Reflections on the musical void of 2008 (thus far)

all in all

If I had to give one reason why I’ve been so uninspired to blog these past few months – random American political observations aside – I think it’s that 2008 is turning out to be a bit of a musical crisis for me.

Here’s the deal: there’s little question that 2007 was a spectacular year for music, equally dominated by new discoveries and old favourites each at the top of their game. But 2008 has been a struggle. I find myself sorting through MP3s and music reviews alike, trying to find new sounds worth my time and soul’s devotion and I keep coming up empty. Nothing seems to stick, nothing wants to stay in my head for anything more than a one-spin stand.

And I think I might be the problem.

DistortionSure, there’s been a couple of highlights. I’m a pretty big Magnetic Fields fan, so Distortion has spent a good deal of time in my stereo. The album sees the band marry their folk sensibilities to Jesus and Mary Chain-esque production, placing the vocals of Stephen Merritt and (yay!) Shirley Simms over a messy, distorted wall of sound. Tracks like “California Girls” and “The Nun’s Litany” rank among the best songs that Stephen Merritt has ever written, but as much as I love the Fields, the never seem to click with me for an entire album; there’s always just enough filler to render the disc semi-disappointing as an album (with the notable exception of 69 Love Songs, which brilliantly overcompensates for this problem by throwing a plethora of riches at the wall to see what sticks).

Vampire WeekendThen there’s the self-titled debut from Vampire Weekend, the closest thing 2008 has produced to a buzz band. The band was the talk of the blogosphere well before their record was released; with the speed these things go now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve already been through the backlash and back again. I really dig the record – it charmingly marries my love of Paul Simon with my love of indie pop – but even its luster has faded a bit. I blame this mostly on the band’s god-awful performance on SNL a couple of weeks back, where they performed with an ironic distance that totally wrecked any authenticity I had credited them with. Guys, you write great pop songs – treat them as such!

But beyond those two records – an old favourite and a buzz band that was hard to ignore – almost nothing has caught my eardrums’ attention, and that’s really starting to bother me. Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve been lazy and haven’t tried out a bunch of the new bands. Over the past few weeks I’ve gone through Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” list and downloaded a large handful of records: Beach House, Hercules and Love Affair, Atlas Sound. Nothing stuck with me. I’ve also downloaded next week’s releases from Gnarls Barkley and The Raconteurs – both disappointing, at first listen. The new Breeders record is decent, but as a child of the late 90s, something about its aesthetic just doesn’t feel like its mine to love. All these records – all ending up just background noise to me.

Street HorrrsingIronically, the only recent record that’s made an impression on me is basically 49 minutes of noise. Yes, over this past weekend I’ve become quite fond of the Fuck Buttons album, Street Horrrsing. What the band lacks in, oh, I don’t know, a sensible name, they make up for with their ability to find melody buried in walls of distortion and noise, like if My Bloody Valentine turned the dials up to 11 (and added some screaming in for good measure). It reminds me of one of my favourite time-killing pastimes – to fiddle around with my guitar pedals until I create a feedback loop that circles in on itself over and over again, lasting for minutes or even hours. I find the practice surprisingly relaxing.

Come to think of it, while I’ve done lots of fiddling with sounds, I haven’t written a song in months. Am I perhaps becoming bored with pop music, both in what I listen to and in what I write? Maybe after a year of riches I’ve grown tired of three chord melody and rhythm, which would be quite strange considering that it’s always been the foundation of how I experienced music. What a strange wall, this is, that I’ve hit…

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