Music had a strong year in 2010. Thankfully, pitch-correcting voice technology Auto-Tune was turned down in the pop world just before Sufjan Stevens tried it out, and Animal Collective proved that they’re still the weirdest band on the block with the horrifically artistic funhouse that was the visual album ODDSAC. An impressive number of established bands delivered solid additions to their discographies, but this year a real point of interest was the underground. Using the web for promotion, an increasing amount of independent artists released their work to a global audience.
It could be argued that rumblings on invite-only music torrent tracker what.cd are sufficient to birth a new sub-genre, or at least play a role in uniting like-minded producers in ways that redefine the word “scene.” I mean, why would you name yourself oOoOO unless its use would mainly be on message boards? The Internet re-prioritizes the makeup of an artist’s image, and this is evident even through the marginalized role of pictures on newcomer sites like SoundCloud and BandCamp.
How to Dress Well – Love Remains
In a way, the Internet is a great leveler for artists. No matter how big or small you are, anyone can discover your work with a simple Google search. Of course, critical acclaim will make your name list higher, but with countless bloggers searching for something new and exciting, conventional methods of exposure, like live performance, can sometimes get all but worked out of the equation &- at least at first.
It happened with How to Dress Well, a solo artist whose sound seems to draw equal influence from Burial and Justin Timberlake. With Love Remains, Tom Krell created one of the most unique records this year, and has gained international recognition with little more than a Blogspot page. Creating R&B buried in reverb that sounds like it’s coming out of an old car stereo, Krell uses lo-fi production as a complimentary element instead of as a crutch.
Caddywhompus – Remainder
Another approach some artists have taken is to strengthen an unofficial idea of a band union in replacement of conventional record labels. It’s nothing new in the punk scene, but the Internet gives this idea more space to grow and deepen. CommunityRecords.org is an example of just this. It’s a label based in New Orleans that uses the web to promote its roster of bands across North America. In a year when paying for digital music has become an increasingly hard sell, the label offers almost all of their records for free download &- with the option to donate via PayPal.
Caddywhompus posted their full-length Remainder for free download through this site.
The band is an experimental hybrid of punk and indie; Chris Rehm’s effects-laden vocal delivery is a perfect fit for the high-energy record. By oscillating from pop structure to guitar-induced soundscapes, the band makes it clear that they’re adding whatever they see fit. This is the nonrestrictive beauty of being free of formal record contracts.
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
The distinction between electronic and organic sound has become increasingly ambiguous. Lines could be drawn at several points, but this kind of categorization is losing its relevance pretty fast. Flying Lotus is the embodiment of this point: analogue and digital tools existing in perfect harmony. His genre jumping from hip hop to jazz to dubstep is flawless. Employing Thundercat’s rapid-smooth bass lines, Thom Yorke’s unmistakable falsetto, and with the ass-shaking prowess of “Do the Astral Plane,” Steven Ellison’s influence won’t be soon forgotten.
Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids
Soon after attending a Grizzly Bear concert in 2009, Jay-Z was quoted as saying: “When rock was the dominant force in music, rap came and said, ‘Y’all got to sit down for a second, this is our time.’ And we’ve had a stranglehold on music since then. So I hope indie rock pushes rap back a bit because it will force people to make great music for the sake of making great music.” The man couldn’t have been more right.
Not only have rock artists “pushed back” in the mainstream (one needs to look no further than the global success of Kings of Leon), but that has in turn challenged hip hop to evolve. It can be seen in more abstract forms like Flylo, but it is most notable with the genre’s biggest players. Big Boi’s opus Sir Lucious Left Foot threw lazy hip hop to the curb with relentless delivery and some of the freshest beats of the year.
He wasn’t the only one. Black Milk transcended the underground with Album of the Year, and while it may not live up to its name, he did find a production voice that was much more his own. “Lil Wayne Gretzky” Shad put out the consistently intelligent TSOL, and of course it’s no secret that Kanye’s Dark Fantasy was a success from every angle &- combining sample-heavy symphonic grandiosity with a collaboration lineup nearly topping Plastic Beach. As an artist that unifies as much as he divides, at least it’s certain that last year’s music was strong enough to stand free of its creator’s belligerence.
Barely a week before the year could be chalked up to Kanye, Ghostface Killah emerged from the other end of the hip-hop spectrum with some of the hardest rapping that was heard all year. The man is in fantastic form. Backed up by high octane production, this record finds company among the best of the Wu-Tang canon. All of these records have both exceptional beats and rhymes, giving hope for the death of tedious hip hop.
With the music industry 10 years deep in its file sharing battle, there have been many creative solutions put forth. But no matter what the response, music distribution has already been decentralized on a global scale, ultimately changing everything. It’s almost become like everything is local, simultaneously displacing creative identity to web communication. We can draw influence from wherever we want; art is now globally exposed like oh-so-many diplomatic cables.