I saw comments like this last year, and I’ve seen them this year. Something like “this has been a down year for music” or “releases haven’t been as strong this year.” I think it’s funny, and somewhat frustrating, that comments like that constantly pop up after an anticipated album is released and not up to someone’s standards. I think our culture in America has become so ingrained with the idea of “instant gratification.” In sports, every great game is an instant classic or a great player or team is immediately brought into the conversation for greatest of all time. Or if someone struggles early on, they’re immediately written off. More than anything, I think technology and social media have perpetuated a desire to be first and quick: first with breaking news, first with an announcement, quickly discussing major story lines from shows like Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black.
While music fans don’t have to worry about spoilers, and musicians don’t get blasted for having an “off night” on tour, the same mentality of instant gratification still seeps into the music world. If a single or an album doesn’t wow us right away, we’re critical. We, as fans and users of technology (yes, I’m generalizing here), have become so accustomed to responding and making up our minds right away, that we judge the music we hear in the same fashion.
And just a few things to keep in mind before we dive into this: 1) this is purely from my observations reading comments left here, on other similar sites or on social media. 2) my timeframe starts in 2014, when I began writing for Country Perspective and exploring country music in-depth. 3) I’m just as guilty of this kind of thought and behavior.
The big part of instant gratification that annoys me are comments about how music released this year haven’t been as strong as last year. That could be true, that could be false. But when I see comments like that in the summer, I think it’s stupid. We have six more months of music releases to consume before we can accurately make those kinds of judgements. Sure, maybe the first half of the year hasn’t had an album blow up like Sturgill’s Metamodern (released May 2014), or Randy and Wade’s Hold My Beer (released April 2015), but that doesn’t mean 2016 won’t have an album like either of the two.
Take Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. Released in April last year, our circle of independent blogs and fans were high and mighty on Stapleton. Sure he had a slower rise, but by the time November rolled around, Chris Stapleton was a huge name in country music thanks to some CMA hardware. That’s just one example, and someone like Luke Bell probably won’t get any mainstream attention, despite a fantastic, pure country album. Sometimes it may take an album a few months for people to come around to it, or for an artist to see the benefits of fan growth. Not everyone will be an overnight success from one album release. There are a number of albums that took me multiple listens, or even several months, before I understood the hype or praise that album received. Whenever possible, I try to listen to an album multiple times before reviewing it to fully form an opinion. Judgement on art can change, and writing your opinion in stone after one listen isn’t always the best practice.
I think another mindset that plays into the notion of a weak year for albums or whatever is the desire to compare current works with past works – be it an artist’s newest album with the one before or comparing one artist’s new album with a different artist’s great album from “X” year. As a reviewer, I may compare the albums from a certain artist to highlight a growth or improvement I noticed within the artist from release to release, but I try to judge and grade an album as a piece of art independent from others. I’m sure I’m not perfect and that I’ve made that mistake a few times. However, artists who write their songs and albums, write them with their personal life influencing the songs. Just like everyone else, life happens and things change for singers and songwriters. It’s seems likely that an album released in 2013 represents what was going on in that singer/songwriter’s life at that time. And there’s a damn good chance that in 2016, that same person’s life looks completely different and will write about something different for the album that year.
However, what appears to be a common reaction to a new album that veers off the direction or sound of the previous one is that fear or worry that the artist is abandoning his or her music. Statements like “I was a fan until this album” or “he/she/they just lost a fan because I hate this new sound” are just plain idiotic. How can you possibly know that the new, different album will completely dictate and control the artist’s entire career and musical direction until retirement? So the artist released an album you didn’t like, big deal. There’s absolutely no rule that says you must like every song and album from your favorite artist.
Case in point, Sturgill Simpson. I’d be lying if I said the release and reactions of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth didn’t have some influence on this post. However, a common critique I’ve noticed is that it’s not the same as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Well it’s not going to be! I’d much rather have a new, different album than a direct sequel of a previous album that hits all the same marks. If you loved his first couple albums and this new one doesn’t do it for you, then that’s okay. Album number four could be more in line with his previous album and ASGTE will just be that outlier. We don’t know what the future holds, and it’s crazy to think that Sturgill will never ever make an album with hard-hitting honky tonk country like Metamodern again.
Artists want to experiment and express themselves. They’re own music and albums will be different from year to year, and country music will be different from year to year. Maybe we won’t have another album that explodes a little-known act to stardom for another 10 years, but that’s not to say we’ll be left without great music for that decade of time. And at the same time, 10 years down the road we could possibly be looking back to 2016 as a defining year for country music. We don’t know, and we won’t know until it happens. Sure the moment itself may not be as flashy, or the music might not hit you right away like albums before, but that doesn’t mean the magic is lost or that the music is on a downward spiral.
We live in a time where we have more accessibility to music than ever before, for better or worse. Maybe it takes longer to find that gem of an album. Maybe this is the year your favorite artist decides to experiment and explore something different. Whatever the case may be, immediately writing the year or artist off because it doesn’t meet any personal, preconceived standards isn’t the right way to approach music. Give it time before making an absolute judgement. And even then, don’t make that judgement absolute.
Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases
- The Avett Brothers will released True Sadness tomorrow.
- Mark Chesnutt’s Tradition Lives will be released on July 8.
- Lori McKenna’s The Bird & the Rifle will be released on July 29.
- Cody Jinks‘ newest album I’m Not the Devil will be released on August 12.
- Kelsey Waldon’s will release a new album on August 13 called I’ve Got a Way.
- Amanda Shires’ announced a new album for September 16 called My Piece of Land.
Throwback Thursday Song
“The Silver Tongued Devil and I” by Kris Kristofferson. One of country’s best songwriters celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
A.J. Ghent Band. This funk rock/soul band from Atlanta, Georgia was once upon time signed to Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label. This is a solid live album which I think showcases the band’s talents well. And I’m eager and ready to hear a full length studio album whenever the band releases one.
Tweet of the Week
Don’t be too worried about country music, folks… If you type “Bro” into iTunes, Brooks & Dunn is still the first thing that comes up.
— Chris King (@ArtificialChris) June 21, 2016
Bro-country didn’t completely ruin the genre!
Two Stupid iTunes Review for Kane Brown
These were left under Kane Brown’s newest single “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” That’s a scary thought because he needs to be stopped, and at least Bobby Bones is on our side with this. But these two reviews just crack me up. From thinking this isn’t “immature like a typical pop song” to insinuating that country music “involves.”