Here we are again, folks. Another New Year is right around the corner, which means many of us at some point or another will have to come to terms with the sobering fact that we're one year closer to oblivion. Moreover, any lessons worth knowing in this life are probably already known (the world is not out to get us, but rather completely indifferent to our actions -- life is an illusion, love is a dream, and so on and so forth). But you shouldn't let all this negative blather bog you down. ‘Cuz as Andy Williams croons: “It's the most wonderful time of the year,” and what ol' wild child Williams was singin' about with those vanilla-white pipes of his was that this season bears far too many good things for anyone to get bummed out for long. In fact, one of my favorite year-end traditions -- aside from good eatin' and blitzing my brains out -- is the TMT year-end lists. What better send off to the old, while inaugurating the new year by saluting those righteous and raucous albums that made all our lives a little easier to bear?
However, while compiling my Favorites of ‘07 list, I noticed something that gave me pause: two of my top five picks this year -- certainly the albums I played the most -- are Panda Bear's Person Pitch and The Black Lips' Good Bad Not Evil, two albums that sound like they could've come outta the swingin' ‘60s. The primary reason why I find these picks alarming is because I've always considered myself an advocate of the seemingly unfashionable idea of pushing music forward into territory where it's never been or conceived of, even at the risk of alienating and confusing its listeners. ‘Cuz at least then the parameters of conventional music are being challenged, and perhaps somebody in all that tinkering and exploring will stumble upon the High White Note that'll have the total effect of instantly illuminating the human race to its hopeless stupidity, and maybe that'll be just the push we need to finally come together as brothers and sisters in peace and love. Yeah, I know I'm talking like a goddamn hippy, and the chances of that idealistic wet dream coming to fruition are zilch, but you gotta have hope, right? And I'm not ignorant to the fact that more often than not those esoteric noise-jams are little more than pretentious shams cooked up by talentless reprobates that probably couldn't write a catchy tune if they wanted to. ‘Cuz what else would you call a barrage of off-key notes in weird time signatures or some such mess? Art? You gotta be joking. I mean, what was the last album you heard when you thought: Holy Christ! This record is a veritable work of art that could stand next to the Mona Lisa! The last time I had anything resembling that sentiment was the first time I heard Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and that was half a decade ago. Regardless, I'd still rather listen to the most abstract, inaccessible noise around, because if our only options in new music are various forms of trash, it may as well be trash with a tinge of originality.
But perhaps all this talk is moot, because even I have to admit that the record industry cranks out enough worthwhile records -- however sparse -- to justify its existence. But the point of all this delirious prattle is to reveal that both Person Pitch and Good Bad Not Evil, albeit thoroughly phenomenal records, are nonetheless derivatives and/or confluences of past musical styles, which means I'm a hypocrite, particularly since I've been going on about the merits of originality and pushing music forward. Maybe the seemingly endless outpouring of cheap crap has made me so desperate that the only new records that I immediately dig on and latch to are ones which remind me of old favorites. Now, for the record, I'm not implying that Person Pitch and Good Bad Not Evil are blatant facsimile rip-offs of old glories -- there are significant and highly personal voices to those records -- but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think Panda Bear was heavily influenced by Brian Wilson circa Pet Sounds, intermittent with heritage African beat and electronica. Nor were the Black Lips above emulating the wild yowls of those precious garage bands on the Nuggets compilations.
See, I care about almost nothing besides music, as I suspect is the case with you. This is why I'm sharing all this talk with you. ‘Cuz, ultimately, the extension of all this chatter has led me to a few possible conclusions/concessions about the dismal state of our ever-declining music biz, if not my own peculiar tastes (and possibly yours):
1. Is it possible that we live in a period where even the absolute cream of popular arts is incapable of producing an original and vital piece of music unless it's so strange and inaccessible (i.e., New Weird America) that it repels anyone that doesn't dig on outlandishly abstract music? Could it be that we have exhausted every beautiful melody in our collective consciousness, so that even our best new records are merely cyclical manifestations of old standards? I mean, the Beatles were/are the best goddamn band in the world principally, because they created the best music ever made. They were arguably the apex of experimentation and palpability. Granted, the Fab Four are a rare and special example, but shouldn't we (both fans and artists) adhere to those standards/ambitions?
2. The record industry holds the public in such utter contempt that they've reduced us all to a demographic. We're just a little dot on a giant chalkboard, ya'll. Granted, it's obvious why the suits would pander to the most relatable and popular trend for the purpose of making an easy buck, but what has developed from this syndrome is that we have a dangerously narrow industry of trend-hopping that, in the grander more profound scheme of things, is another form of control and cannibalism. In a closed environment with few choices, the only vital choice not available is individualism, and that is the risk before us when all our music essentially sounds the same. We're already running on six decades of music that, at least in rock, when stripped down and dissected, can be linked back to those old blues standards.
So where does all this blather lead us in the year 2008? Nowhere, I'm assuming. Things will probably continue as they have been, except we'll all be a little older, slower, and meaner than we were a year ago. I don't see any plausible reason why the record industry would break the pattern of chasing its own tail now. There's too much money to be made in this racket, which means that even if there were some kickass experimental group out there writing new chapters in music, there's a pretty decent chance that we'll never hear it. Perhaps it's just downright foolish of me to expect some sort of new musical renaissance to emerge out of our current watershed in the first place. So prepare for a letdown in 2008. I say this not because this next year will be the coming of a shit-train, but because there's something about this time of the year that gives people the senseless delusion that things will somehow be better than before, when in actuality, 2008 will probably be the same as any other year. And you know what? That's fine by me. ‘Cuz for my part, dear reader, I'd rather be nowhere else but here with you.
Good night and good tidings, baby. Happy New Year.
(Click here to return to our 2007 year-end image map)