Pretty basic title, I know. But here's the thing: I was having a discussion with someone yesterday during which I was describing my alienation from music. It was sparked by the Live8 concert, where out of every act they booked that I was aware of, there were only two I actually liked: Coldplay and Björk. (Okay, I have some residual affection for Pink Floyd left over from junior high, but I'm talking now about current acts.)
I just have no place in my day for the music of U2, Madonna, Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Dave Matthews Band, Destiny's Child...pretty much any million-selling contemporary pop/rock act. Don't hate 'em, because hating 'em is like hating a skyscraper. It exists, and your feelings mean nothing to it. But when I bother to think about the issue at all, I find their popularity a little baffling, and then I shake my head and keep on moving. I don't waste my time writing about how much I don't like them, because what does it solve? Space and time are at a premium...might as well talk about the things I do like. I've said this before, in other places.
But it makes me feel a little alienated from American culture to not like, say, U2 or Bruce Springsteen. If ten million people like something, and I don't, am I a weirdo? (Well, yes, of course I'm a weirdo. That's long established. But you see what I mean.)
What's more, I get the same alienated feeling from stuff that's not hugely popular, but that is the subject of music-blogger/rockcrit group affection. Examples: Dizzee Rascal last year, M.I.A. this year. Other examples: Amerie, R. Kelly. (Yes, I noticed that all my examples were music by black artists. It's not something that worries me - why don't I like more music by black people? - because I like lots of music by black people, from David S. Ware to God Forbid. So let's move on to what actually does concern me.) Lots of bloggers, and posters on message boards I frequent, love these acts. Talk 'em up endlessly. But when I try to listen to 'em, I hear nothing. (Okay, Dizzee I liked a little bit, for awhile. Bought both albums, dug one or two songs on each. The only one that sticks in my head right now is "Stand Up Tall," from Showtime. But I know at one point or another I liked a song or two on Boy In Da Corner, too. Most of it was too slow, but some was all right. Moving on again.) This makes me feel like, again, I'm the weirdo, I'm the one who's "wrong."
This led the person to whom I was talking to conclude that maybe my passion for music was waning, and that maybe I should stop writing about it before I started taking jobs just for the paycheck, and feeling like a whore.
But that's not what's going on. I still love lots and lots of records - every day I hear something that makes me want to write about it for someone else to discover and go buy it. It's just that I'm allowing myself to be confused by others' opinions - I'm granting their tastes more weight than they probably grant mine. (Because that's the big question that all writers wrestle with at some point, I think - am I doing my job? How effectively am I convincing people that my passion for [Album/Artist Here] is not only genuine, but to be trusted? Maybe it's unidirectional, in my case - maybe I'm a gullible fuck who can be swayed by a review, but my own reviews aren't doing anything for anybody. I honestly don't know, because nobody ever tells me "Hey, I bought that record you wrote about, and you were right, it's great.") So what I need to do, it seems, is stop giving a fuck what other people think, and just keep talking about the music I like, wherever some editor will make space for me to do so.
But because my traitorous brain can't be trusted, that means I might have to stop reading the work of fellow writers I like and enjoy. So, um, that kinda sucks.
Anyway, all that whining and navel-gazing was the lead-in to a short list of Good Music. Check these records out, and have your brain warped in all the best ways. Really. You can trust me.
Meshuggah, I: Lots of people probably already have this. I came late to the party, having just gotten it last night. It is, as someone else told me, a little better/more impressive than its follow-up, the full-length Catch Thirty-Thr33, but both albums sound like they were not made by human beings. Meshuggah are the Autechre of death metal. They're alienating, a little scary, and fucking brilliant. I and Orthrelm's OV are serious arguments for metal as the next avant-garde.
Nortec Collective, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3: It's actually only their second disc, I think. Mexican music mixed with a little techno and a lot of digital dub. Imagine Leftfield as a Tejano nightclub band, and you've pretty much got it. If I drank, this is what I'd listen to while I was drinking in the summer sun.
Riddle Of Steel, Got This Feelin': These guys kinda remind me of Brant Bjork, the drummer from Fu Manchu (and formerly of Kyuss), whose album Brant Bjork & The Operators mixed New Wave and stoner rock in totally unexpected and brilliant ways. Got This Feelin' has that same big-riffs-meets-perky-melodies thing; if you want an even earlier reference, think Joe Walsh's "In The City," from the soundtrack to The Warriors.
Schoolyard Heroes, Fantastic Wounds. This album should be totally intolerable. It's spazzy, oh-so-slightly-heavy art-punk, with a girl singer who combines the worst traits of Kathleen Hanna and Gwen Stefani. But somehow, I keep coming back to it.
Jaguares, Cronicas De Un Laberinto: Adrian Belew's guitar has never sounded good to me until now. He's the special guest on this, which is much more arty and weird than Jaguares' last studio album, while still sounding ready to rock Mexican soccer stadiums. Lots of people remember Caifanes too fondly to really embrace Jaguares (which is fronted by Saul Hernandez, former Caifanes leader). Not me. These guys kick ass, even if the lyrics don't make sense in any language.
All right, that's five things I really like. I feel a little better now. If you go listen to these five records, maybe you'll feel good too. Inform me of your results, won't you?