I’m on the verge of a new band to listen to. Not that they’re a new band, just new to me. Happened across the name on a Blog by a singer I like. The name seemed familiar to me. I think a friend mentioned the band a little while back and I forgot about it. The band is called “Carbon Leaf.” At this point I’m only at the “interested” stage, but I like finding new music to listen to. It’s getting harder and harder to do as the years go by. You just get cynical and bored.
So I start to check out their music. They have a Facebook page and a website. They’ve been around a long time, indie, but were signed in the last few years. I like the tone of what I’ve heard so far, but it feels a little flat. But sometimes you have to hear a band for a while to get it to feel more alive. Like I imagine learning a new language might be. At first it’s just words, then you start to get the associations, and finally the thoughts behind. Discovering good music is like that.
Sometimes, and I think this is true for most people, there are songs or sounds that just hit them and it appeals to them. This is how you account for a lot of what is popular music. It’s sweet and simple enough to grab people’s taste right up front. Like people want life to be. It’s a kind of "folk" music in a strange way, but not necessarily the kind that lasts. And that’s fine. The slickest pop bands and the simplest songs have a lot to be said for them, even though they can overdose you on sweet very fast. I’m living in a house where the kids listen to Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, so trust me, I know what I’m talking about.
Some of the greatest pop songs have been passionately simple and yet well produced in their day. This is true of the Sun Studio recordings that Elvis did. Sam Phillips didn’t produce it like a Nat King Cole record – he couldn’t if he wanted to because he didn’t have the gear – but he produced in a way that caught the energy of a performance, and that IS good production. I think the same thing can be said of Rick Ruben and his production of Johnny Cash’s final season of recordings. The music wasn’t slick, it was simple and spare, swimming in a sea of slick all over the radio. It was raw and real and in my opinion some of the best music ever made. But slick isn’t all bad. Coldplay is slick. They also happen to be great. Classical chord changes. Compelling imagery. Simple sub beats and rhythms with complex chord progressions. Still, very slick pop music. And their sound is so associated with how they’re produced that making changes to the sound is hard for them to do. This has been true of U2, but they pulled it off to some extent.
If you haven’t become pointlessly angry about commercialized pop and how it’s “over produced,” then you just hear it and occasionally appreciate the basic melodic simplicity and clarity of production that catches people’s ears. The words are usually the hardest thing to bear, but so what? If you see him, ask John Lennon what’s so deep about wanting to hold someone’s hand. In most fluff pop songs, the vocals are just another instrument, but it can fit well with the structure – not to mention that it has a good beat and you can dance to it. With a good hook that catches people’s fancy, you can have half the country singing your dumb song with almost no idea of what it’s about and they don’t care because it doesn’t really matter anyway. Most people don’t demand to know the ingredients in their soda pop, they just like it or they don’t. These songs are the same way. And there’s a lot of talent in it, no matter what anyone tells you. Fluency and polish in music takes talent and experience, and some of the producers of the slick pop stuff are extremely knowledgeable and experienced. It’s nothing new. Consider Vanilla Ice or Milli Vanilli or go way back to that really old song about how much some doggie in a window was going to cost. Ewwww. But that stuff was craftily produced and it connected with people who don’t think of music as the core of their life. It’s something in the background while they do something else. It helps pass the time. It lightens the mood. In the moment, people were having fun with it. It wasn’t life changing or defining. It wasn’t meant to be. It had about as much lasting value as a piece of candy, but hey, sometimes you really just crave a piece of candy.
Still, some of the best bands and musicians and styles of music take a little more work. Some take a lot of work. Most people aren’t willing to do it, and that’s okay, but they are missing out I think. Things like jazz and more complex pop and rock and even most classical music, it’s not so sweet to the taste up front, so you have to keep chewing on it for a while and develop a taste for what they’re doing. Gain some understanding. Sometimes you actually have to stop and meditate on the words to get a feel for what’s being said, or at least how you interpret it. If it’s a foreign artist and you don’t know the language, you have to interpret the vocals as an instrument apart from the meaning of the words. Sometimes you have to live with it for quite a while before you start to get your bearings. But when you do, it can be like a whole new world opens up before you to explore and enjoy.
Carbon Leaf. We’ll see.
Peace to you.
© LW Publishing 2010