By Liz Hitchcock
Ever since my first CD and first concert (it was DCTalk, and yeah, I’ll admit it,) I’ve been a self-prescribed music critic. Whether or not my tastes are good at any point in time is completely subjective, but I’ve heard and seen a lot, maybe just enough to at least know what is pleasing to the ears.
Over time, my tastes and selection of music have mutated as I have changed myself. But I have always thought that I have kept a pretty stable standard of comparison. Throughout my experiences with a variety of genres, I’ve come to a couple of pretty specific conclusions about the progression of music and how much a lot of contemporary music is less than satisfactory.
Before I begin my explanation of these conclusions, I would first like to clarify my stance on appropriation in art. Some may call it copying, but I believe that appropriation is one of the greatest art forms (or, as the saying goes, form of flattery.) I think that if you have the need, the means and it’s not illegal, you should be able to integrate other people’s work into your own. It not only shows that a particular artist was an inspiration, but it promotes the reinterpretation of art through mutation.
That being said, I think that many contemporary artists have taken appropriation to a new and distasteful level. Artists like Kanye West, who can barely produce a full-length LP without sampling a different artist (sometimes multiple artists) on each track, give Andy Warhol a bad name. Songs like “Blame Game” off Kanye’s 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” uses the Aphex Twin song “Avril 14th” from the 2001 album “Drukqs.” In fact, the majority of Kanye’s career has been built on other people’s music.
On the other hand, Lil Wayne is a recent artist that comes to mind when discussing the art of sampling. In songs like “Yea Develop,” Lil Wayne wrote lyrics to accompany beats created by the lesser known 80s band Kraftwerk.
I just don’t understand how we have archived almost a hundred years of music and musicians continuously sample from past music that is almost just as bad as the music they’re making with it.
What happened to the “good ol’ days,” like the ‘50s, where bands essentially had the same sound but were all good in their own respects?
The bottom line is that if artists can’t come up with their own beats, music or lyrics, they should at least learn how to choose the correct samples or fine tune their ability to infuse the styling of the artist with their own creative endeavors.
Another thing that I find disconcerting about the music industry these days is the fans’ loyalty for artists that were once hard hitters but have burned out over time, producing albums with sounds repeated from past success.
Bands like Kings of Leon and The Black Keys rest on their laurels after having a few hits (I mean, come on. U2? Really, they’re like cockroaches that just won’t die no matter how many times you step on them.)
As I recall from an article from 2010 in the New York Times, Kings of Leon admitted that since they have gotten popular, their sound has changed from a sort of lo-fi, grungy sound to a more refined and organized harmony.
When I read the article, I was shocked to hear that they blamed this change on the fact that they had, since coming out with their first couple of albums, learned how to play their instruments better. In reality, Kings of Leon simply digressed in their style, straying away from their once acceptable roots into the hackneyed world of pop music, and their album was still labeled as the most awaited of the year.
Recently I heard Radiohead’s newest album, its eighth studio recording, called “The King of Limbs.” I was not impressed to say the least.
Putting aside the fact that I almost fell asleep sitting in my computer desk chair, it was numbingly painful to get through each track. With sounds resembling classic Radiohead, mixed with beats continuously looped throughout the tracks, Radiohead achieved the impossible. The once cult classic electronic group has become, in my mind, subpar.
With the frequency of albums being produced and the easy creation of music, the quality of sound and content has reached an all-time low.
Really, the main point I’m trying to bring to the table here is that with bands coming out left and right, you would think that the music industry and the public ear should take the time to find artists that actually fulfill certain basic auditory criteria.
It’s really not that difficult of a task or request. Sounds should be original (even if they are taken from someone else’s work) and consistently interesting.
Artists such as M.I.A., Fever Ray and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti should be taking more of the spotlight, but instead Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and Rhianna (one of the absolutely most unoriginal artists I have heard in my entire life) are taking all the glory, when their style and sound are tired and have been belabored over decades.
Now I feel like I’m not giving some of these popular artists enough credit. So I will say this: I believe that there is something to be said about the mainstream industry, MTV, VH1, Fuse, etc., striving to shine the spotlight on fresh and new sounds (Mumford & Sons, La Roux, Florence and The Machine,) but is it really enough at the end of the day to play three or four new and good artists when they still have Maroon 5 on repeat?
Liz Hitchcock is a junior journalism and art major from Phoenix, Arizona.