On Sorts of Music

Time to christen the new blog!

I was in Hillsdale for graduation again this year, possibly for the last time. And this was good.
I drove up with Trent, former dormmate and current roommate, and that was good.

And then on the way back I made one too many snarky comments and we spent three hours (or so) arguing about indie music.

And that was not so good, because we were largely speaking different languages and there was no one to translate.

I have to start with a minor retraction. Given certain tight definitions, it can make some sense to talk about differences between "pop" and "indie" music.

Let me explain. As far as I can tell, most "indie" bands are either:

a) pop music that isn't popular (yet?)
b) worse popular bands - they've not got a record deal because they're actually not very good
c) existing in the weird voodoo land of "alt" or "fusion" music: they're not susceptible to "pop"ism because the band does some

Being charitable, we're going to dismiss b and assume those bands get lumped in as "indie" because other people were being charitable. I'd like to dismiss a as well in this discussion, and assume it gets lumped in because of the technical definition of the word, but I need to digress on pop for a minute in order to do that.

So, pop. In one sense it's actually a meaningful designator - when it means what I call bubblegum music, or "dance music" (give me Blue Danube or My Way any day). There are some regional differences in its exact production and instrumentation varies a little bit from band to band but you can pretty much tell it's pop. Here are some examples: Sweden. Korea. Germany. USA (with a little help from hip-hop). And for good measure, Sweden. And so it goes. (Not, not this.) While I've avoided personal experience like the plague, I understand that our goofy mini-celebrities like Montana (not Joe) and Bieber belong in this genre.

So, I guess if that's the only music being produced today by big labels, then it makes some sense to contrast "actual" indie music - group c, that is - with its dedication to actual music and skill and "Art", to the big-label bands and those that are trying to make it there.

But at the same time, telling me that a band is "indie" tells me not that much about the music they do write. Let's compare for a minute one "indie" band I do know about, Balthrop Alabama, with one Trent really likes (and I insulted, though not for the particular linked song), Nada Surf. Does that count as the same sort of style, or not? I have no real idea if those songs are representative of the respective bands. Then you have a group like Le Tigre, selected at random from a wikipedia list, or Last Shadow Puppets, ditto.

Yes, if you compare these guys to the bubblegum groups I mentioned first, you'll notice a distinct difference in sound. But if you compare them to each other, you can't draw hard lines. And there's clearly a gradation rather than some clear "line in the sand" between pop and indie sound (look at the similarities between Le Tigre and Scooter).

To say nothing of the fact that (at least almost) every song I've posted up in here, pop or indie is based on a 4-count meter, usually with a rock (that is, syncopated), beat, and some combination of guitar/drum/synth.

Which all is basically to say: if you're going to insist on (huge) differences between pop and indie music (to say nothing of fusion, metal, hip-hop, and so forth), stop calling it "classical" music and start talking about Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, twelve-tone, Minimalist... okay? Tchaikovsky and Debussy are at least as distinct as Basshunter and Nada Surf.

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