What 2015 Releases By The Decemberists And Sleater-Kinney Can Teach Us About Music’s Next Step
A few weeks ago I was sent this article:
If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a great read, one that warrants further discussion.
Though playback artists currently dominate the market: Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Skrillex, Carly Rae Jepsen, nearly all of hip hop (this is the year of hip hop, mark my word: releases by Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Lupe Fiasco, and J. Cole alone in the last five months top what we’ve seen collectively in the last five years), we are beginning to see a renewed thirst for band bands.
BAND BANDS /bænd-bænd s/ n. plural: 1. groups of instrumentalists playing music on actual physical instruments, not computers. 1480-90; < Middle French bande < Italian banda; cognate with the Late Latin bandum < Germanic; akin to Gothic bandwa standard.
This thirst is still in its infancy, but it’s gaining steam. Why? Because we are sucking all of the resources out of today’s popular genres at a rate faster than any other genre has experienced.
Like cities, musical genres have economic growth curves. While we see a new American city face economic decline roughly every 50 years, we see a new musical genre enter the scene about every 15. When an already dynamically sparse genre like EDM and computer music dominates the market, it’s only a matter of time before listeners get tired of the repetitive sound. Composers will gobble up EDM Tools and suck out every bit out of what makes EDM well, EDM. We’re already starting to see remixes of remixes and calling today’s youth culture “remix artists.” Just like disco — bangers, jammers, trap beats, and island jams will all start to sound the same and our ears will grow weary.
No one is talking about the next Skrillex, Tiesto, or Calvin Harris album anymore. I know they’re talking about the next EDM festival because, let’s face it, college kids need to party and Cancún is no longer cutting it. But we’ve seen this rapid growth and short life span in other playback genres before: Disco, 90’s Electronica. They both saw a huge surge in popularity, only to fizzle out due to a lack of dynamic diversity in the genre. One can take only so much from leisure suits and 60hz drum and bass beats at 140bpm and +120dB for 4 straight hours.
So far this year: Modest Mouse released their first album in 8 years; The Decemberists released their first album in 4 years; and Sleater-Kinney released their first album in over 10. Clearly, something is happening with band bands.
Take the fact that Slate is writing an article about this shift in “indie” as a genre as proof that we are on the brink of a new musical movement.
Sleater-Kinney at SXSW in 2006.
We are seeing artists re-emerge from our last great band bands era (early 2000’s), but in addition to Slate’s claim about the prejudice that the word “indie” creates is the notion that today’s listening landscape has completely changed: where these bands once relied on record sales, they now rely on Spotify plays. When listeners have the ability and the tendency to skip through songs only hitting their favorites, the album has to change.
More and more listeners are experiencing the majority of their music from streaming sites like Spotify, iTunes, and Pandora. More and more audiences are heading to concert venues expecting the show to sound exactly like it did on their headphones. More and more kids are growing up on poor quality sound not knowing (not caring; not knowing to care) that it could sound better.
(For more on the Spotify/live concert divide, see my article from back in December.)
Another issue is an overwhelming immediacy of access. For example, I’m writing this post from an airplane where I have the ability to listen to the ENTIRE Paul Butterfield Blues Band discography.
Paul Butterfield! On an airplane!
No “indie” genre is left underground or unheard of. If it’s on Spotify, one can no longer claim: you probably haven’t heard of them. Everything and anything is readily available and today’s listeners demand an album that keeps up with their shrinking attention spans. Steps are being made towards better quality audio. Tidal, flaws aside, states half of its mission is to make high quality streaming a standard. That’s a start, but it’s not enough.
One thing that makes bands like Modest Mouse, The Decemberists, and Sleater-Kinney so unique is the unpredictable and masterful synergy between their recorded albums and their live performances. Watching Modest Mouse breaking through the scene with their 2004 hit “Float On” live at the Paramount in Seattle, the Decemberists single-handedly creating the Portland indie rock scene with Castaways and Cutouts? Come on, nothing beats it. These are the bands our friends have always said “you just have to be there to hear.” They’ve also been the bands that produce studio albums we can’t live without.
Today’s streaming space needs to properly represent band bands in both live and recorded formats. We need to find a way to make Spotify and iTunes allow the listener to feel like they’re there in addition to presenting high quality studio albums. The “indie” genre label may fade, but the artists that brought it to critical acclaim don’t have to. Right now, streaming sites have only succeeded in representing the recording artist. They could be representing the artist that also excels at live performance. What happens when Spotify and iTunes can properly represent the Decemberists and Sleater-Kinneys of today’s quickly approaching musical frontier? That’s when band bands come back.
From One Ear To Another,