Thoughts on modern radio, plus July reviews
By Christopher Schutte
If you’ll indulge me a bit I’d like to take a slight detour from my regular column. If you FF to the record reviews, I won’t hold it against you.
It may not seem like it, but listening to new music is work. Maybe not “work” in the Red Wing boots, driving railroad spikes, splitting lumber sense. But “work” in that it’s challenging and time consuming. Time that you may otherwise spend enjoying more familiar, and possibly more comforting, distractions. I’ve floated this theory with a few friends (over more than a few cocktails) and they generally seem to agree with the hypothesis.
I got to thinking about this subject while enduring a recent 12-hour drive back from Hilton Head Island with my lovely wife and three beautiful children. Did I mention that the kids are all age 7, or younger? Airfare – in hindsight – has never seemed so reasonably priced. In addition, I was piloting an SUV that was fabricated prior to the days of satellite radio, headrest video screens and iPod inputs. Without these modern entertainment options I was reduced to listening to “terrestrial” radio … lots and lots of radio.
Radio – as we know – is pretty universally crappy. The entire premise of being forced to listen to songs that are not of your choosing, while being continuously interrupted by commercials for energy drinks and all-you-can-eat pizza buffets is preposterous when you think about it. And yet, radio is still hugely popular and massively profitable as our dear friends at Clear Channel will attest. I think I know why.
We – in the general, universal sense – crave comfort. Comfortable temperatures, comfort food, familiar friends and familiar places. New is challenging. New is risky. New is stressful. That’s precisely why radio still works. Hearing familiar songs over and over is comforting. It’s also why most of my friends stopped seeking out new music shortly following their college days. It’s work.
While there are probably dozens of examples of this line of thinking, I think music very neatly encapsulates the concept. There’s a reason local performance venues book the Doobie Brothers, not Deerhunter. It’s the same reason that most contemporary Jazz musicians play standards instead of exploring the fringes like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. It’s why radio plays Boston and not Beach House. (Fun fact: Boston is on the cusp of releasing just their third record in over 27 years, yet WTUE has somehow managed to play “More Than A Feeling” in excess of 10 bazillion times). It’s not because these things are superior in any way, it’s because they are hard-wired into our brains direct from our parents’ hi-fi, or 8-track, or whatever. They’re familiar, they’re comforting.
If you crave comfort, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means that radio, ABBA cover bands and the Olive Garden may be your thing – which is fine by me. While I’ve had my fill of “Hotel California,” maybe it’s still fresh for you.
Let me be clear in stating that I’m not exactly licensed by this state – or any other that I’m aware of – to dispense advice. If I were, however, I would ask you to consider how interesting life is when you stop learning, stop exploring and stop challenging yourself. Now I’m not asking you to break up with your girlfriend, quit your job or move to a new city (though all of those may be valid alternatives). Let’s just start by trying out a few new tunes and see how things go.
What I’m listening to now:
Bon Iver, Bon Iver, [4AD]
Wow … I mean WOW. Justin Vernon’s palette has expanded so dramatically from his first record (“For Emma…”), that it’s startling. While not even remotely as austere as his debut, “Bon Iver” still packs an emotional wallop and flows almost perfectly from song to song.
Recommended if you like: music in general, Bright Eyes, The National
Secret Cities, Strange Hearts, [Western Vinyl]
Love this record for how it filters ’60s California pop through a fuzzy, beautifully harmonized looking glass. This is lively, likable stuff that should appeal to a very broad spectrum of listeners.
Recommended if you like: Grizzly Bear, Real Estate, the Zombies
Woods, Sun and Shade, [Woodist]
Slacker, folk-rock at its best. Woods are hard to peg but easy to get into. Meandering, ‘70s indebted but never proggy, Woods has carved out a unique niche all its own.
Recommended if you like: Neil Young, Pavement, Graham Nash
Beyonce, 4, [Columbia]
Part of getting out of your comfort zone is exploring new genres, and this is WAY out of my comfort zone. Beyonce is also way out of her comfort zone exploring all kinds of different genres and vibes. At the risk of losing all my indie cred, I have to tell you the results are stunning. Her work with The-Dream on this record will be the high point of pop music in 2011.
Recommended if you like: um … Beyonce
Reach DCP freelance
writer Christopher Schutte at