there are major problems within the evangelical movement. That alone makes me sympathetic. Then on top of that, his music is extremely antagonistic to Christian radio (which is one of the most godforsaken, artistically barren media outlet ever conceived). Here’s a couple of examples of his work:

For one, it’s good, rather than the cookie cutter shallow-worship-songs-w/-U2-style-guitar-riffs style that Chris Tomlin has–well, I won’t say perfected, but you know. It’s not a product; it seeks to be art. Moreover, his music is important. It says things that no one else is saying in Christian music. In an industry where every song is simply about how Jesus makes me feel, Derek Webb says, “Stop hating gay people.” And to a community that has sold its political soul to the right wing of the Republican party, Derek Webb reminds us that “you can always trust the devil or a politician to be the devil or a politician.”

In some ways, I’m pushing Derek Webb not just for his music (although it is quite good), but for what he represents. He is a white American evangelical, but reminds us that Christ is neither white, nor American, nor evangelical. Christ has called us to a mission, and it is a mission that takes no notice of the agendas of tiny men.

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Punch Brothers are headed up by Chris Thile, the mandolin player from the now-defunct Nickel Creek (also a great band). They’ve got a very interesting sound. Their roots and instrumentation are definitely bluegrass, but few of their songs follow the bluegrass format. More like experimental rock. Here’s their show from Bonnaroo.

Their first instrumental number is one hell of an introduction to them: clearly very talented instrumentalists, and intricate, unpredictable numbers. The instruments quietly meander through thoughtful melodies that suddenly burst into energetic choruses: see You Are, at about 9:30. Another highlight is their cover of Reptilia by The Strokes (at about 25 minutes). Personally, I enjoy their cover more than the original; the organic quality of bluegrass instruments seems to give the song much more energy. Alex (at about 36) is also a treat: it sounds like a picnic on a sunny hillside with a pretty girl; but the singer has, shall we say, less than pure intentions. (If that makes sense. Probably, I’m just trying to sound like a good writer, but writing nonsense.)

At times, the way the musical lines jerk around almost arbitrarily can grow tiresome. It seems to me like they’re a band that hasn’t quite found their niche, their sound, their artistic statement, and so they try to fill in the void with (sometimes excessive) complexity. But they aren’t far off from finding “it.” There are points where they simply burst with energy and joy. They’re creative, and unafraid to experiment. Their experiments haven’t quite yielded that breakthrough, but they don’t seem too far off from that “Eureka!” moment. Here’s hoping they find it.

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This will be an ongoing series here. (If I can talk about an ongoing series at a 3-week old blog that has less than 100 total views.) Basically, if I find music that makes the room it’s played in more beautiful, then I will post it here. First, let’s start with my favorite band right now: the Avett Brothers. Listen to a show they did at the Newport Folk Festival here.

Sound mix is a little iffy at the very beginning, but they got it down by the end of the first song. One of the highlights (besides the whole show) is Down with the Shine (at about 32:30). Two words: bluegrass waltz. That’s literally what it is–a drunken bluegrass waltz. The other song you ought to check out here is Die Then Grow (at about 45 minutes). Simply beautiful songwriting, which is typical for the Avetts. And their lyrics are always unrelently honest–never whiny when speaking of hard things, or adolescently idealistic about the way things ought to be, but just honest. And strikingly so.

All of their stuff is beautiful. You will be bettered by listening to them.

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