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Too Many Good Bands

February 7, 2013

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Shins, The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine, Velvet Underground, Dream Theater, Pearl Jam, Reverend Horton Heat, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Fear, The Clash, The Cure, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Neutral Milk Hotel, Monsters of Folk, The Head and the Heart, Florence + The Machine

This is just a small list of the artists that I have only a passing familiarity with, but I want to listen to. Did I mention that I only know a few songs by The Jimi Hendrix Experience? Or that I’ve never listened to an entire album by Death Cab for Cutie? I own around 90-100 CDs and about 80 vinyl albums (I think), plus numerous online downloads, and I still feel musically illiterate. Old timers like to complain about how there isn’t any good music out there any more. But I think the problem is the exact opposite–there is too much good music.

Listening to Coheed and Cambria’s new album on Spotify, I heard a commercial for their premium service asking me if I would like to take 15 million songs with me to the gym. My answer is no! Scarcity creates value. One ice cream cone on a summer’s day is a treat. 15 million ice cream cones on a summer’s day is a stomachache of epic proportions.

Back in, say, the 70s, there would have been a small group of bands that were worth listening to–Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and your friend’s group that he let you play bass in. Now, thanks to the internet, every punk kid in his basement hammering away at a pawn-shop guitar can spread his music across the entire world. And his music probably isn’t half-bad. The internet has provided a venue for bands with non-mainstream sounds. I doubt mewithoutYou’s unique slam-poetry punk-folk music would have ever become as famous as it was if it were not for the internet.

And yet, the internet also devalues the music that it promotes. When I started listening to mewithoutYou in 7th grade (mewithoutyou holds the place in my musical development that The Beatles or The Ramones or Nirvana hold for people of past generations), I was listening to them off of a CD that I had bought for my birthday. It was my favorite album of that time, because it was my album–it had a special significance for me. Albums that I have owned physical copies of are connected with memories in my mind. Fleet Foxes’s self-titled debut is forever associated with waking up and fixing breakfast before going to school. Suburba by House of Heroes will always be the summer before college. Last summer is inextricably linked with “Adam’s Song” by blink-182 and a Huey Lewis and the News cassette. This winter break I blared David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spider’s from Mars from my Honda Accord. These albums stick with me because I stuck with them–I had an emotional connection with them. They are mine.

The music overload of the internet can introduce us to great new works, but it can also dampen our appreciation of music. The law of diminishing returns applies to art as well as to the rest of life. Which would you rather have–one album that you really got into, or access to ten thousand albums that you’ll merely skim through.

I will probably still plow through my list of bands that I need to know, progressively becoming more hip as I do so. But I keep in mind that the important think isn’t knowing the most bands, but the best bands.

Current Listening: King of the Delta Blues by Robert Johnson, The Afterman: Decencsion by Coheed and Cambria, “Piece of My Heart” by Erma Franklin

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2013 10:35 pm

    I love how a lot of the bands you mentioned are ones I casually namedrop…

  2. Ben House permalink
    February 8, 2013 1:19 am

    Good post.Glad you are listening to Erma Franklin. Our first records, or cassettes, or CDs, we listen to continually. The second wave less. Now, I don’t even unwrap some of the music I obtain.

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