I've been engaged in a continuous internal debate about the latest Fruit Bats album, Tripper. It's full of meticulously crafted songs that are easy to get and hard to forget, but aren't dripping with cheese. In other words: good pop, built to last. And I was going to include the record on our list of Seattle's 2011 albums we'll still be listening to in 2021, until I realized that, well, I probably wouldn't have this record in rotation for another decade. There's only so much time in my day for soothing singer/songwriters, and that well is already plenty deep (James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Devendra Banhart, etc.). Like so many others we've loved lately, Tripper is a great record that's more of the same.
Check out all the stories in Reverb Monthly's Year In Music issue.
The currency of the day is songwriting. Everyone's trying to write a better song than they heard yesterday. But while they profess to be doing their own thing, few artists have the audacity to genuinely try to create something new. The result is top-notch records like Tripper that sound just like the top-notch records we heard last week and last year. As good as they are, they're not moving things forward.
"The different sound of music has not been as different as it was in the last 10, 15, 20 years," said Bruce Micklus, owner of Missoula, Mont.'s Rockin Rudy's, in our interview about the impact of Adele's 21 on independent record stores. "It's still great quality music, but it's not defining a new movement or a new sound or idea."
Critics and listeners have been whining about the lack of "good" or "new" music forever. And I've never considered "There's no good music anymore" a reasonable excuse for the decline in music sales. But I must admit I found myself nodding in agreement when Russ Crupnick, an analyst who follows the music industry for a firm called the NPD Group, recently told me that he attributes some of the decline in music sales to a lack of innovation. "It's been the first time in my life that there hasn't been a new kind of genre in at least a decade," he says. "Alt-music, grunge, power pop, the pop tarts—there hasn't been anything new in, what, a dozen years?"
It makes sense. Since the dawn of alternative rock and grunge, has there been another new sound that's defined a time? Indie rockers like the Black Keys, Death Cab for Cutie, and Arcade Fire have crossed into the mainstream. But theirs is not a new sound as much as a light reinterpretation of what we're used to. Where's our disco!?
That said, 2011 was a great year for new music. Albums such as 21 have had the widespread appeal we thought had been destroyed by the niche-enabling Internet, and there were signs that innovative bands—Fleet Foxes, Shabazz Palaces—were heading in new directions. Hopefully we'll look back at 2011 as a year that was the beginning of something. There's plenty of talent at work to make it happen.
"I think people want something new," Micklus says, "but I don't know where that would come from."
Chris Kornelis, Editor