A New Genre?
October 25, 2010
Let me ask you guys a very honest question. Is there room for a new genre in today’s music?
Let’s be completely honest: is there? Well, let’s think about it for a second. It’s now almost 2011. If you just look at the Wikipedia entry for musical genres for just A to F, you come up with nearly 500 genres. I didn’t make a typo either: 500! For just A-F! Let that really sink in. Had you ever heard of “Funeral Doom” music before? No? Well, me either. Apparently, it is doom metal (whatever the blue blazes that is) made at the pace of a funeral march. And apparently, Corrupted out of Japan was one of the innovators which is great for them, I guess. Way to create an absolutely meaningless genre that I’m almost positive 99% of the world will never listen to, Corrupted. Sleep tight tonight. But of those 500 for just A-F, how many do you think fit into that description? Even if we were to cut out all the completely useless genres, like bit-pop (music made from old 8-bit computers), we’d still be left with an absurd number. Maybe not 250 from A-F, but still relatively high. And of those genres that people actually use & listen too, how many of those are actually necessary or relevant? Look at Beach House, a band that’s become amazingly popular in 2010 and is heralded as a forerunner in today’s Dream Pop scene. Dream Pop? For real? Whatever happened to just pop music or Indie music or to just simplify things, how about just Indie Pop? Even that’s simpler than Dream Pop, for God’s sake.
Obviously this is a touchy subject for me. I’m just thankful Best Buy doesn’t resort to Wikipedia to sort out their music. How the hell would you ever find anything? But all ranting aside, is there room for a new genre in this still-young decade? Well, let’s keep digging at this. If we go back twenty years and look at the early 90s, a lot of these so-called “genres” like “Dark Wave” had been around for a decade or two. The genre scene in music may not have been as flooded as it is now, but it was obviously already pretty well saturated by this point. But the world had room for at least one more big time genre as grunge arrived around this time, turned music on its head, and shaped a generation & decade. Fast-forward a decade-ish and Indie music, which had been out for a while before, is starting to infiltrate its way into shaping a generation as well (though now, everything is just lumped in there). It’s not like the number of genres ever shrunk along the way allowing these influential genres to take over and reign supreme. Instead, it was the important & noteworthy genres that people turned their ears too. One that matched some need in the hearts of music fans, whatever that need may be. I mean, people really just needed to dance when disco came around, right? It’s pretty easy though to tell which genres are going to be the important ones though. I mean, most of these genres out there are really just some absurd spin-off of another. Take metal for example: you can get anything from Viking Metal (totally serious) to Death Metal. You tell me which one you could actually see people selling out a concert for. So while that’s over-saturating our musical scene these days, there will always still be more room for a big genre to rise up.
Don’t get me wrong though: it doesn’t have to be instantly new or original. Grunge obviously was some sort of bastard child of punk & college rock and though it started in the mid-80s, it didn’t catch on until the tail end of 1991. Indie music obviously has origins everywhere in the musical spectrum and also started in the late-80s and kept growing in the 90s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that the genre started to get a lot of support across the board. Hell, even blues-rock in the 60s didn’t explode until ’66 or ’67, but it had been going on since at least ’63 and obviously grew out of the blues genre and the rise of the electric guitar in the 50s. So like I said, the genre obviously has to fit some need, whether musically, socially, politically, or whatever. It’s got to be at least original enough that it can stand-alone by itself instead of being some weird step-child like Space Rock has to be of Progressive Rock. Seriously, who would ever call Pink Floyd a Space Rock band in a legitimate music discussion? Anyway, so with all of this said, I’d have to go with yes. Yes, there is room in this new decade for another musical genre. But what?
Enter Fang Island. A quintet from Providence, RI that’s been around since 2005-ish, but just this year released their debut album on a major label to great acclaim. I’m not joking about the great acclaim part either. The album is fantastic and I highly recommend it for anyone who really does enjoy music on more than a casual basis. But what type of music is that? Well, utilizing Wikipedia again (it’s so damn good for completely useless things), we can see them being called progressive rock, Indie rock, and math rock. I’m going to completely ignore the last one so we can avoid me making this column five pages of just making fun of random nonsensical genres. I’d say the first two are pretty accurate depictions of the band’s style. If I had to describe the music though, I’d go with it being instrumental based with vocals used infrequently (but great when used) that focuses on unique guitar riffs that evolve into grander melodies and phrases. I’d also throw in the phrase “surprisingly upbeat” as well; definitely a lot of feel-good tunes. What does Fang Island say or think though? Well, they like to describe their sound as “musically high-fiving one another.” Yep, high-fives all around. Funny and original, but do they have something here? In talking up the band’s success throughout the year, critics have taken one of two stances on the “high-five” description that just can’t be overlooked. Either they mock it, pretty scathingly too, or they laud it as the start of a new genre. Obviously it’s easy to mock it since it does seem kind of ridiculous at first, but when you actually do listen to the album & it puts you in that place where you do just want to give everyone a high-five, does it really seem like such a stretch? I mean, I can’t find myself listening to a Viking Metal band and thinking more bands need to emulate this style. But with Fang Island? More of this would definitely be a good thing in today’s musical climate.
Before we ask the big question about this “new genre” though, let’s look at a couple of things first. To start, I hope that if (and when) it does take off, there’s a better name attributed to it. No, not hope: there needs to be a better name. The grunge scene was originally called the “Seattle Sound” which doesn’t really give a lot of meaning either nor does it sound like it would inspire a generation. It’s great that someone came along and fixed that problem. While High-Five Rock isn’t horrible, it definitely does look a little ridiculous at first and almost like one of those completely useless genres we would have cut at the beginning of this column. What name to give it though? You’re asking the wrong person here. If you’ve got any good ideas, e-mail me in a suggestion or something. The next point is that we really just need to give it time. Like I said, grunge music started in the mid-80s and didn’t break out until ’91. Indie music took way longer. And for all of these cases, it wasn’t just one band doing the work. There were bands across the board with the same sound coming out of the woodwork around the same time. So while Fang Island is hopefully the first, let’s give them more time to gain some followers in style as well as more time to perfect that sound. But now, let’s get to that big question and wrap this shindig up…
Is High-Five Rock viable in today’s musical scene? Remember how I said that the genre needs to fill a need. Fang Island could be just that. Obviously in a world where a song like “Crazy” shoots to number one and becomes a crossover hit, it’s pretty plain to see that originality is something the world wants to hear right now. No more post-grunge bands that sound like an abortion of Nickleback and Creed (I’m looking at you, Sick Puppies). Something original that doesn’t sound like anything out there right now, while still giving the feel-good factor. It’s been a rough few years. The country’s divided, the economy sucks, the war still rages on, and people are probably unhappier than ever. Again, when a song like “Hey Soul Sister” skyrockets across the charts and is on every commercial known to man, obviously people just want to smile and bob their heads. So what about a combination of both? A genre you aren’t going to find anywhere else that also makes you feel so good that you just want to slap someone’s hand as hard as you can with a Joker smile wide across your face? Yeah, I can see that filling a need very easily. Very, very easily.
But who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe in a few years, we’ll look back on “High-Five Rock” as another grossly idiotic genre that we have no idea why people emulated or went out of their way to listen. Maybe the next crop of bands that get lumped in that category will suck or offer nothing really noteworthy. Or maybe this whole concept is just too farfetched. I can’t really tell just like no one else could really tell for those other genres. I’m sure if you described Nirvana’s sound to a stranger in 1987, they’d tell you were nuts for ever thinking that’d define an age in pop history. But to be honest, describe Freak Folk to me and I’ll look at you the same way. Bottom line is that there is room for another genre today. As Indie bands start to sound indiscernible to one another just like grunge bands did in the mid-90s, just like punk bands did by the early 80s, and just like blues-rock bands did by the end of the 60s; it’s obvious that a new genre is right around the corner ready to take hold of something. And to be frank, we could do at lot worse than having music like Fang Island taking over the country.