Much more than films, music is a form of entertainment that seems critic-proof. There are a few genuine turkeys produced every year (such as when you have Jennifer Love Hewitt or Robert Downey Jr. belting out classics), but the state of the music industry is so varied and so independent, that you have certain types of music that will find an audience no matter what. Case in point- check out metacritic and compare the ratings of all new compact disc releases versus new movie releases. See how the green of music far outweighs the yellows of film? If you release a four hour film that documents the mating rituals of a Brazilian hog, then it’ll get marginal distribution in 25-30 cities on 1 art house screen- which is a virtual gravesite for any film. But if a certain band makes a marginal breakout within the scene, they have gigs, they start touring with more well known bands and they get their cd printed into, maybe, 20,000 copies. And, this band is guaranteed airplay within a radio station that tailors to the tastes of a given audience. Unlike the film, the audience doesn’t have to discover this artwork through a 35 mile trek to the local art-house, they simply have to turn on a predisposed radio station (most likely set in a “favorites” mode) and have this new track of music delivered within the confines of a genre of music those appeals to the listener. And the joy of discovering a new musical talent is often more overpowering than discovering a new filmmaker because the music can travel with you. So, what does all this lead up to? I’m having a heyday right now churning through new music with ease. There is so much out there, buried online (another positive fact for the music industry, myspace and online music services give any computer owner a veritable Ipod) and elsewhere.
I can honestly say that I arrived at music much earlier than I did with movies. To this day (like everyone) I can think of a given song and immediately conjure up an image in my life to go along with that song. Road trips with friends, house parties and clubs- music truly does give us a soundtrack to life. It effectively dog-ears time and space, distilling and enhancing an emotion or a moment with rhythmic vulnerability. Two radio stations, both now sadly defunct, played a formative role in my life- Z Rock, 98.9 out of Austin, Texas and The X, 103.9 out of College Station. Z Rock was one of those late 80’s/early 90’s stations that changed with the tide once alternative rock came in. But in those 4-5 years that I listened to Z-Rock, I was exposed to hard rock and heavy metal that wallpapered the drinking nights at my friend Craig’s house. People poured in and out, but the only constant was Z-Rock. This is where I first heard the likes of Metallica, Pantera, Helmet, 80’s European heavy metal… much like MTV’s old “Headbanger’s Ball”, Z-Rock was the station that growing boys like myself listened to and imagined we were much tougher than we really were. Then, as I grew older and learned that music is sometimes more than adrenaline and screaming (not to demure the bands I just listed), I found my way to The X out of College Station. I remember finding this station by mistake. My job through school was in a retail store where we’d often clean up and stay until 11 or midnight. I’d often spend much more time adjusting the rabbit ears of the radio, desperately trying to affix a signal from outer space that would cut through the electrical wasteland of this department store rather than the tasks of cleaning at hand. And I quickly discovered that the radio worked much better posited on top of a box, peering out of the metal roofed toy stockroom than inside the store! And then, I could get 3 signals. Two country stations and The X. The music that streamed from the speakers was, in a humble word, life-altering. This is where I heard alternative and indie rock from a slew of bands that I’d never heard before. This is where I learned about The Pixies, The Toadies, Weezer, Afghan Whigs, The Cranberries, Bush, At the Drive In, They Might Be Giants and a host of other semi-marginal experimental bands who are now either dead, regarded as godfathers-of-indie-rock, or managers at Taco Bell. This is where I learned that music can be transcendent and edgy and a little different, full of odd vocal inflections, out of key and fuzzy, or simply more complex. Z-Rock and The X taught me a lot about music, and ultimately, about life. And when I hear The Cranberries “Zombie”, a flood of images rushes back to me. Good or bad, it’s always nice to reflect on younger times when you could run faster, jump higher and your stomach was a little flatter. And that’s the real power of music. The power to transform and transport. There is still great music being made, you just have to dig a little deeper. There are no more X’s and Z-Rock’s to serve it up. Everything has become more corporate. I regularly listen to 102.1 The Edge here in Dallas, and while the station tries hard, I can only take so much Green Day and Staind. The reaffirming factor about the Edge is the Sunday night line-up that features “The Adventure Club” from 6-9 p.m. in which they give springboard to a lot of great independent bands from across the country. Then, at 9 p.m. “The Local Show” gives musical props to local bands in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. These 4 hours on one night a week will never forgive the other 164 hours spent on mind-numbing Top 40 hits, but at least it shows that, sometimes, musical originality will explode on the radio. You just have to know when to listen. So, massive tangential conversations aside, here are a few of the new bands I’ve stumbled across:
The Appleseed Cast- “Peregrine”- probably the best album I’ve heard so far this year. This quartet from Kansas, featuring layered sounds of guitar and distinctive vocals, mesmerize from start to finish. If nothing else, a comment on the cd cover should inspire anyone to pick it up, calling The Appleseed Cast America’s closest thing to Radiohead. Check out a sample of their work here
Wolfmother- self titled- The likeability of this band depends on how much retro 70’s hard rock ala Led Zeppelin and Argent one can handle. For my tastes, they rock. This is nothing groundbreaking, but the vocals are strong and Wolfmother are a band who understand their roots without sinking into self mockery or condescension.
Black Tie Dynasty- “Movements”- A local Dallas Fort Worth band that are just now beginning to get some airplay with their single “Tender”, their sound is eerily reminiscent of Depeche Mode, and that’s not a bad thing. The rest of “Movements” is fantastic stuff. I need to check out their earlier stuff.
She Wants Revenge- self titled- If you’ve listened to Interpol, you’d quickly jump to the conclusion that She Wants Revenge is a splinter of that band’s members. Borrowing that band’s driving guitar style and somewhat flat vocals that passes as spoken word music at times, She Wants Revenge is something different and just beginning to make a mark in the musical world. Don't let the "emo" look fool you.