history of rock and singer/songwriter gone pop/electronic/synthesizer

14 Aug

I had already taken Survey of Jazz and World Music when I was thinking of taking the History of Rock and Roll course at my university. Everyone told me not to take the course because of the professor. So, of course I didn’t sign up on something I really wanted to learn because of what I had heard. Then I discovered Coursera and since then, I’ve been taking History of Rock Part 1 and 2, taught by John Covach, professor at University of Rochester. I am really grateful to have this opportunity to learn from such an outstanding teacher and to learn what I wanted to know more about. I have learned a whole lot, some of which I’m embarrassed I didn’t know about before, since I am a music enthusiast. Professor Covach is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I only wish I knew him in real life. He is well knowledgeable, humorous and let’s have an education and love every moment of it kind of guy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this week’s discussion of the 1990s, the era I was born and grew up in. Professor Covach discussed how as we approach music that’s relatively new, it’s a little more unclear about what truly makes music history presently today. He continues with how music trends from the past can be found in today’s music.

In History of Rock Part 1, Week 5 American Responses (1965-1967), “Dylan Goes Electric”, I learned that the folk scene thought Bob Dylan was selling-out for playing the electric guitar. So in response to all the unhappy folk scene, he writes “Positively Fourth Street” (1965). I didn’t think much about this until recently, while I’ve been paying attention to the trend in the music I listen to. What I’ve come to realize is that the artists I love and have inspired me through their sounds in the singer/songwriter genre are moving towards a pop/electronica/synthesizer sound.

One of the first artists I listened to that shocked me with their new sound is Taylor Swift’s Red (2012) album. She’s always been known as country, but a lot more pop, especially with Fearless (2009) and Speak Now (2010). The sound on Red, the heavy drums, instrumentation was far from Taylor’s signature sound and it took me a while to actually like her new album. There’s a group, Ten Out of Tenn that showcases individual acts from Nashville, Tennessee. I like to think there’s a Nashville sound and that Madi Diaz is part of that sound. She released two albums last year, Plastic Moon (2012) and We Threw Our Hearts in the Fire (2012). Plastic Moon (released earlier in January) features warm guitar sounds played by Madi and Kyle Ryan. We Threw Our Hearts in the Fire (released in October) has a completely different sound, marking the beginning of Madi’s transition to her now space sound. Tegan & Sara hit mainstream radio with a pop-like synth sound in “Closer” on Heartthrob (2013), completely different from “Where Does the Good Go” on So Jealous (2004). Andrew McMahon, known for a piano punk/pop/California sound recently released The Pop Underground EP (2013) with dance synth sounds layered with honest lyrics he’s been known to spill. Andrew Belle, also part of Nashville’s Ten Out of Tenn released a single, “Pieces” from a new album Black Bear (2013). Previously singing out his heart on an acoustic guitar, his new song features a dark instrumentation of synthesizers and drums. Brooke Fraser is releasing a new album in 2014 and this morning, she Instagrammed all kinds of synthesizers from a studio in London. I’m predicting synthesizer sounds on the new album.

SYNTHESIZERS are the new HEARTBEAT of singer/songwriters. In a way, all of this makes me sad. I’m reminded of what my guitar teacher once said to me. Once you love something, of course it has to change. Life is not static and neither is music. People keep evolving. Music evolves with the people who make the music. Artists experiment and become the artists they are, not by being craftsmen (also, what I learned in History of Rock Part 1).

Similar to how Bob Dylan reacted to his fans by writing a song, I have reacted, too. Only in reverse as a fan reacting to singer/songwriters gone pop/electronica/synthesizer.

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