Sunday, January 30, 2011

Musical artists and their imperceptibly radical changes of direction

I'm starting to worry whether there is something wrong with my ears. Not that I am going deaf but merely that other people hear things I don't.

This is really to do with listening to music. I keep having this odd experience of critics announcing that the latest album by a band or artist I like is a radical new departure, but where I don't really spot much of a difference.

I have just bought the new offering from The Decemberists, of which the reviewer on AllMusic comments

Raised on a steady diet of Morrissey, Robyn Hitchcock, Shirley Collins, and Fairport Convention, The King Is Dead represents [Decemberists] frontman Colin Meloy's first foray into the musical traditions of his homeland, or more specifically, it proves that he really, really likes R.E.M

To me, however, the latest Decemberists album reminds me uncannily of other Decemberists albums. The singer has a distinctive voice, there still seems to be a lot of fiddle and accordian in there, and the influence of English folk music is apparent. Unlike on their last two efforts, there is no hint of Prog-style concept album or multi-part songs here, but the sound is much the same.

I found this last year when the album The courage of others by Midlake was hailed as a radical departure, sounding like Fairport Convention whereas their previous release The trials of Van Occupanther sounded like Fleetwood Mac. Again, the two sounded very similar to me.

But then I grew up liking Neil Young who in the first four years after I started listening to him realised successive records that switched from heavy rock to electronica to rockabilly to country and western. Spoonfed by such unmissable changes in style, perhaps I just don't appreciate other artists' more nuanced sonic evolutions.

Interested readers can compare this from the Decemberists 2009 album 'The Hazards of Love' with the embedded youtube link in this post to the opening track from their new one. See what you think!

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