Tag Archives: artist

What goes around… comes around

First of all, apologies for the lack of updates. I’m afraid not all of us have eight-week terms, and the last few weeks have been criminally hectic.

Now, a lot of my friends have highlighted my lack of knowledge of recent pop music. It’s true that I don’t listen to what’s in the charts, and I’m sometimes surprised when I tune into the radio and hear something I never imagined would have entered the pop universe – M.I.A., for instance. I had no idea she had become so big. Scanning down a list of the current UK Top 40, I have never knowingly heard a song by The Saturdays, Lady GaGa, Taylor Swift, Akon, Alesha Dixon, James Morrison, Tinchy Stryder, Jason Mraz, Leona Lewis or Lemar. It doesn’t bother me, but it does bother others.

What does frustrate me is the terribly low expectations of pop listeners. Why does it require a trailer for a bad stoner comedy to get people listening to M.I.A.? There’s nothing excessively pretentious about her music; it’s hugely entertaining; random sonic effects bounce out of speakers – put simply, there’s no excuse not to go and listen to her songs. I’m incredibly glad that she’s now receiving some mainstream love, but of course there are countless other artists whose music would be perfectly palatable for a pop-loving audience, but who have never received that big break. Music critics often talk of a band writing “great pop songs”, without mentioning that the pop breakthrough has so far eluded the band in question.

Here, then, are some artists who I would sorely love to see gain more exposure in the wider community, because there’s nothing unreasonably difficult about their music, and because they write great pop songs. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably heard of most of these bands. But go and tell your pop-loving friends about them, in the hope that they too will come to appreciate better, more intelligent pop music.

My Morning Jacket – prone to lengthy jams in live shows, their studio albums have got progressively more pop, without really sacrificing on the quality. Often, it’s just straight up rock and roll, with a smattering of reverb, and some alt.country flavourings. It never fails to lift my mood. (Download now: Wordless Chorus, Gideon)

Belle & Sebastian – this Scottish troupe have been around for years, never making any great inroads at mainstream success, despite the fact that they write beautifully charming, witty, unpretentious songs that reference everything from folk, to electronica, to Motown and soul. Once again, it’s truly uplifting, engaging music that doesn’t make a great show of its intelligence. (Download now: Step Into My Office Baby, The Blues Are Still Blue)

Calexico – who doesn’t want to hear mariachi-tinged Americana that takes in elements from dub, folk, krautrock and popular indie rock? Over the course of their career, they’ve made some of my favourite, and most consistently enjoyable, albums, which are packed full of diverse ranging songs that evoke a singular image of the deserts of California and Arizona. (Download now: Writer’s Minor Holiday, Dub Latina)

The Decemberists – like MMJ, they can get quite progressive, but when they write sweet, romantic ditties, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get played on the radio. No one can fail to love “Summersong” on the first listen. (Download now: Summersong, The Perfect Crime #2)

Deerhunter – Their earlier work was aggressively ambient and shoegazy, but their recent album, Microcastle, is a triumph of pop melodies, inflected with tortuously beautiful guitar fuzz. In Bradford Cox, they have one of the most beautiful, troubling and haunting voices in music, but when he harmonises with the rest of the band, the result is sublime. (Download now: Heatherwood, Agoraphobia)

Field Music – I feel like I’ve extolled this Sunderland three-piece’s virtues way too many times. They no longer make music under that name, but their second album in particular is a masterpiece of indie pop, with strange vibes of Genesis and 80s prog rock, but all contained in three minute songs. (Download now: A House Is Not A Home, She Can Do What She Wants)

The National – framed with beautiful orchestral flourishes, this band’s genre-less music is wonderfully evocative, employing tasteful U2-isms and Springsteen-isms with the dark brooding mood of Interpol. (Download now: Fake Empire, Secret Meeting)

The Shins – darlings of the indie world, but why has nobody else heard their musically diverse, exceptionally well-written pop songs? They even had their music sprinkled through the film Garden State. (Download now: Kissing The Lipless, Phantom Limb, Sea Legs)

Spoon – what more can I write? Their music is beautifully sparse and minimalist; no song ever carries on where it’s not necessary; the lyrics are funny and insightful; even their albums are strangely brief. They’re just the complete band. Their music was featured in The O.C., as I discovered when I played an album to some friends. But why didn’t anyone follow it up? (Download now: Don’t You Evah, The Way We Get By, Stay Don’t Go)

There’s simply no reason not to spread the word of the gospel.

The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds, strewn out across a blue blanket

On a scale of one to inconceivable, how unlikely and incongruous is the presence of “Aqueous Transmission” in Incubus’ œuvre? The closing track to their 2001 album, Morning View, is serene and beautiful, employing tasteful use  of the Japanese Pipa, lent to the band by none other than Steve Vai. At 7:47 in length – which includes a final minute of croaking frogs – the song is bizarrely peaceful and uncomfortably refreshing when set against the context of Incubus’ other material.

That’s not to say that I disapprove of Incubus – indeed, at the age of twelve, they were one of the first modern rock groups I remember enjoying. In fact, I can still recall my first encounter with their music: we were on a school trip to London Zoo, and a friend, knowing that I didn’t approve particularly of his heavier rock, thrust his earphones into me and persuaded me to give Incubus a go. I’m fairly certain the song was “Redefine”, the opener of their 1997 LP, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., and I was instantly impressed by their dazzling combination of funk; wildly effected guitar; turntable scratching and weird samples. Predictably, I went through a young teen phase of ‘living’ Incubus, ruthlessly working my way through their albums. Now I scour my iTunes after at least a year of having heard absolutely nothing by the band, it’s difficult not to be charmed by sensual, curiously experimental cuts like “Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)”, with its jazzy aesthetic enhanced by a saxophone solo, and “Battlestar Scralatchtica”, which features what I remember thinking at the time was the coolest bass-line ever invented. Looking back on it now, I’m still inclined to agree.

Despite all this nostalgia, however, I still wouldn’t go back on my original claim, stated at the beginning of this post, that none of their material ever showed the emotional maturity and out-and-out beauty and resolution of “Aqueous Transmission”. It’s a stunning composition, and I’m almost inclined to believe some greater force in songwriting was responsible for it. I’m such a pessimist sometimes.