Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Sound of the Teens

I've come to the conclusion that the twenty-teens (at least the early part of them) now have an actual sound, as distinctive as eighties synthiness or seventies punk or fifties doo-wop.

Today's sound is epic. I don't mean "epic" describes it. I mean that's what it is.

I'm going to give Florence and the Machine credit for being on the leading edge of the trend, though lots of folks have been playing around the edges. The ever-annoying (at least to me) Black Eyed Peas like to record songs that COULD be epic and produce videos suggest that things are epic inside their heads (cars smashing out of the sky into the pavement), but the band never seems willing to get up out of their comfy porch rocking chairs to finally push things over the top.

Other earlier misses in the genre would include bands like Creed, where the attempt is to funnel the epicness through one large mass of self-indulgent Fabio-haired ego.

But the epic pop sing has become refined, and it's totally here. Imagine Dragons do it. Mumford and Sons, for all their folkiness, do it. Even less-prolific groups like the Ting-Tings, the Mowgli's and River City Extension do it. Even Ke$ha and Lady Gaga have played with the form. The distinguishing characteristics are these:

Percussion that seems to capture the sound of a thousand drums echoing across a large valley, all being hammered so intensely that the drummers hands are bleeding.

Vocal support that sounds like a wall of sound, a hundred hundred voices raised in blistering song.

Chord structures that lift and drive forward on a heroic scale. It's the most anthemy anthem ever.

If you conjure up a picture in your head to go with the music, it involves a camera view that comes sweeping across a windswept plain, dark mountains lining the horizon, as we sail past crowds of people with their faces uplifted, eyes and hands raised to the sky.

Part of the epic sound is not necessarily to write about epic subjects. "I Will Wait," for instance is simply one more love song, but its sonic palette suggests that declaring love is akin to climbing a tall mountain to touch a storming sky. At some point someone is going to mock the form by recording an epic heroic anthem about baking chocolate chip cookies.

I don't read much music press these days, so I may be noting a trend that is already well-documented, in which case, let me just say, "me, too." If not, I'll be using this note to help apply for my pundit's license.

From my Flickr