I’ve ranted about this before, but there are far too many – if I might be kind – “older” folks who themselves rant on like stodgy parents: “There is no good new music anymore!” To that, I say: ‘Bah! Humbug! Piffle! And whatever other unprintable expletive you might want to add in here [____ _____!].’
Seriously, people, there is a lot of great music being made across all genres these days, arguably more than when you were growing up and listening on the radio for the next big hit. The thing is, it is really hard to figure out where and how to find this stuff, especially if you still rely on old-school methods (like listening to the radio) to find out about the music. The truth is, I stopped listening to commercial radio as we know it back in the 1980s. Heck, it was already in decline in the late ’70s when Elvis Costello wrote “…the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin’ to anesthetize the way that you feel.”
So how do I keep up on new music? Well, there are several ways.
I talk about music a lot with my friends. Usually, when two or three people start telling me to check a particular band out, chances are its going to be something I’ll like, or at least find interesting. For example, that is exactly how I got turned onto the great Jeff Buckley back in the mid-’90s.
Keep a Keen Ear
I am a city boy at heart and thus I pay attention to what is going on around me. I don’t wear ear buds on the street or when I go shopping or in restaurants. So, when visiting favorite music stores, frequently the employees will be playing cool stuff and I listen for it. Sometimes I will hear music playing in a store and will ask about what the music is. Heck, some music I heard in a restaurant ultimately led me to discover Ra Ra Riot (Ra Ra who? Stay tuned, more on them later)
Get An App And Learn To Use It
If you have a modern smart phone, you’ve got a world of music at your fingertips and you probably don’t even know it. Get the free app called Shazam, a great way to find out what a song is that you may be hearing in real time. With this app, you just hold up your phone near the sound source (a speaker or PA system in the store or wherever you may be) and press the Shazam button. Shazam will then search for a sonic “fingerprint” in that music and try to match it up to similar digital marks in its database. Within a few seconds, you’ll usually find out who the artist was and what album it came from. Magic! You can usually even buy the track right then and there via iTunes. I don’t do that myself, since I’m not into MP3s, but I do check back on my tagged list when I go music shopping the next time ’round. For the most part, Shazam works swimmingly, as long as the music being played is represented in its system (not everything is) and you have some Internet connectivity.
All that said, to make it extra easy for you folks, HomeTheaterReview.com has asked me to provide a list of newer music that you – seasoned audiophiles and casual music fans alike – might well have not heard of and may want to consider checking out.
Here are some of my suggestions (in no particular order):
Beirut – If you like Tom Waits’ tales of woe and heartbreak but can’t quite digest his growly vocal style, Beirut’s angelic-voiced singer/songwriter Zach Condon may be your answer. Good places to start: The Flying Club Cup, The Riptide, March of the Zapotec.
Beach House – I’ve only started to listen to their stuff, but what I have heard, I’ve liked. This is one of those situations where multiple friends have recommended them to me. Their album Bloom is a big lush affair that reminds me of the Cocteau Twins by way of the Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds.
School of Seven Bells – Another group with a bit of Cocteau Twins influence, this music is a bit more dance-oriented. Imagine if late ’80s Depeche Mode was fronted by Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins and you have an idea where this is going.
Fleet Foxes – Yearning for the days of multi-part harmony, these guys may be your cuppa. Their album Helplessness Blues is like a meandering extended dose of CSN’s “Guinevere” run through Phil Spector’s echo chamber. Maybe not all that immediately hook-filled or rocking, Fleet Foxes make a melodious sound that grows on you and warrants repeated listening.
Queens of the Stone Age – Their new album Like Clockwork is perhaps one of the best ’90s-styled hard rock album of the 2000s. If you miss early Pearl Jam and Jeff Buckley, this one is worth checking out.
Ra Ra Riot – Innocent lovely vocals and punchy modern dance rhythms meet glitchy eight-bit production sensibilities and cellos! If you like Abba, early Depeche Mode, The Silicon Teens, a touch of ’70s soul and ELO, you might like these folks. Fun. Smart. Hook-filled. Get their new album Beta Love for starters.
Toro Y Moi – So called “chillwave” music that uses samples, retro 1970s synthesizers this side of vintage Stevie Wonder and mellow soft vocals to effect a new twist on vintage soul. If you liked ’90s releases by Meshell N’Degeocello or Mood Swings, you might dig this cat. I started with his fine, fine album Anything In Return on vinyl.
Per Gessle – The lead dude from the ’80s Swedish hit makers Roxette (‘member them?) is still going strong and putting out interesting fun solo albums. His Son of a Plumber two-LP collection (on EMI in Europe) is a fab, fun listen that plays like an alternate audio encyclopedia of American AM pop radio tuned in between 1965 and 1975.
Porcupine Tree – This band has been hailed by many as saviors of progressive rock. I wasn’t fully buying it until I heard the song “Pure Narcotic” from their 1999 opus Stupid Dream; it was then that I realized that band leader Steven Wilson was a great songwriter and that I needed to listen more intently to his music. Since then, I’ve been exploring and enjoying the band’s music, replete with its heavy metal tendencies and progressive rock leanings blended with the gift of good melody. Recent albums like The Incident have received rave reviews, so I’ll be checking them out myself soon. Fear of a Blank Planet is an intense, dense, metal-prog listen. Band leader Wilson has become the patron saint of all things surround sound, so if you like getting immersed in your prog rock, Porcupine Tree should be on your list.
The Futureheads – I heard these guys at a party and they sound a lot like early XTC. I’ve been exploring their albums since then. Fun stuff if you like angular, spiky punk-pop music that makes you want to jump up and down and bounce around the room.
By Mark Smotroff, HomeTheaterReview