2010 turned out to be quite a stonking musical year for me, really. I was recently going over my much-lauded (if I do say so myself) list of "Obscure alternatives" (it's here, if you wanna check it out: http://rateyourmusic.com/list/Phimister/obscure_alternatives__unsung_masterpieces_and_underappreciated_gems) and was rather startled at how many albums from 2010 (and 2009 and 2008, it must be said) feature on it. So, blessed with too much spare time and a limited imagination, I've been pondering this matter at some length...
Of course, it's possible that, as I'm a bit richer now than in 2002 (when I was a cash-strapped and booze-drenched student), 1995 (when I was twelve) or 1978 (when I was a basically just a dirty thought at the back of my Dad's mind), I can buy more music, so it makes sense that I would uncover more things I love by virtue of mass spending. But, thanks to internet downloading (of the legal kind!), and the mass-consumption of music that is par-for-the-course in this day and age, I think the sum total of 2010 albums I have bought of late is pretty emphatically eclipsed by those of just about any seventies' year. So, I don't think I buy more albums now than in previous years, and if I do, they're unlikely to all be recent ones, with acquisitions of the last few months ranging from albums released in 1959 to a wealth of sixities, seventies, eighties and nineties records.
What does seem more likely is that this wealth of great "obscure" albums in 2010 is a reflection of the state of the music industry these days. The market these days is saturated with, essentially, three types of rather generic music. There are established pop genres that have become so narrow as to blend into one another, namely dance-pop (Spears, Rihanna, Madonna, Gaga, etc) and r'n'b/hip-hop (take your pic of any mouthy, mysoginistic rapper duetting with a scantily-clad female croonerette). Then there are supposed "indie" "rock" bands who actually are picked out and formatted to look and sound exactly like one another by record execs (occasionally, a VERY well-established "mainstream" rock veteran, such as U2, Bon Jovi, Clapton or Blur gets an airing if the label thinks they've stumbled onto a hit). Finally, we have the tinny, mass-produced arse gravy spewed out by reality TV, usually involving a bit of the above or, if the "artist" (quotation marks very much necessary) is ugly, syrupy slow-paced piano-and-strings ballads in the showtunes style (see Boyle, Susan).
|A freaking out Neil Young in 1976. Hard to picture Alex Turner going this mental|
So, what's my point, other than what a fucking mess the music industry is? Simply that, if I look at the above list, had some or most of those 2010 albums been released in the seventies, I'm pretty sure they would have been big news. Probably released on major labels. Someone like Toro Y Moi even has "hit-maker" written all over his music. Nineties audiences would have lapped up Jefre Cantu-Ledesma's dreamy haze-pop (or hazy dream-pop), and I'm pretty sure Sun Araw and Rangers would have delighted post-punk Britain (they get quite a few of their influences from there after all). But in 2010, bereft of auto-tune and banal lyrics about mobile phones, shagging or fast cars, their ripples are restricted to those who can be bothered to let their ears drift a bit further from what MTV/Channel 4/Sky/ITV/BBC1 long enough to pick up on what wonders are being dreamt up in the shadows.
In the seventies, even meone as currently fatuous as Santana cooked up wondrous records of inventive, forward-thinking rock music (as I mention in the latest edition of my radio show, "Noise in the Ether"). Neil Young drifted into seriously dark areas whilst still being released by Warner/Reprise, Lou Reed was a superstar exploring harsh noise and awkward proto-punk, even Bowie delved into oddball Krautrockian funk on Station to Station. Again on a major label. Some of the stuff released to big sales and/or mass acclaim in the sevenries and eighties (Joy Division, The Stooges, MC5, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Television, Japan, Gang of Four...) was easily as weird and eclectic as anything I've put on the above list from 2010 (ok, maybe not Vomir).
Of course, even then there was fluff (Bay City Rollers, anyone?), and Metal Machine Music got slaughtered. But the fact remains that until the complete commercialisation of the music industry sometime in the mid-eighties, record labels and artists were still taking risks and engaging in something loftier than churning out temporary money-spinners. And to be honest, even a lot of the lightweight pop back then was more memorable and creative than it's current equivalent (T.Rex and The Human League would wipe the floor with Bieber and Susan fucking Boyle - and we're talking number one hit bands here!). I'm grateful that great and innovative music is still getting made against the odds, but when the most exploratory popstar out there in the world is Kanye West, you know there is something fucking wrong with said fucking world.
So a massive shout out to Failing Lights, Flying Lotus, Sex Worker, The North Sea, Richard Skelton, Nadja, Leyland Kirby, Burial, The Field, Demons, Hair Police, Philip Jeck, Kayo Dot, Boris, Kevin Drumm, Ilyas Ahmed, Benga, Kevin Drumm, Ben Frost, SUNN O))), and all the other geniuses of the last 5-10 years who have been operating in the shadows of the masses, creating great music just for music's sake. Hey, maybe it's better this way (Crosby, Stills and Nash showed in 1974 the detrimental effect of massive wealth on creativity) - the music remains the focus, not the payola. Fuck the masses, I guess. If anyone, even a teenager, is fucking retarded enough to slobber over Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers or Katy Perry or Alexandra Burke, they really don't deserve to have their ears serenaded by beautiful music. 'Twould be a waste. And yes, I know we're supposed to give more leniency to teenagers, and I was a musical catastrophe aged 14, but I swear it gets worse with every passing generation; at least I also like the Who, as well as Scatman John! And don't get me started on the massive offence that is failed X Factor contestants filling up gay clubs like Motorhead would a biker bar - sometimes we are our own worst enemies.
I urge anyone reading this to ignore the fact that I sound like a prig and race to iTunes, or Amazon or your local -preferably independent- record store to pick up anything by any or all of the above-mentioned acts. I swear that whatever you choose will be infinitely more rewarding than whatever MTV or Radio 1 are currently spinning. Of course, if you actually DO read this blog, you probably know all these bands already. Still, I can hope a retarded 14-year-old has stumbled onto this page by mistake...
Peace - JPhimister x