A few years ago me and my younger sister were crashing on the couch of a Harvard Graduate student in Cambridge. Though he was a remarkably accommodating host, he didn't have much time to show us around this unfamiliar as most of his time was committed to research and writing papers. I remember reclining in his living room reading some Wilde stories I had found on his shelf and hearing a stream of shuffled indie pop/folk/etc flow out of his room where he hunched over his desk. It was delightful. I had recently discovered the sugary joys of the New Pornographers and Apples in Stereo, not to mention a still constant flow of deeply effecting bands like Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and The Shins, and found myself sitting there thinking, Damn, this stuff is amazing. There is so much wonderful indie pop in the world, I could just listen to it all the time, forget everything else. Look at how interesting and tuneful all of these sounds coming out of his stereo are. I listened closer. Occasionally I'd recognize something, So Says I and Young Folks, and more often I knew enough to place a band without having really listened to them before, Devotchka, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but most of the time they were the kind of unimportant but delightful bands that swarmed the scene at the time.
And through this closer listening I realized that most of the music coming out of his speakers was not that good. Most of it was derivative and catchy in an uninteresting way. Each song would use an instrument in a way I hadn't previously heard, sure, but had none of the power and depth of the great songs of the genre. There would be no, say, "Seeing Other People" or "I Woke Up Today". These songs were great, and the mix was superb, but they were disposable.
One blizzard and three days later I get back to New York and sit down to make a tape of indie pop songs that would be as amazing to listen too as the MA student's, but with only incredible songs. Only songs with the catchiness and the orchestrative playfulness but also containing incredible depth and power. Only the "I Am Warm + Powerful"s and "Death By Misadventure"s of the world. And I realized that I couldn't do it. All told I had maybe ten or fifteen albums of indie pop that I loved wholeheartedly and to make this flow of music I would need so much more than that. And that perhaps the brilliance of the Cambridge mix outshone the dullness of each of its tracks individually. It created an emotion and continuity that couldn't be gained by a list of unique and striking songs. Perhaps the whole was greater than its parts.
This was the first time I ever understood the benefit of disposable music, worth in a scene that goes beyond worth in individual bands. This is perhaps a particularly internet age phenomena as previously mixes took hours to make, not to mention the expense of buying so many records in order to create this wash of music. Now with internet streaming and shuffle it's a natural way of hearing this. And it opens up worlds.
The ambient music scene is buzzing (/pun) like it never has previously, if there even ever was an ambient scene before. And though I doubt I could point you to many individuals that have blown my mind (besides, perhaps, Sean McCann and Noveller ) a quick stroll though bandcamp or youtube will show you few stand outs but and incredible wave of music that could bring wonder and definition to every summer afternoon. The same holds uniquely true for the worlds of dubbed out bass music and instrumental hip hop beats and free mix tapes, and certainly of the streams of violent garage bands and surf rockers and synth-pop textureists swarming the Brooklyn scene today.
It goes almost exactly against the Post-Punk ideal of forward forward forward and, at the end of the day, you probably won't be finding things that change your life. But with everything going on in the United States underground music oceans these days I've found brilliance in the whole what I couldn't find in its parts.