For those of you that may have missed it, Justin Vernon, lead singer of Bon Iver, won two GRAMMY awards last night. One for Best Alternative Album and the other for Best New Artist. The latter win came despite the considerable success of Vernon’s debut 2007 release For Emma, Forever Ago.
Vernon gave one of the more awkward (See video) acceptance speeches in recent memory for his Best New Artist award last night, saying:
“Hi. It’s really hard to accept this award, um. But, uh, well there’s so much talent out here – like on this stage, and there’s a lot of talent that’s not here tonight. It’s also hard to accept because, you know when I started to make songs, I did it for the inherent reward of making songs…So I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here, but with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to all the nominees and to all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here…”
It seemed Vernon was attempting to use the stage at LA’s Staples Center as a platform to discuss the growing dichotomy between The Recording Academy and the rise of independent artists and labels, bolstered by the Internet’s effect on popular music. While I agree wholeheartedly with Vernon’s words, the end result appeared less of a rebel’s stance than the beating of a half-dead horse.
An acceptance like Vernon’s would have came across as shocking and noteworthy had it occurred in the 1990s, when major labels were still churning out platinum albums with regularity. Instead, Vernon’s words come after a decade of turmoil within the industry that has seen album sales dwindle and independent artists thrive in a fashion never previously thought possible. As a result, I found myself cringing during the speech rather than pumping my independent fist firmly in the air.
Essentially, the revolution in music has already taken place. The independents have won the war, even if the bourgeoisie may win a few more skirmishes. Yes, the major labels continue to maintain the lion’s share of radio time, but I tend to think that balance of power will shift naturally as radio moves from the airwaves to the Internet in the coming years.
So I ask, what was gained by Vernon’s decision to take a stance? He didn’t say anything that should come as a surprise to The Academy or its viewers. In my opinion, the bolder decision would have been to quietly accept the awards, knowing that they no longer carry the clout of decades past. Instead, the acceptance was exactly what the lamestream audience expected of indie’s leading man, allowing pop fans to shrug, “Another hipster disses the GRAMMYs…so what?”
Watch the video below and let us know your reaction. Do you think Vernon’s speech was shocking and worthwhile? Or is he simply saying what we all already know: major labels are a decaying dinosaur, grasping at their last strands of control?
Written by Rob Peoni
A Note on The Rankings
I hate lists. I don’t understand the necessity of slapping a score on anything other than a sporting event. This is particularly true of art. Pitchfork’s rating system is the single element of that blog that I loathe the most. When Drake’s album Take Care recently earned an 8.6, I vomited a bit. However, I understand that it was an important release for a lot of listeners. An album that I consider the greatest of the year, could be the worst thing you’ve ever heard. Who the fuck am I to tell you otherwise? Art is subjective and should remain so. If you talk to me next week, my list of top albums will likely be different – or the rankings, at minimum, would be shuffled. That being said, here’s my Top 10:
10. The Bonesetters – SAVAGES!
This is an Indiana blog, and we spend the bulk of our time covering the Indianapolis music scene. With that in mind, I would have felt irresponsible for failing to include my favorite Hoosier release of the year. As I said in my review earlier this week, this is an album free of gimmicks. Just pure, unadulterated goodness. Go see The Bonesetters live. Buy the album. Thank me later.
9. Feist – Metals
Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist rose to prominence with her 2006 release The Reminder, featuring pop songs that immediately engrained themselves in the listener’s mind like “1234” and “Mushaboom.” Unfortunately, that album toed the line of tolerance for me, coming dangerously close to played out irrelevance. That’s part of the reason why I adored her 2011 release Metals. I found myself repeatedly reaching for these songs any time I was in the mood for easy listening. It has never failed me, and never gotten old.
8. The Coasts – The Coasts
This album means a lot to me. I was introduced to lead singer Ike Peters via Turntable.fm. I fell immediately in love with his self-titled release when it hit the interwebs in August. Peters and bandmate Eric Mount were kind enough to grant this blog its first band interview, despite the fact that we still had no clue what we were doing. Okay, maybe we still don’t, but that post legitimized this project for me. At the time, I didn’t realize that we were the first publication of any kind to interview The Coasts. A few months later, their song “RIOT!” had reached enough ears to be played during the credits of 90210. I feel like their band and our blog have grown up together, like neighborhood kids that played on the same soccer team. More important than any of this is the fact that this album kicks ass. I love these guys and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
7. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
Like the best movies, Paul Simon keeps getting better with age. His 2011 release is worth is right up there with Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints as one of his greatest releases to date. Refusing to rest on his laurels, Simon soaks in influences like a world weary sponge, spewing them forth to the masses in his own unique voice. And what a voice! I left his recent Bloomington performance convinced that it was the best retirement-age rock show I have ever been to. This revelation comes despite the fact that I have seen Dylan (multiple times), The Stones, The Beach Boys, Clapton and Elton John. He is the best. Period.
6. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Indie superstar and renowned grower of beards, Sam Beam, has been wowing critics and audiences with his awe inspiring acoustic songwriting for years. One of the toughest decisions of my year was to skip out on his show at The Vogue for The Black Keys at The Lawn. I know, life is tough right? I knew Beam could write a song with the best of them. However, I was never convinced that his writing style could withstand the force of a full backing band. All concerns can safely be put to rest. I would argue, to the displeasure of his rabid fan base, that Kiss Each Other Clean is Beam’s greatest work to date. I’m still kind of pissed at myself for leaving “Big Burned Hand” off of my list for best songs of the year. Shame on you, Rob. Shame.
5. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic
The first four tracks of Mirror Traffic may go down as my favorite sequence of songs of the year. I have, admittedly, never delved deep into the indie legend’s catalog. The massive amount of material from Pavement and his various side projects was always too intimidating from a size perspective for me to sift through. Fortunately, Mirror Traffic was too good to ignore, and I am now officially on the bandwagon. The second song, “No One Is (As I Are Be)” contains the best line of the year from this writer’s humble opinion: “I cannot even do one sit-up / Sit-ups are so bourgeoise” Only Malkmus could have written that line. His sold out show at Earth House was one of the year’s best, and so is this album.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This one took a while to grow on me. To be honest, I have a general disdain for artists that rely too heavily on vocal effects. I’m a non-violent person, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet between the eyes of whatever scum bag invented the insufferable auto-tune machine. Though I respected Justin Vernon’s 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, for its sincerity and emotional candor, the music itself left me less than enthused. It wasn’t until his performance at The Murat that I realized my feelings were misplaced. The depth of Vernon’s self-titled album was on full display that night. The songs are so deceptively simple, that I stood slack jawed as his nine-man band went to work. Congrats to Bloomington label Jagjaguwar on putting out some of the best shit this side of 2010.
3. Real Estate – Days
The album of the fall is also one of the best releases of the year. I’m a sucker for great singing, addictive choruses and easy listening. Days has it all. I don’t see this album leaving my rotation of weekly listens any time in the near future. It’s a go to for road trips, drinking outdoors and attempted make-out sessions. I can play this album for my parents or my peers and the response is the same: these kids rock.
2. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L
To understand my love for Merrill Garbus, you need simply read my review of her Bloomington show at Rhino’s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no other artist like this. Garbus exists in a world of her own. Sure there are plenty of indie bands looping their voice and backbeats, but none of them have her voice. I remember sitting up late at night when NPR Music announced their stream of W H O K I L L via their First Listen series. I had been awaiting this release with baited breath, and Garbus delivered. Her style is not for everyone and if you don’t agree with my selection, there’s no hard feelings. tUnE-yArDs just happens to be a sound that gets my juices flowing.
1. The Beach Boys – Smile
They just don’t make them like this anymore. Period. Unlimited studio time with world class studio musicians is a thing of the past. You win Napster. Although the songs from Smile are undeniable winners, the real joy I derive from this album comes from listening to Brian Wilson nitpick musicians in the studio. Though he is a certifiable nutjob, the simple fact remains that his ears should be preserved in a museum for all eternity. The man is responsible for some of the greatest pop songs that have ever graced the airwaves, and the eccentricity that led to this greatness is on full display here. Thanks for finally allowing the masses to finally get a taste.
Written by Rob Peoni
10. Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years
The title of this album suggests that there is glimmering feeling transmitted when you push play. After opening track “The Great Pan is Dead” entered my brain for the first time, I quickly realized that the light years were being cherished because they did not exist. This album is for a dimly lit room with plenty of space to get up and bang out. The quest for one shining moment is the message that I am left with every time I listen to this record. This record leaves me empty in a good way. I feel like I am stuck in the mines of Chile, face full of dust, yearning for salvation. The fact that I enjoy this dark musical dungeon is reason alone why Cherish the Light Years makes this list. As I look around my apartment I find a handful of light builds that need to be replaced. I think it can wait.
9. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing
This album is a void filler. We all understand what it feels like to be the rebound, but albums like this make it feel comfortable. Lines like “I will hold you tight enough to crush your veins” in opening track “Two Lovers” sends a gripping message to me. This album is about loss and The Rural Alberta Advantage brilliantly makes me ok with the topic. Losing anything in life can be a personal challenge, but songs like “Tornado 87” make it relatable. There are few records that should be used as medicine or a coping mechanism and Departing certainly is my remedy for any thrashing defeat. Although the scars of defeat remain, Departing gives us a direction to head in order to mend.
8. The Bonesetters – SAVAGES!
It is absolute honor to put a local album on my list. The Bonesetters deserve this one. Rob’s review was laid out so brilliantly that I can’t possible think of anything more to say about it. I am so excited to be in the space for this band’s escalation. The ceiling is high for the Bonesetters, and believe me, we will let you know about their every move. They have earned it with this initial gift to Indianapolis.
7. The Drums – Portamento
The proud sophomore effort that sings like a plea but is as confident as the class president. I feel like I am walking the halls of my high school, but the era is the 80s. This album is the answer to all of The Smiths requests from years back. Lines like “The people look at me with a little sympathy” make me think that The Drums were the underappreciated youth of their respective schooling systems. A subtle popularity to own and I am glad Portamento drives this under the radar status symbol in the proper direction.
6. Cults – Cults
A book of snippets laid out more like a photo album than a record. I see before I hear when I visualize this record. This drastic switch in my experience flips the script while changing my outlook on music. “Go Outside” was the first song I heard from this record and it has paved the road and painted the lines into my 2012. The writing is on the wall in lyrics, “You really want to hole up, you really want to stay inside and sleep the light away.” A relatable situation where Cults step in a presents me with a challenge. Why not yonder outdoors, I will turn the page because there are plenty of pretty pictures.
5. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
The guys from Girls write about relationships. Their debut Album and EP Broken Dream Club taught me this. These two first releases was the coaching that allowed me to truly appreciate what Girls was all about. After listening to Father, Son, Holy Ghost for the past few months I feel like I finally understand Girls enough to pass their test. These guys rarely have the answer to their own female problems, but they use music as an elixir. Song, ‘Die’ yells “No, nothing’s gonna be alright, no we’re all gonna get fucked up tonight, no, nothing’s gonna be okay, no it’s all going down the drain tonight”. Certainly, the remedy to any post relationship blues.
4. Yuck – Yuck
It feels like this album has been with me the longer than any release of the year. It feels like an old pair of ripped jeans that I just can’t part with. While some doubt the authenticity of Yuck because of their homage to a collection of indie rock forefathers, I continue to feel genuine comfort with each successive spin. Describing each of their songs might take so long that it puts another hole in my Wranglers. As the winter continues, Yuck will inevitably provide me warmth. Even as the oncoming snow storms enter the air, Yuck sews a patch on my jeans as the ball drops on 2011.
3. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
Smith Westerns grew up a lot with Dye It Blond. Although, these guys are not of legal drinking age I feel like they are so musically mature that they deserve a free pass in any bar in America. Dye It Blond is like a fake ID. It not only makes the band look older than they may appear, but also serves as evidence that they belong in the same scene as the older kids. The guitars on “Still New’”are perfectly placed and layered. The lyrics of “Imagine Pt. 3″ are the work of an old savvy songwriter. The tips that they convey on “End of the Night” can be used by any man, of any age, regardless of circumstance. Straight to the point “Oh, it’s the end of the night, it’s the end of the night, are you going to go home?” I wish I had this kind of courage. I guess I will listen to Dye It Blonde a couple more times for inspiration.
2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
It is rare that I describe an album as beautiful, but this is one of those times. It does not feel right to listen to this record on anything, but vinyl. It was made for the time. I feel cold as I listen to every single lyric of Justin Vernon. Bon Iver released this masterpiece in June, but it is peaking now because it embeds itself in the blistering winter months on the horizon. The tip of the icicle has yet to be formed for this record for me. The point is that this album has withstood a half a year and traveled through many different locations on my musical map. Minnesota, WI, Hinnom, TX, and Lisbon, OH to name a few. Authentic or not these are all places we have all traveled. This record is just a means to bring us all back these spaces at the same time. I feel like I am riding in a sled and Bon Iver is the driver. Who knows where we are heading next? I have my coat and mittens. Thrilled to me along for the ride.
1. Real Estate – Days
Real Estate Days is me. It is everything I look for in a record and more. The melodic guitars carry me from beginning to the end. It is Alpha and the Omega and I’m stuck in between. They build a comfortable space for me each and every time I reach for a listen. Tracks like “Green Aisles” challenge me not only to explore myself but my surroundings. Lyrics “All those wasted miles, all those aimless drives through the green aisles, our careless lifestyle, it was not so unwise, no” provide validity to my own personal cause. This album teaches me that it is completely acceptable to mess up, because it will point me in another direction. Days is a seasonal inspiration to me. Days is my lotion in the sunlight and winter jacket in the snow. It is the perfect protector. It is the compass that directs my next move. This album teaches me to tighten my strings, even if my first attempt is a bit out of tune.
Written by Brett McGrath