Saturday, August 7, 2010

Taste Validator #2: Ken's Mix CD

I once started a blog called Taste Validator where I was to review my music collection to see where it stacked up among readers. That didn't go very far. But here's the next installment, under that banner, just because.

There was a time, maybe 11 or 12 years ago, when my best friend Ken and I shared pretty much the same musical tastes. They weren't identical to be sure. To his credit, he did introduce me to classic bands like AC/DC and Guns N' Roses, not to mention the mighty Metallica. Over on my end of the spectrum
, I showed him Weezer, Blink-182, and Everclear. (Yeah, go ahead and say how much more important his bands are. It's okay.) But for the most part our musical tastes met somewhere in the middle.

The difference between then and now is that now I feel like we're much more dismissive of each other's choices in music. This is not to say that when we were teenagers we were completely receptive of what the other was listening to; in fact, we resisted quite a bit. I can remember our first concert together, Stabbing Westward. I had convinced him to go with me even though he wasn't very familiar with the band's music. They started with a slow, synth-laden number, and he gave me a look like "Are you fucking kidding me?" before proceeding to enjoy the rest of the show, particularly the mosh pits.

To say that we were and are (mostly) musically at odds with one another is an understatement.

Last weekend, Ken handed me a CD with music that he wanted me to give a listen to. Being as such that he is now a bigshot music reviewer -- albeit for a magazine no one has ever heard of -- I thought that maybe he would throw me a few curveballs in the mix and have some songs that I would never expect from him.

My girlfriend was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer when he came over, so they sort of bonded over that as I previewed the CD. What I found was modern rock song after modern rock song after modern rock song. So much for the curveball.

He demanded, perhaps jokingly, a review of his mix. This is that review.

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I will start by saying I tried in my heart of hearts to listen to the CD without any sort of bias. This was impossible. Even when Ken puts his critic hat on, I would think that he would carry his preconceived notions of a certain genre along with him during the listening. You can go into it with an open mind all you want, but those thoughts are still there percolating in the back of your mind.

I slogged my way through all 77+ minutes of the disc without skipping a track. I listened with an ear out for stereotypes, and was rebuffed on them for the most part. There were no songs about how shitty the singer's childhood was. The vocals were, for the most part, not Cookie-Monster-esque.

However, most of the songs sounded pretty much the same. This is the biggest problem I had with the disc, and a problem that I think modern rock as a whole. You can say what you want about indie rock -- no balls, it's boring, derivative from the past, whatever -- but at the very least their heavy hitters, the best and brightest don't sound like one another. The White Stripes don't sound like Death Cab for Cutie, who don't sound like Arcade Fire, so on and so forth. I understand that bands in a certain genre tend to sound like other bands in that genre. That is what makes it a genre. However, I think modern rock sounds, if not unimaginative -- I cannot say this for certain as I have not heard any full albums by these bands, only the songs presented here -- then most certainly incestuous. 12 Stones sounded like Three Days Grace. 2Ccnts, Nonpoint, and Bloodsimple sounded kind of like Disturbed. We Are the Fallen ripped off Evanescence completely. None of these songs were inherently terrible, but none of them made me want to listen to the full albums either.

I want to allay any feelings about "oh, you just don't like loud, aggressive music anymore." That may be a small part of it, but it's more that I just can't relate to it. This is not to say that I don't get angry or feel angst anymore -- you vs. everyone seemed to be common theme throughout the disc -- because I do, it's just that I feel it because of different things. I feel angst because I wasted my early 20's in college and now have a job that barely pays the bills. Or I feel it because I'm a mediocre lover, or because, at nearly thirty, I wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life and where it's going.These things, of course, are my fault and my fault alone, but it doesn't make it any less easier. None of the songs presented here deal with that. That isn't to say that everything I listen to now deals with those things, but it's more likely that a song will resonate with me emotionally if it deals with similar subject matter.

My final problem with these songs, which goes with my previous points, is that I've pretty much heard these songs already. Modern rock hasn't changed appreciably in the past 10 years. Godsmack, Disturbed, and System of a Down released debut albums that pretty much covered what I've heard here tonight. Even though they're mostly the same, the reason I connect with those "old" songs and not these new ones is because I, like everyone else, experience music autobiographically. Much like punk rock -- another genre that I have stopped listening to far as modern music is concerned -- certain songs take me back to certain times and experiences in my life. I have no use for Three Days Grace or Breaking Benjamin because I already have memories of cranking "fuck-you" anthem "Whatever" by Godsmack in my dorm room, or screaming my lungs out to "Down With the Sickness" by Disturbed at karaoke.

Lest you think I was just going to shit all over Ken's CD, there are some things that I liked about it.

An obvious point to make would be the energy involved. Too often indie rock can get bogged down, but modern rock has no such problems. I won't lie, I lost my patience about 15 songs in (as my notes that grew sparse with each track will show) but the relentless fervor in most of the performances was undeniable.

I liked some of the lead guitar work in songs such as "Cowboy Way" by Hellyeah and "Get What?" by 2Cents.

"Your Betrayal" by Bullet for My Valentine had some good dynamics, even if it was just an emo song in metal clothing. Hawthorne Heights, probably close to 'Bullet' in genre, had the only song on the disc that didn't really sound like anything else. In a world of same-tempo, same-vocal songs, this was a plus.

Machinehead, a band I have heard of, wins the award for most throwback sounding band. I feel like they could have played with Metallica, Megadeth, or maybe even Iron Maiden. (They may or may not have been around that long. I did no research for this.)

* * * *

I come to the conclusion of this post with no conclusions at all. I can't dismiss most of the music out of hand because the music wasn't bad and the vocals and subject matter weren't completely off-putting. However, I'm not going to be listening to Madison's WJJO (the nearest true modern rock station) anytime soon. The music doesn't resonate with me. Simple as that.

Like most things in our lives, I will agree to disagree with Ken. However, Ken can expect a disc full of indie rock for him to rip apart someday soon. I'm sure his analysis will be captivating.

Rating: 1.5 Devil horns.

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My listening notes, for anyone interested...

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