Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Call me iPop, or: What is "modern rock"?

While recently visiting my town's new brewpub, I commented that I did not much like the music being played.  (It may have been coming off the owner’s iPod I think.)   It's not so much that I disliked it, more that I simply had no idea about it.  I did not recognize a single song and certainly could not name the artists to be sure.  But more interestingly, I could not even place it as a genre.

It was some kind of modern pop-rock.  Not too intrusive, certainly no “edge” to speak of.  It employed the usual variety of instruments I suppose, and the singer was just sort of, well, there.  So I guess it is not an alt- or indie-somethingorother since no one was shouting or playing their instruments with any particular emphasis.  Somehow it blended the upbeat backbeat snap of Jack Johnson with the nasal melancholy somberness of a Moby dirge.  (Moby, I am wiki-informed, belongs to the genre: ambient electronica)

Absent the lyrics it could not be differentiated from Christian Rock.  There were perhaps the vaguest hints of a lineage with metal and honky hip-hop, but fleeting and very very subtle.  It was in fact kind of medium-to-up-tempo electronic elevator music; perfectly at home in a quiet bar, but also in a mall, or backing a car commercial.

TV commercials in particular these days seem to be in fact avenues to showcase new release for new bands, which is an interesting phenomena in itself: commercials no longer just raid existing music favorites, they have become a place to release new music, or for bands to make a name for themselves. I find that interesting: new bands probably now aspire to be featured on a TV commercial.

It could be that there is an entirely new genre that exists only in iTunes-land, composed by Generation-Ritalin, targeted for television commercials, and sold at 99 cents a pop.  So I decided to name this genre: iPop.

If forced to guess the names of the bands, I would have gone with Radiohead, or Cold Play, or Green Day.  Which is pathetic of course, since those guesses are probably outdated by a decade.  So anyway, it struck me that I was not only unable to name the genre, but I cannot name a single new artist from the last decade.

None of this is a surprise to people who know me of course, the last new album I bought from an emerging style, when it was released, was probably London Calling by the Clash.  Granted, I was there at the emergence of the second wave Jam Band Yonder Mountain, but pretty much fell off the backside of that wave in short order.  My record collection is composed of about 80% pre-2000, 70% pre-1990, and 40% pre-1970 issues.  The genre's rotating in my CD player are largely blues and bluegrass.  Most of my "new" music I do buy is actually new recordings of old music. (The astute may note: I just used the word record collection.  And while I literally still own hundreds of LPs, I also still refer to CDs as "records" and have no idea what to call music available only on iTunes - ok; I do know, it's playlists)

Confession: I do not own an iPod, and rarely listen to music on my computer.  My stereo (yes, stereo) is oriented around a 100-watt receiver and a pair of JBL speakers from the 1970's that still squat like pieces of furniture in my living room.  (Anyone surprised by that?)

Anyway, in my research, I came across this interesting inventory of musical styles since the 1990s.

What Are The Ingredients In This Nasty Soup We Call “Modern Rock”?

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