(This post is part of Frequency’s coverage of the best music of the past decade. You can see all of that coverage in one place by clicking here. And be sure to check out “Near/Far,” our free, legal, downloadable MP3 compilation of the best music of 2009, by clicking here.)
As part of Frequency’s ongoing coverage of music in the first 10 years of the 21st century, I’ve asked a few folks close to the local scene to reflect on the past decade in whatever way they see fit. Today, we have something from the mighty mind and pen of David Clemmer, lead singer and songwriter of local indie-rock band The Dirty Words and a former employee of the now defunct Boomtown Records in downtown Bend.
I know that David is an avid music fan, and he makes some interesting points here, so make sure to click below to read the whole thing. Whether you agree or disagree with him, I hope you’ll leave your own thoughts in the comments.
A Game of Stars
To describe this past decade in music, one would have to appropriate the first run-on sentence in “A Tale of Two Cities.” Best, worst, wisdom, foolishness, belief, incredulity, Light, Darkness, hope, despair, et cetera, ad infinitum. Then you have to factor in mathematics: When you take two equal extremes on either side of the positive-negative spectrum and add them together, you get zero.
In this case: ennui.
There are many possible reasons for this, I think.
What we saw in this quote-unquote “dawn” of a digital age could be seen as an amazing innovation, or could be seen as an incomparable rate of music being distributed for cheap or free directly to our homes without having us leave our chairs. The havoc wreaked on our attention spans is insurmountable. Quantity overpowering quality in the field of subjective and diverse creativity is a dangerous numbing agent.
A result is a cesspool of music fans who can’t find solid ground on their own beliefs. The word overrated — a word that I abhor more than that feeling you get when you pour a bowl of cereal and realize you have no milk — becomes the standard term of disapproval. (There is a tangent on which I could expound with great fervor, fraught with criticisms of our use of the English language and logical fallacies, but I shall spare you.)
Opinions change like local weather patterns. Hype factors can sway someone’s tastes. Everything is subject to judgment ere the cracking of its metaphorical cover.
Why is this? Has the music industry’s prolific output destroyed our ability to enjoy something simple? Because we can log in to last.fm or Pandora and listen to anything at anytime, anywhere, without the disincentive of forking over our dwindling finances? How much music have we heard that, ten or fifteen years ago, would have astounded us? I’m not saying that digital distribution is the sole offender for our desensitization. There’s a more positive possible reason.
Perhaps quantity is not the issue in tandem with quality, and that quality itself is the reason for our blank stares and upturned noses.
Finite gems have been given to us: Radiohead’s “Kid A,” anything Sigur Ros has ever done, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven,” Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” … and in turn, we look at everything else and say, “Well you’re not like these amazing things, so I’m not impressed.”
Take Radiohead’s releases of the decade. I look at user reviews on music websites. The common denominator for “Hail to the Thief” and “In Rainbows” is, “Meh, it was alright, but it’s not ‘Kid A.’”
My argumentative M.O. compels me to respond, “Of course it’s not f@#$ing ‘Kid A.’ That’s why they’re called ‘Hail to the Thief’ and ‘In Rainbows.’” This, followed by some Shakespearean denigration of their character.
The exhibits I have placed before you are intertwined. We are so amazed by all these terrific things that are few and far between in a constant and powerful influx of mediocrity, that when something simply good comes along, it gets no recognition. Or to be fair, not as much recognition as it deserves.
Number Six on my 2000s Top Ten list (below) is an album called “Hello, Dear Wind” by a group called Page France. Soft, melodious, simple, a thorough involvement of the first-fourth folk progression, a positive and wondrous outlook on these windy times. In my opinion, comparable to the ever-popular indie-folk hit “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” (by Neutral Milk Hotel) in its aforementioned softness, melodiousness, and simplicity.
People don’t know about it. Maybe “Hello, Dear Wind” was ten years too late to rest on our hearts, because to me, it’s a cherished and wonderful indie-folk treasure.
There’s a fatalist sense of doom that I’ve noticed in the writings and ramblings of music fans: a generic feeling that something is over and can never be revived. These sentiments are ignited by the reasons I’ve mentioned, as well as the obvious and ubiquitous opinion that the Top 40 of today are reprehensible tokens of baseless filth. Where can music go, now that all art seems to have disappeared from the art form? Where can it go, now that all the quality rests in the esoteric and the old and the unapproachable?
“Good night to the rock and roll era, we don’t need you anymore.”
–Pavement, “Fillmore Jive”
There’s more than these stars and decimals you pin to these albums and artists, your statistics, your opinions and T-shirts. What you’re dealing with is someone’s art, someone’s reason for existing, someone’s lists of things they want you to know as a person they never will meet. This is how they meet you more than it is how you meet them. These are expressions.
Yes, some expressions are for the wrong reasons; some expressions are expressions you don’t agree with; some expressions are not as powerful as others; some expressions are things you have every right never to listen to again.
But they are worth your subjectivity. They are worth your emotion, to love, to despise. And they are worth their continuance. Our continuance. Things are not over in the music world. Something that began in prehistory is invulnerable to total death, as long as we can still appreciate it. As long as we can still hear it.
It’s the best of times.
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF THIS DECADE:
10. The pAper Chase, “God Bless Your Black Heart”
9. Joanna Newsom, “The Milk-Eyed Mender”
8. Bjork, “Vespertine”
7. The Decemberists, “Castaways and Cutouts”
6. Page France, “Hello, Dear Wind”
5. The National, “Boxer”
4. Tom Waits, “Real Gone”
3. Radiohead, “In Rainbows”
2. Why?, “Elephant Eyelash”
1. Modest Mouse, “The Moon and Antarctica”