Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Conformist Sheep and Indie Rock, Part 1

Today, it's story time.

In that vein, let's talk briefly about the Decemberists - and, while we're on this path, Sufjan Stevens.

The reason I know of or listen to either of those two artists is due to my friend in Pittsburgh, the one who influenced me to start this blog two years and some odd days ago. She told me about Sufjan and sent the CD, to which I listened. A similar thing happened with the Decemberists, though she told me first that she didn't much like the Decemberists. On a musical level, both are great stuff with a few caveats attached. The Decemberists are rather derivative, pulling equally from the Beatles and Neutral Milk Hotel. Sufjan Stevens spends too much time whining about Jesus and family values. But both have their moments and have come out with very solid records.

But let's examine it from a social level.

Almost a year ago - perhaps eight or nine months ago - I found myself asking why I even bothered to continue listen to the Decemberists instead of listening to them a few times and dismissing the record off as something "interesting". Eventually I came to the answer that "I’ve had to listen to the Decemberists because I have to." In other words, I brought it down to a question of society.

At that time, everyone whom I've met who seemed to be into any sort of indie rock was into the Decemberists. The trend started sometime in tenth grade and continued well into today. I've found that by being familiar with them (while still genuinely enjoying their music... don't use that argument to me) is merely a way to make connections with people - to conform, you can say, to the herd.

Perhaps this would be better explained by a contrast. Let's contrast the three following statements:
Statement 1: I listen to the Decemberists.
Statement 2: I listen to Wolf Parade.
Statement 3: I listen to Colin Newman.
If, hypothetically, some arbitrary person were to compare these three statements, probability would tell us that people would respond best to statement one. They'd probably react more negatively to statements two and three, probably even (as in my experience) judging the bands before they even bothered to listen to them. They'd think that as the person listenes to "weird" music, [s]he must be some sort of elitist who will make fun of me. Or something like that.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that as much as we'd like to think our choices in music are reflections of ourself, they really are reflections of the society around us. As music becomes a purely social activity, it becomes more important to relate to people around you than alienate yourself with good music.

It's an interesting idea... if it makes sense, that is.

The part 2 hinted at in the title will continue to develop this idea a little further by commenting about what bands have reached this "conformist sheep" status.


Ray said...

interesting thoughts.

as for bands that i am expected to like, i do have one in mind: Vampire Weekend.

Even though I was very unimpressed upon initial listens, i forced myself to listen again because i felt that i couldn't NOT listen to it.

to this day, i still dislike the majority of their music.

i also think Sufjan is a bit overrated.

Aaron Leclair said...

I loved Sufjan Stevens when I first started this blog, but I'm more towards your leanings now. A few good records, but I don't ever want to hear Illinois ever again, despite that I proclaimed it my favorite album back in '05.

Out of the bands on my iTunes, people recognise Vampire Weekend and Neutral Milk Hotel the most. I struggle to understand what there is to like about either. But then, I don't like Paul Simon. Maybe that's the sin I am committing.