Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Just a general disclaimer before I begin this entry.

One of my great, constant loves in this world is music. I love music. Listening to music makes just about anything better, even waiting seven extra hours for a snow delayed flight home for Christmas. To keep from sounding pretentious, I realize that music is a very personal thing; there's no accounting for taste, and because someone enjoys listening to Fallout Boy rather than The Shins says nothing about them other than that they enjoy listening to Fallout Boy rather than The Shins. I'm not better than anyone else for listening to the music that I do, and I fully realize that. But since this is my blog, it's all about my personal opinion, which is that I listen to only the best music.

Years ago in my livejournal, I termed the year 2005 as my "musical awakening." I'd been pretty sick of all of my own music and cds for awhile, but I had never been able to take part in music downloading because we didn't have Internet at my house until Christmas of 2005 when my parents finally got high speed Internet as a family gift. In fall of 2005 two of my good friends burned several cds of music for me, and my life hasn't been the same since. Suddenly with all of this new music, I was part of a new world; the independent music scene. And it was unlike anything I had ever heard. Here were bands that slipped under the radar of popular radio and the Billboard top 100, but were still making great music that not only sounded good in it's own special pop way, but did something more. It found ways to innovate and create new sounds, to expand and redefine what music is. The more I got into these so called "indie bands," the more pronounced the difference between them and popular music became. Popular music in many ways has ceased to be innovative and creative - it's stagnant and dead. Every time I hear a song from "the new Madonna album," "the new Mariah Carrey album," the thousands of obnoxious "punk" bands that grace the "hard rock" scene (Fallout Boy, Panic at the Disco, etc, etc.), not to mention the never ending slew of post grunge rehash, I can't help but think "I've heard this exact same song about a billion times already." It's no wonder the music industry is in trouble. There are, of course, exceptions to this, as many musicians who garnered popular followings are indeed very talented and prodigious (for example: Beck). But for the most part, as a young boy in suburban Frederick, MD, popular music was a dead end. DC 101 and the other radio stations I used to listen to were pretty much stuck in their post grunge nadir (Nirvana the only worthwhile thing they ever played), and it wouldn't be until I heard radio stations in Portland that I knew bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, M83, and Band of Horses could even get radio play (which is a little odd, considering the wild success of Death Cab). Thank the lord for metropolitan radio.

My "musical awakening" only became even more pronounced as 2006 progressed and I finally had my own access to high speed Internet and file sharing clients. My music collection ballooned up to over 1,000 songs on iTunes, which had seemed so unheard of before, and inspired me to buy my 30 gig iPod, which I still use (although now it's free space has severely declined). 2007 would be the pinnacle year of my downloading and musical discovery. It was a year rich with new releases from reliable bands I already knew and loved, as well as new artists. It was also the year I went to the most live shows, including the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and the Virgin Music Festival in Baltimore.

This constant discovery of new music made each year more exciting than the next, but unfortunately for me, it peaked in early 2008. Last year didn't provide me with near the number of new artists I'd found in 2006 and 2007, and the new releases from my trusted veteran artists were, sad to say, disappointing. But what this did do, although I didn't realize it at the time, was open up the way to finding older artists and listening to albums which had already been out for awhile. One of my most notable obsessions of the past year has been Radiohead, which began with finally gaining a thorough understanding and appreciation of the musical genius of OK Computer and Kid A, which lead for a greater appreciation of just about all of their work. I've also come to really realize and appreciate the contributions of the American band, Pavement. At the suggestion of a friend, I downloaded their album Wowee Zowee in fall of 2007, and I really enjoyed it. I was already a fan of singer Stephen Malkmus's solo work. After reading more about Pavement's early days several months ago, I decided to check out their earlier releases Slanted & Enchanted, and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and both quickly became favorites. Around the time I got these Pavement albums, I stumbled upon the band My Bloody Valentine.

I had heard of them before, but that name was an immediate turnoff. One hears the name My Bloody Valentine, and one automatically thinks of today's hardcore emo bands like My Chemical Romance. But nothing could be further from the truth. My Bloody Valentine is actually from Ireland, was formed in the mid-eighties, and is definitely NOT a part of the emo genre. Although I know I'd heard of them before, I first read of them this fall regarding their 1991 album Loveless. Every article I've read regarding the album has been near unanimous with praise, with many calling it one of the finest albums of the 1990s, a definitive work, and one of the best albums of all time. So like a good little music pirate, I downloaded it. The prospect of finally tackling such a critical success was very exciting, I must say.

After my initial listens, I could say that it was okay. Unfortunately just okay. Critics labeled it as part of the "shoegaze" genre (follow the link for the Wikipedia article of shoegaze - scroll down to read the definition). Shoegaze reached it's apex with Loveless and by now is kind of a dead movement (though hopefully it may be revived with success, now that MBV has reunited and will be issuing new material!); any previous experience I had with shoegazing bands ends with the sum of their parts. I was a little disappointed that the album failed to live up to my expectations, but I continued to listen to it, hoping that it was one of those albums that rewards after multiple, multiple listens. Fortunately for me, just before coming home to Frederick for Christmas, a little miracle happened.

By sheer coincidence, I happened to look at the iTunes page for Loveless, and I realized that I had the entire album out of order on my iTunes! So I quickly got to work fixing that, and began to play the album again, this time in the correct order. Within two songs, the difference was more than apparent. The brilliance of this album was finally manifested, and I haven't looked back since. It's such a layered sound, so rich, and so fulfilling. The music sounds just as amazing sitting here listening to it right now as it did just two weeks ago, when I listened to nothing but Loveless on my entire trek home. It was all I listened to at the airport, all I listened to on my seven hour wait for a snow delayed flight, all I listened to on the airplane, and all I wanted to listen to the entire way back. It's jumped about 200 plays on my since figuring out the correct track listing.

I feel like every so often I find a band that is just so life changing, I can't accurately describe it. Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, Band of Horses, Radiohead, Interpol, Fleet Foxes. These all changed my life. My Bloody Valentine has done the same. I get so happy when I hear music that has this effect. I think that most people would say that they love music. I think it's important that music progresses along with everything else in our world, and hearing something so mind blowingly innovative as Loveless gives me hope that music will continue to move along, just like the ever changing technological world that has become part of everyday life. I for one cannot wait for the newly reunited My Bloody Valentine's follow up to this album, and for all the new releases of 2009.

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