Fashionable Pessimism

It drives me nuts when people, some of them intelligent and not prone to idiotic statements, say things to me like a colleague did the other day: "Do you ever hear a good record anymore?"

Seriously, if you want to see me turn Mommy Dearest on yo ass, say that or something in the same realm of stupidity. My response after a nasty look and a disgusted shake of the head is, "Go spend some time in a record store or online ya lazy faaa….." There's tons of good records out there if you just look. The mess that the record business has become has not affected the amount or quality of the music that's being produced. Sure, some genres are declining, blues is the best example, but that's an organic, cultural thing, i.e. the genuine bluesmen, African–Americans from the delta or at least the Chicago–born sons of delta boys, are almost completely gone.

Now, I will also admit that there is a problem these days with joining listeners to the music they want to hear. Record stores are going the way of the wax cylinder. And even those that survive, can either be small and too elitist (too cool to talk to customers about music) or big and too loud and confusing (too dumb to talk to customers about music). Another factor is that artists are making their own records these days, which often makes hearing them, let alone buying them, a lot more work. Sit down and Google names of bands or solo acts and go to their MySpace page and listen. That and pay for satellite radio. The combo of the two is really the only way to learn and find new music since terrestrial radio, which has been dying for at least a decade, has lost much of its influence—outside that rarified NPR seal of approval. It's truly amazing how many older folks listen to NPR and then run out or hop online and buy the music they've heard on an NPR show. Labels say they see a sales spike literally hours after their music is featured on an NPR show.

All that aside, here are a few new releases, a few "good records" I’ve heard recently.

Fleet Foxes, Self–Titled

If this isn't a hit, I don’t know what is. Vocal music on Sub Pop? Well, yeah. But it's also folky like Fairport Convention. And lush vocally like Brian Wilson run amok. And there's some kind of Fleetwood Mac thing here that I haven't really figured out yet. All this is produced with a big, echo–y Wall–of–Sound fascination that should have been less compressed. Anyone sure that nothing "new" happens in music anymore needs to hear this record.

Ruby Suns, Sea Lion

Anything that touts itself as being "multi–cultural" immediately makes me suspicious. I mean, try as we might, Americans aren't now nor will they ever be truly multi–cultural. Even uppity New Yorkers are not multi–cultural, particularly when it comes to anything African. So when a lily white "collective" from New Zealand, led by a kid from California, pick a cutesy name, choose a cutesy cover and launch into psychedelic rock influenced by "world" sounds, it sounds like a prescription for eye–rolling nausea. But they pull it off, that is, if you can take sprightly, cluttered, super nerdy tunes filled with samples, percussive instruments of all kinds, and lots of sing–ging.

The Dowland Project, Romaria

A review of this record will appear in an upcoming Stereophile so I don't want to spoil the surprise or steal the reviewer's thunder, but let it suffice to say that this is not 16th century English Lute music. Far from it. Very modern music with very old sources. Extraordinary, with ECM's usual spacious distinctive sonics.

Peter O'Brien's picture

I agree with your assessment that there is plenty of good music around but, this is where I differ, there is an acute lack of great music. My argument is, that over the years I've tried consistently to keep an open mind about the progress (?) of modern music, keeping my car radio permanently tuned to alternative radio stations. However, about three or four years ago, about the time I got excited about Ryan Adams and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah's, as I listened more intently to the music I came to the conclusion that, yes it was good music, but it didn't linger, it lacked a certain weight or melodic substance. Lets face it Ryan is no Neil Young and the YYY'S no Stooges. I guess thats my point where are all the modern generations Bob Dylan's, Beatles , Joni Mitchell, Hendrix, Zeppelin etc. Is it because there are TOO many bands. The musical cream doesn't rise to the top anymore, it just gets to the middle and curdles. Is it the record industry's fault ?. Oops Ive run out of space.

Paul S.'s picture

I agree with Peter O'Brien. I think it's because we live in a culture that has become very numb. Way too numb to produce another Bob Dylan.

Dickie W.'s picture

I'm the ole dude that listens to my NPR radio which happens to play jazz all night and post what they play on their web site, so I can go to and purchase the albums. (WMUB-88.5 FM) Who is to judge what is the BEST? If they sound good and I like the melody, isn't that what its all about anyway?

Mike53's picture

Just as "the ole dude" does, I spend evening tuning in to NPR as well as local college stations and get exposed to such a variety of music. It's the only way to hear what music is aailable.