Posts on: music
Jul 30, 2014
@ 4:20 pm
Spoon Feed the Beast
A great band reemerges, still great but now loaded with narrative to boot
Fatigue is a real though impossible-to-quantify factor in determining not just media coverage but popular taste. It’s a weird curse to be so good for so long that your audience starts to get bored with you, but after Transference, Spoon was uniquely susceptible to this problem. Just as writers eventually run out of insight on a particular artist, audiences get antsy.
Steven Hyden gets to the heart of why Spoon can be both so great and so underrated. I listened to They Want My Soul yesterday, and I have to say, it sounds just like the same Spoon I’ve loved for more than 10 years. Which is to say, it’s just plain good.
This infographic comes from Wax and Wane: The Tough Realities of Vinyl’s Comeback. The whole article was fascinating, and not just for nuggets like this, which places Bob Marley’s perennial pre-teen exploration beyond current pop, 1984’s Legend, alongside rock acts big and small. (And of course the biggest of them all, The Beatles.)
The top 50 year-to-date vinyl albums as of June 1 included a mix of indie rock, alt rock, folk rock, and classic rock. So, yes: Vinyl is still very much a rock format. A few hip-hop releases are sprinkled in—Kendrick Lamar’s good kid: m.A.A.d city at #18, Kanye’s The College Dropout at #45, Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) just beyond at #59—but even those are rap albums that have noted indie crossover appeal. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories makes an appearance, as does Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and radio mainstays like Justin Timberlake and Lorde. But the rest is dominated by indie- and alt-rock faves (Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Bon Iver, Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel), classic-rock heavyweights (the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley), and all three of the most recent albums by the Black Keys, who have managed to corral both indie- and classic-rock fans. The chart reads like a required-listening syllabus for a course in indie rock of the recent past and baby boomer classics.
This is yet more evidence in my theory that the only people buying music anymore are the same ones that only ever bought music, really, save for the height of the CD era in 1999/2000—ones who listen to more than just pop music. Which, even with the decline of radio, are rock fans.
And if I carry this idea to its logical conclusion, it makes sense that rock radio has been falling by the wayside in the last decade; the people that would have listened to it are too busy curating their own musical experience.
This was great. I picked it up because of Mark’s review.
I read Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, and it’s probably my favorite book of the year so far. Like Wilson, I never cared that much for Céline Dion’s music, and hadn’t tried to care, but I came away with a new appreciation for where she came from and some of her shrewd business moves. But it’s not just about the music and industry angle, the good stuff is how he uses Dion as the pivot to talk about taste, and all the baggage that informs our opinions.
Much of this book is about reasonable people carting around cultural assumptions that make them assholes to millions of strangers.
There are tons of great quotes from the book, many of which Mark already pulled out. I particularly liked this one—
Punk, metal, even social-justice rock like U2 or Rage Against the Machine, with their emphatic slogans or individuality and independence, are as much “inspirational” as Céline’s music is, but for different subcultural groups. They are just as one-sided and unsubtle.
—which reminded me of the Neil Young vs. Billy Joel section of Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music.
It’s a really fun read. I kept misplacing it around the house and asking my wife, “Have you seen my Celine Dion book?” Which was pretty hilarious. Recommended.
BTW: there’s a new edition of the book that includes essays from other writers on the topic of taste.
Filed under: my reading year 2014
I read this book years ago, while at Sasquatch! of all places. Every time I try to suggest it for my music-loving friends, they look at me funny. But they should read it, and so should you. It’s super great for all the reasons above, and more.