Monday, June 01, 2009

All You Good Good People

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon a large stack of CMJ sampler CDs in Jason's CD shelf. Now, if you ever were in college radio, CMJ is a familiar (and, in my opinion, very reputable) source for telling the difference between the chaff and the wheat. Having a monthly sampler CD included only sweetened the deal.

Now, the stack of samplers were from 1994 to 1999, also known as the time that I really got into music beyond what was on regular MTV and radio. From listening to Lunar Rotation or Modern Rock Live to taping 120 Minutes, there was plenty of great stuff out there. And I have to admit, there was a lot of sentimental stuff that came rushing back into my head when I saw the samplers on Saturday night. And -- no surprise -- it got me to thinking.

For most of the 1990s, major labels were willing to do things like re-release Catatonia's Equally Blessed and Cursed stateside and release Smoking Popes records. In other words, bands who weren't aiming for the top of the Billboard Top 40 pop charts could get onto a major label and get some nice exposure on college radio. These days, that's definitely not the case.

I don't mean to be of the attitude where everything was great was when I was in college, but I can't help but be aware of how long this approach to music distribution has disappeared. As somebody who hasn't been involved with college radio for years, I'm curious if bigger independent labels like Merge and Saddle Creek have picked up the slack. Since the major label attitude has been a "blockbuster or nothing," I'm thankful a lot of larger independent labels picked up bands like Spoon and gave them a better shot.

As I listened to songs like "All You Good Good People" by Embrace and "Joy" by Gay Dad, I couldn't help remember the context of when I heard these songs. Since there were so many similar bands out there, and a lot of new bands demanding your attention for possible radio airplay, it was easy to pass over good stuff.

Of course, the danger in roping back around to stuff from the past can create the illusion that things were better in the old days, and the days ahead will suck. Well, listening to "All You Good Good People" now is a whole different experience compared to listening to it when the song first came out. There's no talk every week about Oasis or the Verve or the Stereophonics or Feeder or Suede and so on. There's no drive to be on top of things. It's leisure instead of competition.

Frankly, I like roping back around to artists I didn't really "get" back in the day. Recently, Beth Orton's first two records have caught my attention way more than they did back in the late 1990s. I missed out on her seminal stuff the first time; I'm thankful that I found out about it eventually.

So that in itself is a great reason to go back to eras gone by. I just don't want to buy into the trap of nostalgia.

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