Beer and Pavement

Opinions are like…

Posted in Manifesto by SM on February 16, 2011

…blogs. Everyone has one. Right?

The thing I love about music is that two people of basically the same intellect and even similar tastes can have completely different opinions about a band or album. I suppose that goes for any kind of art or media, but people don’t talk about paintings or sitcoms the way they talk about music. It can get heated, almost to the point of exchanged blows, but we can somehow forget everything once a song comes on we agree upon.

The other day, someone posted somewhere that Radiohead was set to release an album. Since I haven’t enjoyed much of anything Radiohead’s produced in the last decade, my reaction was “meh.” So, I posted the provocative question: Is Radiohead still relevant? Some said no; others said yes. But a few others got sort of pissed about it. The funny thing is that I see eye-to-eye with a lot of people on either side of this Radiohead split.

You’d think that the polarization of Radiohead would mean that we don’t agree on any kind of music and hate each other’s guts. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. There’s something that can be said about a thing like music that can simultaneously divide and bring together. I think it’s why I like to talk music more than almost anything else.

Honestly, I don’t really care if people feel the same way about Radiohead as I do. They apparently are relevant as many people still go apeshit with every new release. Just because they’re not relevant to me doesn’t mean they’re not relevant at all.

To further my point, in case you hadn’t heard, Arcade Fire won the Grammy for album of the year. This is being seen in several ways. First, there are the opinions I’ll ignore. Those are the ones who dismiss The Suburbs because they have no idea what it is and the others who actually think Eminem was robbed. The other two camps see things a bit differently. Some are proclaiming this to be indie rock’s big breakthrough, while others see it as proof of The Suburbs inherent faults.

For those who celebrate this achievement, they realize that Arcade Fire is doing things no other indie has ever done. They are competing with the big boys of rock music from not-exactly-rock-mecca of Montreal and the tiny indie label Merge. Granted, Merge has been around for a while, but it’s not a huge label that has loads of money. They have a unique deal with artists that allows the artists more say and more pay. No major would operate the way Merge does. Of course, no major label puts out as much good music as Merge does. Funny thing is, Merge’s decidedly artist-centric approach has helped them outlast many majors. The Suburbs are the culmination of that work and all of indie rock should relish in the achievement.

My brother said something about how he never thought he’d see anything like that in his lifetime. The Grammys are shill for the industry or at least its corporate overlords. So, it’s unthinkable that a band on an indie could ever win one a Grammy, and not just any Grammy, Arcade Fire won album of the year. That’s the Grammy.

However, some would point to the fact that the Grammys themselves haven’t been relevant for…well…ever. Grammys have generally missed the mark every time. Even this Arcade Fire album is not the band’s best. Had the Grammys really been cutting edge, they would have given best album to Arcade Fire for Funeral. The Grammy foundation or committee or whatever they are really don’t understand much of the music they honor. So, is it really a big deal that Arcade Fire won?

Well, of course it is a big deal. It’s just not a big deal to everyone.

I remember when Beck beat out Springsteen and Sting for best male performance for his now-classic Odelay. Although Beck wasn’t on an indie (at least not for this release), it was an amazing upset to unseat two of the biggest names in music. It was a moment when alternative music (indie rock with loads of cash) was the equivalent of the typical corporate junk that dominated the Grammys year after year, category after category. Maybe you liked One Foot in the Grave better, but Odelay winning that award was a big deal for non-mainstream music.

The point is that Radiohead and Arcade Fire are worthy bands. They’re both relevant. It’s cool that I write about Pavement or Archers of Loaf so much. We think about and care for the music and that’s what matters. Granted, I’m biased toward a certain kind of music, but I’ll listen if you want to talk about why you love Lady GaGa or Phish or whatever. I can appreciate your fondness for a band or musician. I just might not agree and there’s room for that in this space.

Sorry, I’m rambling away from the message.

What I know that we can all agree upon is that music is one of those things in life we can all agree to disagree. And that’s great. Maybe you never grew out of Radiohead. Don’t worry. I never grew out of Pavement. I loved The Suburbs. You haven’t like anything they’ve done since Funeral. All of that is cool. There are as many ways to look at music as there are people or at least blogs.

(Speaking of obsessing over a band no one really likes, my series on the Archers of Loaf oeuvre will continue Friday.)

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24 Responses

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  1. Pizza Cottontail said, on February 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Bieber got robbed.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

      He does have the best lesbian haircut #6 I’ve ever seen.

      • Pizza Cottontail said, on February 16, 2011 at 9:32 am

        That said, I don’t read too much into the Suburbs’ win. The Grammys’ Album of the Year frequently goes to “underdog” albums whenever there’s an outlier album (The Suburbs this year, in past years something from the Jazz, easy listening, quality country-folk, the previously Grammy-snubbed etc.) in the category, it’s likely to win.

        Was Steely Dan’s victory over Eminem a decade ago a sweeping call for a return to smooth studio rock? Herbie Hancock’s win over Amy Winehouse a rallying cry for jazz? Ray Charles over Green Day a rebuke to the Hot Topic crowd? Probably not. My guess is it’s easier for the Grammy voters (who I suspect are predominantly older and educated) to relate to these albums than the ones for a younger demographic.

      • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 9:49 am

        While I don’t want to push the Grammy win as the winds of change, it is more significant than the examples you cite.

        Most of those examples are some pretty well-established, favorite styles among the middle-to-upper-middle-class, white demographic. Also, many of your examples won their awards as legends over lesser competition, sort of lifetime achievement awards.

        This is significant in that you’re pitting mom & pop record labels against corporate ones. Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock, and Ray Charles won their awards with the push from major labels. Arcade Fire didn’t have that push. Merge is not spending much money (if any) on Grammy promotions. So, in that way, it is significant.

        And this is not the only factor in indie’s rise. Less bands are signing with majors because it doesn’t make economical sense. While the rest of the music industry loses money, indie labels are reaching higher sales than ever, especially in vinyl sales – the only musical format to see an increase over the past few years. Look at tours and festivals. Smaller (read: indie) tours and events are still making money while most big, corporate tours are losing.

      • Pizza Cottontail said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

        Everyone rips on the Grammys because they reward the music that high schoolers love. But the high school artists frequently lose out on the big prize. I like the theory of awards that proposes they exist to help us validate a medium as a whole. If your choice wins, fantastic! But if your favorite doesn’t win, you get to gripe about how they got robbed. What better way to help young people validate their choice in, say, Eminem, than to have him consistently lose out to an older, classier artist?

  2. jenleereeves said, on February 16, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I actually followed your rambling… and I found myself struggling with a similar response. Arcade Fire won… so what does that mean about Arcade Fire because it can’t mean the Grammy’s changed.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:08 am

      I don’t think it means the Grammys have changed. I just think it shows how far indie rock has come. Imagine Superchuck circa-1992 even getting a nomination. What about Black Flag or the Replacements? There’s no way any of these bands were even known to Grammy voters. Now, a band on Merge can top the Billboard charts and win the Grammy for best album in the same year. That’s pretty huge.

  3. Carrie said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

    You also have to consider the commercialization of AF that has gone on in the last few years – “Wake Up” is a ubiquitous backing track for movies, sports teams, fund-raising campaigns and U2 tours.

    my point: Arcade Fire is now Jock rock.

    Indie is dead.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:28 am

      I disagree. Indie rock is not dead. They’ve just taken on a better business model, one that allows the musicians to stay independent. AF has used some of the proceeds from the use of “Wake Up” (particularly with the NFL) to raise money for charity. Aside from that, I don’t mind artists making money on their music if it means they can continue to make a living making music I love. I was OK when The Walkmen did it. It was cool that Modest Mouse made some cash. Hell, I didn’t even mind when Malkmus sold a song to Sears. If it allows these artists to make a living, I’m all for it. What it usually tells me is that ad people have no creativity to come up with this shit on their own.

      Oh, and hipster.

  4. Steve said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:30 am

    A lot to think about here. My quick and ill-considered thoughts:

    Radiohead – they are far more interesting from a marketing/technology/new media perspective than they are from a musical one. I don’t think their sales model would work for most bands, but I think it is a fascinating one for established acts. The mainstream music industry seems paralysed by the thought of surviving in the ‘internet age’, yet Radiohead at least offer a way forward.

    Arcade Fire – great record, lovely that they are seeing success, but I don’t see it as a sea change. Sometimes I feel indie music is like supporting a sports team – we root for certain bands, overstate their success, and think that success is meaningful. Yet, generally we end up disappointed. Until we see a bunch of acts inspired by Arcade Fire (and not necessarily musically…) I can’t see their success as a big deal. There have been far bigger bands that them with an indie ethos (if not an indie record label), yet nothing really changed. But I don’t know what an indie success/victory/whatever would look like anyway.

    “Most of those examples are some pretty well-established, favorite styles among the middle-to-upper-middle-class, white demographic.”

    I’d argue that is pretty much the Arcade Fire demographic, but then maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate!

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:43 am

      Very ill-conceived, Steve. JK

      Agreed on Radiohead. However, I disagree on their model working for other, less-established bands. Lesser known acts are making it with this model. Their albums are shared pretty freely online. If the music is good, fans pay or go see them in concert. I think Radiohead was only able to break through on their level because they’re Radiohead.

      That’s a fair point about AF, indie bands, and sports. I’m not sure there have been bigger bands on their third indie release, but I’m interested in hearing an example.

      Another fair point on AF’s demographic. I think what I meant was older, middle-class, white people. Someday, we’ll all be complaining about AF’s 14th Grammy and why they’re still touring well into their 50’s.

      • Steve said, on February 17, 2011 at 3:13 am

        “Lesser known acts are making it with this model.”

        I guess I haven’t fully picked up on that. Any good examples? I like free music! I can see a problem for more studio/bedroom-based projects, though. And I think Radiohead are a rarity in that they have a large enough and devoted enough fanbase that they can sell them very expensive special editions.

        “Another fair point on AF’s demographic. I think what I meant was older, middle-class, white people. Someday, we’ll all be complaining about AF’s 14th Grammy and why they’re still touring well into their 50′s.”

        Yep. I think the real step forward will be when awards aren’t geared solely towards a set demographic. But I’m not convinced awards are that meaningful, anyway. They may boost sales, but do they really shift opinions? Are they anything more than an industry showcase?

        Also – despite being on Merge, can we really consider Arcade Fire an “indie” band anymore? In terms of record and ticket sales they have far more in common with bigger, major label bands. The record label itself seems less important these days.

      • builderofcoalitions said, on February 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm

        I think the difference between indie in the US and UK is similar to the beer. It’s just different. Indie bands seem to get more notoriety than they do here, always have. Most indie bands who don’t have to work day jobs have profited off of free downloads and file sharing, but you’re right that Radiohead is a unique case in their marketing strategy. Although, I’d argue there are other bands like Radiohead who have reached a certain level that they can pretty much do as they please. Wilco, Sonic Youth, and The Flaming Lips come to mind. They might not use the same strategies as Radiohead, but they are rewriting the rules.

        Arcade Fire is an indie. They’re not part of a corporate music label. Sure, they’re making a load of cash, but what makes this all so impressive is that they’re doing it on their own without corporate backing. Arcade Fire is an indie band, possibly the most successful indie that didn’t sign with a major. If not, they’re at least on the list.

  5. jeffmenter said, on February 16, 2011 at 10:30 am
  6. jeffmenter said, on February 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I don’t really know what to say but I feel like I have to say something.

    If I didn’t know you or have occasion to read this blog, The Arcade Fire would have been as unknown to me as any of the other groups nominated. I’m trying to understand why there is any significance to their Grammy win. But then I’m not steeped in the “indie” milieu. Or, more precisely, “indie” is not a factor that I take into consideration when listening to music. I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV or follow any music sites or blogs (this one excepted.) My exposure to new music depends almost entirely on my non-musician friends, musician friends, and musicians I like (but I don’t know personally.)

    It’s hard to take the Grammys too seriously. Remember when Jethro Tull won “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental”? I think the Grammys were trolling us then and they continue to troll us now.

    I’m looking at the list of nominees and winners and 95% of the names on the list I don’t really have a clue who they are. I guess I’m surprised to see Jeff Beck win a couple of Grammys (most “guitarist’s guitarists” typically get overlooked by the masses), less surprised to see Muse win (they seem like one of those “Queen-like” bands that are super popular in spite of their musical excellence.)

    I guess what I’m saying is that, given that the Grammys are schizophrenic trolls, why would anything they pick have any kind of significance anyway? There’s nothing super amazing about a well-loved indie band from Canada taking home the big prize. I would be much more surprised if something like the Mike Keneally and Beer for Dolphins album “Dancing” won a best album. Or if we narrow it down to “indie band from Canada” I would be much more surprised if Moxy Früvous had ever won anything.

    I’m not trying to start a “I listen to more obscure/interesting music than you” dick waving contest. I have a different music selection heuristic than you do so I’m adding my perspective. Arcade Fire’s win wasn’t even on my radar until people started making a fuss. It seems to be a bigger deal to people who follow indie rock more closely.

    Maybe there’s a fuss because suddenly indie rock fans get to talk about the Grammys. I dunno. I’m blathering. Commence tearing this comment apart.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      I think you’re the exception to the rule, Jeff. Most people either blindly follow whatever corporate junk is passed for music these days or they follow a niche, like indie. I knew who most of the other winners and noms were, but I only really cared about Arcade Fire’s win.

      I agree that the Grammys are hardly the compass by which the public judges music, but it’s significant in that an organization built to sell the industry to the masses (mostly what they’re already buying) made a little room for AF this year. Had they gotten it right, AF’s first record would have won 5-6 years ago, but that’s another rant for another time.

      Still, the Grammys tend to reflect the masses and their buying tastes. It’s significant that a label such as Merge has reached this pinnacle. Sure, AF is by far their most popular and well-selling band. I too would have been more impressed with an album like Deerhunter’s winning the award, but that’s not going to happen. This signifies indie rock’s hold in the industry is better than we once thought. Imagine if craft beer sales were really challenging industrialized beer sales?

      The original point of the post is that we can all intelligently like and dislike different music while maintaing civil discourse. I think this holds true, that is, until someone does tear your comment apart.

  7. Jade said, on February 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Jeff (and Zac), do you think the Grammys should have a “waiting period” like that idea for the Oscars you and Jason have discussed before? Meaning, don’t hand awards out to the latest fad or trend in the industry, but wait to see who truly stands the test of time? Retroactive awards.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      Isn’t that what career/lifetime achievement awards are for? Honestly, any industry awards show is just to promote said industry. Award-winning movies put butts in seats and are good for the studios and movie theaters. The sam goes for the Grammys. I don’t really put too much stock into them, but this particular year and award was significant IMHO.

  8. Daniel said, on February 17, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    I liked The Bends. I’ve always hated Arcade Fire. And the Grammys. But then we all know I’m full of fucking hatred for shitty things.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm

      Those are all fair assessments.

      • Daniel said, on February 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm

        I’m always fair, I’ve just always thought Arcade Fire’s music lends itself more to visual accompaniment than standalone music.

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