2007 – A Year of Mediocre Music?

19Dec07

After looking through a few year end best music lists it has occurred to me that 2007 was not a great year for music. While I have certainly not heard even the smallest fraction of all of the music released this year, a number of bands that I’m fond of released albums that are showing up all over these lists. The problem is not so much that these are bad records, but rather that they are not the “best” records one could hope to get from these artists. Let’s take a look at some examples of what I’m talking about.

The Arcade Fire Neon Bible

As a big fan of Funeral (and who isn’t), I was more than just a little bit excited for their follow up. Their interesting viral marketing campaign, which featured a bizarre infomercial and a flash-happy website, convinced me that this was an album that I needed to not just have, but to buy the special deluxe edition CD with some flippy books and a crappy poster. After I got over the euphoria of those flip books and actually listened to the record, well, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down. This was supposed to be one of those life-changing, best music ever heard, omg moments. Instead, I realized that the Fire decided to play it safe with a bunch of “mature” songs. Apparently, in the ears of many reviewers, the term mature refers to how unadventurous and bland a song can sound. Now, I’m being a bit cruel, but tracks like “Ocean of Noise”, “Windowsill”, and the misguided closure “My Body Is a Cage” all lack that special something that made every song on Funeral stand out. I’m not suggesting that Neon Bible is a bad record, but honestly, this is no instant classic. So when I see this CD listed within the top 10 best of the year, it makes me wonder, where have all the cowboys gone? But instead of cowboys, I’m thinking about awesome records.

Feist The Reminder

Ah, this album reminds me of about two years ago, when very much by chance I stumbled upon a glowing recommendation of Feist’s second (but kind of like her first) album Let It Die. Most people cite “Mushaboom” as the stand out track on that album, but for me, I was sold at “Gatekeeper.” The sparse acoustic arrangement, Carole King chord progression, and that ever so defined voice just knocked me out. So when I listen to Feist’s new record, what I’m really reminded of is how much more impressed I was with Let It Die. Let’s tell it like it is: The Reminder is a single’s album. If it wasn’t for the Apple approved “1234” clip, and the similarly commercially disseminated “My Moon My Man,” no one would be making a fuss about this album. And sure, these are great songs, but what about all the other stuff on the album? What I’m hearing, while occasionally quite good, often borders the sea of mediocrity that has inspired this blog post. Tell me you don’t skip “Limit to Your Love” to get to “1234” so you can practice dancing along with Leslie? Once again, this is not a bad album by any means, but a couple great singles…is that all it takes to be the best?

Of Montreal Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Ok, this one is tough, because I do think that this is a great album and deserves to be ranked among the year’s best. However, as hard X core fan of Of Montreal, I feel like it is my duty to say something negative about this record (does that make any sense?). The problem is not so much that this thing is showing up on a bunch of best of lists, but rather that everyone keeps calling it the best Of Montreal record. Furthermore, even Rolling Stone has gone as far as to single out “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” as one of the best “singles” of the year. So why does this bother me? The problem is that musically Kevin Barnes has gone way above and beyond this album in years past. The Gay Parade, Coquelicot, even Aldhil’s Arboretum are full of songs that aren’t just great pop tunes, but also push the boundaries of what we can even fathom as musically possible. Despite the brilliance of these records, particularly The Gay Parade, there is this notion that Of Montreal’s career began with Satanic Panic and has now reached its apex on Hissing Fauna. Where we might be finding Barnes opening up emotionally, musically he’s pulling back, drifting into safer and safer territory. We’ve become so used to Of Montreal’s electro pop antics, it seems like we put no value in the unbridled musical exploration of earlier Of Montreal work. “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” is the absolute antithesis of this prior model, relying on only one progression to carry it through twelve minutes of stream of conscious emotional venting. It’s a great song, and Hissing Fauna is a great record, but my fear is that what we as listeners have collectively decided on is that we’re not into songs that are musically challenging, only songs that are emotionally involved. I thought indie music fans didn’t like emo. What’s the deal?

So, while these records continue to adorn this year’s array of best of lists, I hope that my arguement here will serve as a reminder that sometimes the best could be better. Anyways…stay tuned for my best of 2007 list.

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