Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Failure of the local music critic:
Why the underground has no voice

The more I look around the region at band interviews, I'm starting to notice a similar thread that runs through most of them.
We get to hear about how the band formed, how long they have been together, followed by a cute anecdote about being in the band.
Then it all ends along the lines of: And by the way they have a CD out now. Voila! Story done.
Never mind how it probably took the band several years to make the CD. Maybe their brother died in a car accident when they went to the studio. Maybe the singer cut off his hair in a freak blender accident.
My point is that every artist has a story. Just because they are some unknown punk rock band from Dayton, doesn't mean they have to be treated like idiots.
I just would like to know if anyone ever talks about what bands are actually trying to say anymore. Does a band have a philosophy? Is the songwriter trying to a make a point with his lyrics? How did growing up in Podunk, Michigan lead to a guy's love for dobro guitars? Does the entire CD have an overall theme to it? If so, how does it relate to them as musicians or people?
Even as I type these questions I can picture a lot of people moaning about how there is nothing worse than a local musician spouting off about how "this song is about George W. Bush and I hate the war." That's understandable. But if a musician is going to come across like a baffoon, at least give them the opportunity!
It's just that when I think of small independent bands I think of a faceless sea of noise. They are like an armada of ships, with white sails and dozens of people on board each one. But we'll never really know what they are up to. We'll never really know where they are going.
Then it makes me think of bigger bands, that perhaps are signed to a label. Maybe it's a well-known label. Maybe the lead singer is dating a famous celebrity with huge boobs.
When you read articles about them, the writer takes you into every detail. We get to hear about the tea the singer slurps over the phone. Or when the drummer hears a siren go by on the street and stops talking, we get to hear about how his sister was hospitalized for anorexia and how that influences his drumming.
Maybe one song on their CD is about the singer's fear of public speaking, which relates to the overall theme of the songs being about different Greek orators. Maybe the guitarist talks about the death of his father and how dealing with the loss led to a spontaneous song about bird calling, which he wrote one night in 15 minutes.
Instead, when it comes to local bands, we get nothing. No insight into the art being created at the underground level.
In fact, the only times we hear about the artistic themes of independent bands is when they have gone out of their way to make it obvious. For example The Sheds released a CD about trying to quit smoking (which is amazing, by the way) or The Black Swans and their CD about the uncomfortable sexual inner self of the songwriter. Even Homeville Circle were forced to send out a disclaimer to their latest release and how they were trying to create a new form of music. If it got reviewed I doubt they would have been asked.
I don't know, maybe I'm in the minority. Maybe no one cares what Cari Clara's upcoming EP is all about. Maybe people just want to know how the music was made, what studio it was recorded in and what local musicians helped out. But I've heard some of the songs that will be on it and I thought they were great. I'd like to know what they are about. I'd like to know what Cari Clara is trying to say. I'd like to know what the Satin Peaches in Detroit are all about. I want to know the stories behind some of Ryan Jewell's instrumental songs.
Honestly, the only times I have seen music critics give proper attention to bands is when A) They are personal friends with the band, or B) They are personally related to the songwriter, dating them, or what have you.
Oh my god, I would love to give you some personal examples I've seen. But I'll be mature about it.
I just think by giving small unknown musicians a platform to speak, perhaps we might all be surprised at what they have to say.

(I do have one bit of defense for local music critics: Sometimes local bands don't really know what they are saying yet.)

1 comment:

Michael Oliva said...

This one gets a standing ovation from me. Cheers chris!