Part I of this essay declared my gratitude for music that came out of the early part of the past decade. Before I discuss some of the music that came into my world in the latter part of the decade, I think it is important to mention the change that has occurred over the past 10 years in consumer access to new and exciting music.
Around the time the new millennium rolled around, I discovered something that turned my love for the music of Stevie Nicks into a full-fledged obsession: I found her fan-generated web page. Not only did I learn then that there was a whole community of people who shared love for her music, I could go back and read every article ever published, every interview she ever gave. It was a treasure trove for the musically obsessed mind. It was around this time that Napster was gaining user momentum, and I was thrilled to discover I could obtain rare demos and live recordings from the cyber-community of music fans. In 10 short years, the online music community has exploded into an abundance of social networking sites, on-line magazines, and blogs where music lovers can sample music, watch live performances, and connect with one-another. Needless to say, I would not be the hyper-tuned-in music fan I am today without the technology of MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Last.fm and the countless magazines and blogs I visit weekly.
And let me just say, YouTube is a beautiful thing. To listen to music is one thing, but to view live clips of the music physically coming from a band or a singer can take your appreciation of that music to a much greater level. YouTube gives us up-close views that only the optimal concert experience can yield. Let’s face it – most of us are deprived of our optimal concert experience by geography, finances, or just being born in the wrong decade. Fortunately, YouTube allows us the ability to experience music in a more intimate way. YouTube can be a band’s best friend or its worst enemy; for better or worse, it reveals the authenticity in their playing, stage presence, and charisma. I have never been to an Arcade Fire concert, but I know they are a breathtaking live show; I have seen the video. Although video can never be the same as actually being there, YouTube is free and accessible to the masses, and it conveys the emotion of a performance well.
In addition to all of the changes in how we access music and view performance, the cool thing about the past decade in music is the breakdown and meshing of genres. Bands are pulling textures from all sorts of influences to create fresh sounds. The result is hybrids of rock, electronic, classical, blues, funk, cabaret, and various other genres. This is not the time for music purists. Bands may change their sound significantly from album to album, even from song to song within the same album; the challenge they have is in maintaining cohesiveness.
The Killers have been especially meaningful to me in recent years because the diversity of genres and influences is heavily represented in their songs, and they wear their own music fandom on their (opulently decorated) sleeves. As a band that repeatedly pays homage to the bands that have inspired them, they talk openly about their influences, continuously experiment with different musical styles, embrace the recording of cover songs, and collaborate with incredible artists. Because of the Killers, I have revisited artists and bands from past decades that I had earlier dismissed, for example ELO, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. The way in which the Killers blend styles and genres, for me, acted as a “101 Guide” to older artists, and made them more palatable then they were to me previously. Discovering their music opened my mind to many new sub-genres of rock and roll, and for that, I am grateful.
Muse is another band that completely revived my interest in rock music this decade. Their blend of hard rock, classical symphony, and electronic music was so fresh and new to my ears. Muse is the mad-minded professor of the rock world right now. Every album is crafted like a magnificent opus, and the themes of their songs include conspiracy politics, metaphysics, literature, and philosophy. Each new album they release is both sonically and socially thought provoking. I have not been to a Muse live show and I will not rest until I see the mad professors in action. 2010 will be the year.
The later half of this decade has introduced me to many young bands, and I look forward to following many promising careers into the next decade. Arctic Monkeys, Gaslight Anthem, White Rabbits, and Howling Bells are just a few examples of bands that have impressed me with excellently written albums and legitimate, authentic playing. As this decade comes to a close, music lovers have a lot to be excited about for the immediate future of rock and roll. A strange mix of authenticity and fantasy permeates the musical climate, and rather than existing separate from one another, they are increasingly present within artists’ work. Music by bands like MGMT and Phoenix is genuinely artistically crafted, but there are fanciful, playful elements to their songs.
For too long, rock music has taken itself too seriously. Sub-genres were strictly classified and a divisive snobbery among music fans has divided us in the past. That is not to say that music elitism does not still exist, but it is breaking down. Social networking, and the ability to sample music from new artists, is creating a music environment that is more populist and fan-driven. Bands communicate directly with fans, inform them of live shows and offer access to free or inexpensive downloads. Fans can decide for themselves what they like and what they don’t like. Increased populism in the industry is making the roles of the record executive and the rock critic increasingly obsolete. I believe that an environment where executives and critics have less clout will ultimately foster more creativity, less fear, and greater risk taking on the part of artists.
Bye 2000’s! I will remember you fondly. Bring on the New Year, the new decade!