The name of the game

Here’s an excerpt from a press release we got this week.  (The name of the band is blocked out so as to not drag their name around; they’re actually pretty good).  While it sounds hyperbolic, it’s actually pretty par for the course; every last one of these things sounds like this:

“[Album Title] is one of those albums that each of us holds onto tightly.  They get moved from apartment to apartment through the years; they are songs on the radio that follow us from town to town.  They evoke waves of nostalgia and grow more poignant with each new bump along the road.”

Actually, that’s pretty tame, rhetorically speaking, but the message is the same as in every release we get: this record will make your life matter again.  John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats posted on his blog about this, about how press agents are forever trying to make their bands into something that they’re not.  And, yeah, I get it, that’s their job, but it gets more than a little grating to hear how This Band is going to Change the World Forever and Ever.

But I’m more interested in what it says about us, both rock writers and the people we’re writing for.  I’m not kidding when I say that every last presser I read says something about how this band is going to pop us out of our complacent bubbles.  PR people are smart; they know that those of us who listen to music all day long are stuffed and overfed, sitting on thrones of our own making, and they’re more than willing to be the food taster, filtering out what’s going to kill us and feeding us what will give us life (provided, of course, that the life-givers pay the monthly).

And let me say this: the concept of discovering that album that wakes you back up to the beauty of being alive — that’s a very, very appetizing dish.  Part of what’s happened since we’ve gotten our iPods and discovered the shuffle feature is that we are now completely in control of our musical surroundings.  iPods, by virtue of their warehouse-like capacity, afford us the opportunity to search search search until we figure out what the exact right song for the moment is.  And by the time we find it, the moment changes.  So we search again.

This isn’t the way that music is supposed to work.  We don’t make it our servant.  We don’t make it bend to our situations.  We don’t appreciate it as anything other than what it is.  At least, we shouldn’t do these things.

Hear me right: I want music to matter to me.  But I’ve found that the more of it I consume, the more I center my life around it, the less it seems to matter.  Music was never meant to be consumed like a bag of chips.  Good music, music that actually matters, is the outpouring of someone’s inner being, the overflow of who they are, and when we sit still and actually let them speak to us (whether we realize that that’s what we’re doing or not), that art will touch us, and often in profound ways.  This is why PR guys and girls try to make us believe that this record will change our lives, and why every record review you read alternates between apathy and exuberance; we’re either sick to death of being let down or we’re still trying to convince ourselves that everything is fine.

That said, there are times when the light breaks through.  You can trust that when my review of Stay Positive, the new record from the Hold Steady, appears on Aquarium Drunkard, the glow will be authentic.  I don’t love the way I feel when I listen to the National, but I do love that band.  I’m finding comfort in the music that I can lose myself in, music that I don’t understand and so I stop trying to understand it; hence my adoration of Panda Bear / Animal Collective.  Maybe that’s what it boils down to, that I’ve (we’ve, whatevs) become too analytical and are afraid to stop thinking and just feel a record.  When explaining music is what you do all day long, letting go of that is a tough thing to do; it’s why it took me forever to appreciate the National and it’s why bands that are immediately disarming (Animal Collective) have a high critical following (the fact that they do that while making great music is another reason, hah).

So, anyway, in the name of keeping things interesting, who are some of the bands that you connect to?  Who do you get lost in?  (In whom do you get lost?)

One Response to “The name of the game”
  1. Gustavo says:

    “Good music, music that actually matters, is the outpouring of someone’s inner being, the overflow of who they are, and when we sit still and actually let them speak to us (whether we realize that that’s what we’re doing or not), that art will touch us, and often in profound ways.”

    I don’t agree with you 100% here. I appreciate the fact that you appreciate music to the mystic level you seem to, and frankly I appreciate music probably just as much… (I know I said appreciate three times in one sentence – so be it). Sometimes music is just music. And sometimes it’s shitty. And sometimes it’s simple, and the people who make it have no talent and don’t want to touch us, and don’t want to express the essence of who they are, and maybe they just want to write a song that will get them laid. But even in those circumstances, music may be incredible and may make me feel all those things you mentioned. And that’s music that actually matters to me, regardless of anything else. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself well enough here, but it’s hard for me to write about intangible things, for lack of a better term (i.e. things I cannot touch – feelings, or something like it). That’s why I’m a scientist.

    Anyway, I think we have a lot in common regardless. I listen to bands like Phish and The Disco Biscuits probably for the same reasons you listen to The Hold Steady – partly because I get lost in it. Probably not the kind of music you’d ever get lost in, but I do and I love being surrounded by others who do as well. Even if it’s hippies who haven’t showered in weeks.

    Lately I’ve come to appreciate Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky (and as a consequence I’ve pulled up some old Pink Floyd albums I hadn’t listened to in months – even years).

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