The 2000s proved to be a largely progressive time for modern music. One by one, bands started to hop on the indie bandwagon after artists like Arcade Fire and Radiohead broke into the mainstream with huge success, culminating with Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” reigning over radio airwaves for months in 2011. Electronica artists like Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers, and Fatboy Slim paved the way for the dubstep of today, dominated by the likes of Skrillex and Alex Clare. On a similar note, the Grammy Awards recently gave song of the year to FUN.’s “We Are Young,” easily the most unlikely Top 40 hit, also the first Top 40 hit in about a decade to be written and performed by a rock band. All in all, the modern music scene is undergoing a monumental amount of change with more artists embracing today’s technology and drawing heavily on influences that span across the twentieth century.
Giving some insight on today’s music scene is Mark Richardson, the editor in chief from Pitchfork Media. He reviews upcoming music from the indie community, conducts interviews with artists, and writes on music history in his column Resonant Frequency. Additionally, he is the author of Zareeika, a book tracing music history throughout the 1990s, specifically the Flaming Lips’s album of the same name, which has garnered a reputation as the essential “anti-MP3.”
Receiving a “perfect ten” from a Pitchfork review is practically coveted. Only a few artists, like Neutral Milk Hotel, have ever released a work to be labeled perfect. What makes a perfect record in your opinion?
I am not sure that I believe in perfect albums. To me it’s more, “perfectly realized.” As in, this record was going for something in particular and it got all the way there AND the thing it was going for was admirable. Which means, to some degree, that what it set out to do is difficult. So it’s an evaluation of the loftiness of goals and the success in achieving them.
In your reviews, you express fondness for ambient / post-rock artists like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Stars of the Lid. How do you go about reviewing music that is so far from conventional pop? Also, how important do you find ambient music to current music, whether it be in the background of a movie, or on a vinyl, like Godspeed would release?
I do like writing about more abstract kinds of music. In part because I think I am pretty good at it. For me, you have to get extra close to the idea of how the music works, how it functions and what it actually does. The feelings it conjures, and trying to connect them to more identifiable emotional states. And you also need to move beyond just how this sort if music works in media, like film.
I think ambient/instrumental music probably does not have the prominence it once did. I don’t think it has been well served by the ubiquity if the digital era. Since it is less connected to personality, having more of it is not necessarily a plus.
With dubstep becoming a mainstream hit, and rock bands like Muse experimenting with EDM, where do you see mainstream music going in the next five to ten years?
I think it will continue to become more of a global fusion, drawing sounds from all over. The Internet will continue to put more in front of people.
What inspired you to dedicate an entire book to the Flaming Lips’s “Zaireeka?”
My main interest is in the act if listening in and of itself, and Zaireeka provided a rich place of exploration.
According to Richardson, music is drawing inspiration from every source, and this is evident from every angle of the musical spectrum. With their recent album Lonerism, Tame Impala has paid homage to both garage rock and psychedelic music simultaneously. The Knife seems to be innovating the electronic scene with their recent double-album Shaking the Habitual, a work drawing from both the ambient and dance scenes. Additionally, current trends in popular music are nearly unpredictable, especially with an honest-to-goodness rock band like FUN. ruling the Billboard charts.
The question remains: where will today’s music take today’s listeners? Perhaps the best part is not knowing.
Jeffrey Holmes is a first-year student majoring in Secondary Education for English. He can be reached at JH791223@wcupa.edu.