This has been on my mind since it went live this morning: FFWD in Calgary made the bold claim that Canadian music is boring, and is placing the blame on CanCon regulations, the tendency to celebrate familiar collective-based music and music journalists being far too polite. Especially the last is something that I publicly struggled with about a month ago, but the general thesis of the article is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while now. While I find myself disagreeing with a lot of this article, it’s providing me with some clever counter arguments to everything I thought I believed about music and music criticism, and it’s certainly a discussion worth having.
Obviously I don’t think that all Canadian music is boring (and the authors of this article certainly don’t either) – there is a wide variety of boundary-pushing, exciting stuff, and some of the most celebrated and innovative acts today are coming out of our country (the article itself mentions Purity Ring and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan as two of these such acts, and there is definitely a much longer list of more). But you can’t argue with the fact that there is a general “Canadian indie” sound, and it is supported and propped up by institutions like the Polaris and the CBC. I’m trying to be cautious here – I believe that both are important in terms of supporting our country’s arts scene, and I recognize that obviously neither can be a perfect representation of good music for every person. Yet it is important to acknowledge that there is an “internal star system” created by these institutions (no matter what the question on a CBC 3 poll, if artists like Joel Plaskett, Dan Mangan or Arcade Fire are present, they will always shoot to the top of the list, and artists like Patrick Watson, Feist or even Fucked Up seem to be Polaris-nominated, no matter what they put out. The Polaris actually acknowledged this though, at a Polaris salon last month).
A lot of the discussion around this article is focussing on the small paragraph comparing popular Canadian bands. Zooming in on this is defeating the purpose of the article, though – they are being sensationalistic in comparing bands based on name and not sound, no one really thinks that Hey Ocean and Hey Rosetta are sonically identical. Forget that paragraph and look at the whole theme of the article – we are running the risk of stagnating by highlighting the same types of sounds. Personal confession: after years of patronage, I have stopped listening to CBC Radio 3 as a way to discover new music. I still love the site as a strong music-based community, and they certainly have some music in rotation that I love to death, but I find that wading through the hours of singer-songwriter or straight-forward plodding rock is not doing enough for me to make getting to the gems worth it (especially since I can often discover them through other venues). Surely this has a lot to do with my taste evolving and I’ve chalked it up to that for a long time, but this article hit a bit of a chord with me, in that I’m perhaps not the only one a bit bored with Canadian indie’s status quo.
Where this article challenges me the most, though, is when they turn to talking about music critics. The point is that if “everything is good, everything basically sucks”. As someone who unabashedly believes in positive music journalism, this is a bit hard to swallow, but I can definitely see where they are coming from. I can definitely get on board with the idea that praising every single album you come across is damaging to the quality of music in general. Why I can’t fully agree though, is that there is no reason to cover mediocre bands at all. The example in the article is Metric, a band who I am admittedly only mildly interested in. The complaint is that everyone is covering them, but no one is stepping up to criticise. But wouldn’t it be more valuable for a publication to feature a band that was creating something amazing instead? The way I see it, every column spent discussing why something is bad could instead be spent sharing something great, and that is a much better use of time for everyone involved. Everyone knows who Metric is and probably has an opinion on them already, but maybe they haven’t heard of Sexy Merlin, and might never do so if a publication doesn’t share what they love.
This is an important discussion to have, and I am glad that someone has so publicly started it. Hopefully Canadian music fans can read past the insults to their music taste (I admit that I love Joel Plaskett, perhaps just as much as the FFWD-approved Sean Nicholas Savage) and see the very thought-provoking insights and questions presented here. We don’t all have to agree, but it is worth talking about.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? There are definitely a lot of concerts and musical events happening in Toronto over the summer - so much so that I find myself with four concerts I want to go to tonight. How to choose?? My attempt at a cost/benefit analysis: consider how many times I’ve seen the bands before (having seen an AMAZING set by a band makes me likely to want to witness it again, but then again what if a band I’ve never seen is even more amazing?), proximity of the venue to my apartment (laziness reigns sometimes), cost of the show, how likely they are to play here again soon, how currently obsessed with listening to their record I am?
This will probably be a game time decision (if anyone cares, the options are Young Magic at the Garrison, the Wavelength/Open Roof Festival presentation of The Magic, T H O M A S at the Tranzac and Bad Passion at Holy Oak… all events I would LOVE to witness were they not simultaneous!). What’s a music fan to do?