Popularity Contest: A Rant with Purpose

As you’ve probably figured out already, the music biz (as we call it) thrives solely on popularity. Now that can stem from a whole lot of things. Physical appearance of the artists, fashion, crazy antics, and sometimes even their musical talent. I say sometimes because let’s face it- what is “popular” isn’t always good. And when there are so many talented musicians and musical groups out there in the world it’s hard to understand why they are often overlooked by radio and mainstream and replaced by inferior posers.

Which brings me to a recent discovery. Actual talent on the radio. As you may or may not know, I was away in Ghana for the past two years. Apparently during that time someone decided that artists who play their own instruments and write their own songs should also be included in today’s top music. I returned home to find artists like Mumford & Sons, Adele, and The Decemberists all over the Billboard charts. You can only imagine my surprise.

Now here is where I will start to nitpick. Obviously everyone’s tastes are not the same and even those previous artists I listed may not be to everyone’s liking. So now the question is, why those artists/bands over all the others? What makes them better? Supposedly we can leave that up to listeners to decide- I mean, if they want to hear it obviously it will be played on the radio. But…. suppose listeners are not aware of all the other artists that sound (how do I put this) exactly like those previous artists. I mean, how would they ever find out if the radio only plays what was once unknown and is now “popular”? Ah. Now that is a tough one.

So what is popularity? Even in the indie scheme of things? Certainly Adele has appeal over the masses, she’s certainly doing well for herself and I would be lying if I said that “Rolling in the Deep” was not one of my new favorite songs. But seriously, why her? And I don’t mean to solo her out, but I want to make a point here. Female folk/country/bluesy artists are nothing new. Remember Duffy, Norah Jones, even Lex Land who we introduced you to a while back. Is Adele just the new new?

And what of Laura Marling?

She remains one of the most incredible young promising folk artists I have ever listened to and yet she gets minimal publicity (except in England where she won Best Female Solo Artist at the 2011 Brit Awards). Marling wrote her first album “Alas I Cannot Swim” when she was 17 and her poetic lyrics seem to come from someone much older and mature.

I wander the streets, avoiding them eats
Till ring on my finger slips to the ground
A gift to the gutter, a gift to the city
The veins of which have broken me down

Her last album “I Speak Because I Can” was just as miraculous, coming from a matured and older Laura Marling. Perhaps her song content is just too dark to catch on. Songs about religion and faith don’t sell as well as ones about boyfriends and dance clubs. But in any case, her newest collaboration with Mumford & Sons has me wondering if this might lead to her big breakout into America. After all, America seems to eat up those boys and their banjos. Their new EP will be coming out July 5th and it features traditional Rajasthani folk collective Dharohar Project. Bollywood on Top Billboard? We’ll have to wait and see…


Break off from the tree but keep your ties

The New Pornographers, a definite big name in indie music scenes, was founded in 1997 out of Vancouver. If their name doesn’t catch you, than their superpop harmonies will. The group is comprised of lead song writer and singer A.C. (Carl) Newman, John Collins, Blaine Thurier, Dan Bejar, Kathryn Calder, Kurt Dahle, Neko Case (personal fave!), and Todd Fancey. Their most recent album is Challengers, released in 2007, and was preceded by three other works. They’re still together, as a band; they did a summer tour, but members still have the time to pursue individual projects. More specifically, A.C. Newman has released his second solo album, Get Guilty, this past January (his solo debut was in 2004 with The Slow Wonder).

There is some definite New Pornographesqueness about his music, most noticeable is the harmonies (see a theme?). However, it is a little bit slower in pace, but still extremely enjoyable, especially if you are a NP (yeah, I abbrev.) fan. I particularly enjoy “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve”. Check out his website at http://www.acnewman.net/ for more info and music.

The New Pornographers have already made their mark in television, with songs on the Office, Weeds, Heroes and more, as well as a Rock Band song. A.C. Newman has quickly jumped on the television wagon, first with a tune on an O.C. soundtrack, and then when “Prophets” was featured in the season four finale of How I Met Your Mother. So both efforts are successful…what does this mean for the future of Newman’s solo career or The New Pornographers? I know I’d like to see them both stick around for a long while.

Apparently I am not on the brink of discovery

Yeah. Remember that new obsession I mentioned a little bit ago? About Phoenix? And Lisztomania? Well, I had no clue how popular they were until I saw the Cadillac commerical like a billion times this past weekend:

Well, if you search Cadillac commercial in Google, you get a ton of hits, even on Wiki answers with “Who is this band? What is that song?” The song is 1901, by the way.

And, while in Las Vegas, the center of all things commercial and flash, I heard them again in one of the hotels on the strip. It was either Lisztomania or Rome, both off their new album. Geez. Can’t I ever be one of the first to discover or like a new band? Not like it makes me feel cool or anything…(yeah. I don’t even pride on me seeing Garden State on opening day. Take that, pseudo-indie hipsters) ahem. Well, Phoenix is amazing (added plus: they’re French! And adorable), and if you haven’t taken my advice in the last post, I will give you another chance to check them out right here. This video nearly has a million views on YouTube.

Something weird.

I just noticed this. Take a gander with me. Three of my favorite bands: Of Montreal, Islands, and Phoenix. Three male main singers.

First is Thomas from Phoenix.

Thomas is on the far right.
Thomas is on the far right.

Next is David from Of Montreal.

David is the second from the right.

David is the second from the right.

And last is Nick from Islands.

Nick is fourth from the left.

Nick is fourth from the left.

Notice anything similar between the three? Am I alone in thinking these guys look very similar? And is it a coincidence they have very similar vocal styles? Just saying.