Musical Nostalgia

It’s happened. I’m officially old. I’m looking about the contemporary musical landscape, and most bands are coming up short against the bands of my youth. I miss Grunge. Well, not really Grunge per se, but the ethos & certain bands. I miss the manic creativity and conflicted stardom of Nirvana. I miss Kurt Cobain’s anguished howls and menacing singing. I miss Pearl Jams us vs. them attitude. I’m happy they’ve found their bliss and are loving life and rocking out, but I’m bummed that Eddie Vedder doesn’t seem to mind being held in our debt anymore. The conflicted anger at rapt fans singing along while they worked out their twin demons of wanting the joyous communal experience, while rejecting the stardom that came with it made those early Pearl Jam shows fraught with Tension. I wish someone today could combine a snarl with beautiful melodies like Billy Corgan & the Smashing Pumpkins did. They mined that vein until there was nothing left. On the flipside of Smashing Pumpkins was Soundgarden, with Chris Cornell’s joyous wails lending weight to his otherwise tortured growl powering through most of the songs. I loved listening to the fem-rock (riotgrrl?) of Sleater Kinner, L7, Breeders. Who today has picked up the agro-rap-rock rants of Rage Against the Machine? Hell, even wannabes like Stone Temple Pilots had serious vocal chops.

Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder, From the Official Pearl Jam Flickr feed

The late 90s were rife with bands making millions performing radio-friendly imitations of their still-on-the-edge predecessors. Indie rock was a peppier response to that schlock. And while contemporary indie rock is vibrant, multi-hued collage, I haven’t heard bands in the past few years that so effortlessly pull out that directionless, generational anger as their early 90s predecessors. I love the ironic detachment of the Strokes, the dance rock revolution of Franz Ferdinand, the melodrama of Gnarls Barkley. I couldn’t be happier about the “new folk”, whether it’s the sweet, bluegrass tinge of Mumford & Sons or the freak-folk Devendra Banhart – but it’s not angst-rock.

I think a large part of what’s missing to me is that so many of these new bands just seem so fucking cool – like they’ve all got it figured out. They have a pose, a look. They know how to talk to the press, how to manage their media, how to deal. It may be an elaborate act, and they might not. They still say idiotic things, overdose, are stupid, but they tend to present well. I remember watching interviews on the New Music and these guys (and girls) just seemed so unaware of how to present themselves, and still tried to come up with real, hard-thought answers rather than already having a quip ready. It’s possible that their skin was crawling purely because of withdrawal, but I like to think it was more than the drugs. It was the mindset. It was the punk DIY ethos mixed with a genuine desire to affect change for the most part.

So while I continue to find new music I really dig, today, today I miss early 90s rock.

…just don’t get me started on the state of techno

Simple pleasures in iTunes

It’s a silly little thing, but one of favourite serendipitous experiences is when, while listening to iTunes DJ, iTunes plays a track that isĀ  a song-intro from a live show, or a radio interview. However, rather than immediately play the next song from that album (i.e., the song being introduced), it plays a wholly other song. Bonus points for the next song if it is somewhat similar, but not by the same artist. I like to imagine this being a “real”, albeit totally abstract re-interpretation of the song being played. Here’s a pair of examples from today:

I have a “live in studio” album from Iron & Wine at KCRW. At one point, Sam Beam introduces “Upward Over the Mountain”, talking a little about it. However, instead of that song,, iTunes instead played “King Harvest” by The Band. Which has some thematic similarities, but is otherwise diferent.

Or, from the “Live At The Gorge” album, by Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder introduces “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, and instead of that, iTunes actually played “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” from my bootleg of R.E.M at Milton Keynes – this mix gets even more bonus points because both tracks are live, with crowd noises and the cheering was more or less seamless.

It’s silly, I know, but this sort of coincidence (moments of zen, to steal from the Daily Show?) do wonders for me. Reaffirm my faith, if you will.

What’re your musical moments of zen?