Chill=Good? Not So Much

I’d like to address a point that’s been bothering me for a while, because what’s a blog if not a soapbox in cyberspace? I’m probably one of very few people who care, but whatever.

I would like to point out a simple error in definition.

Chill- To calm down; to relax
Good- Of high quality; excellent

Notice that these two words are not synonyms. Not even close. Therefore, your argument for the quality of Dave Matthews Band cannot simply consist of “but it’s so chill.” That does not mean it’s good.

I’m not arguing for the supposed greatness of Mogwai or Stars of the Lid by their relaxing qualities. They have unique progressions, a rhythmic ebb and flow to their music and original ideas. Mogwai can build tension in a song like no one else can, and its release is incredibly cathartic. They let their creations breathe and take on a mind of their own, wandering in and out of simple, intertwining bass and guitar lines. Pretty standard reasons, but they go beyond “dude it’s so chill.”

If I hear about new music and I’m told “you’ll like it. It’s really chill”, I dismiss it outright. The musicians I hear this attached to the most often (Dave, Jack Johnson, Damien Rice, Rocky Votolato, etc) are either mediocre or completely fucking insufferable. Their guitar work isn’t exceptional, their songwriting is bland, and everything about them is completely and utterly average and dull.

Being the lone, brooding man with an acoustic guitar is not a fast track to authenticity. If authenticity is supposed to be inherent in an artist and is not supposed to be gained through a simple projected image, aren’t they the epitome of inauthentic? They know they will be branded as such from the start because all of their peers are. They know people will brand them as “good taste” based off of their image alone. All they need to come up with is a few lines in a song that sound deep but in reality mean absolutely nothing, make up a simple guitar progression (and if they have a major label contract completely ruin that nice little progression with strings and a choir) and voila, you’re up to your ears in indie cred with people who can’t tell the fucking difference.

It’s not that all these artists are awful; it’s just that they’re given a whole shitload of credit they don’t deserve. They’re taking the easiest possible way to being branded as creative. They’re all perfectly tolerable and fine as background noise, but other than that they are, for the most part, throwaways.

There are definitely huge exceptions to this rule. Elliott Smith is the first that comes to mind. He layers his vocals to great effect and his approach to self recording and song structure is unique and influential. His songwriting is far ahead of his peers. Up here in Bellingham where Western is saturated with people playing the sensitive songwriter card Tyler Rablin stands a cut above the rest. His writing is legitimately excellent and he strives to avoid cliché. His post break-up songs are incredibly observant and introspective and his music has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year, and I can only see him getting better as time goes on. You can listen to it here. Hopefully we get an EP or even a full length by the end of the year.

Anyways, thats my rant. Make of it what you will. Comment a lot. If it can get more than my Muse review that would be fantastic.

~ by Andrew Baer on March 1, 2010.

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