Some recent trends in music show a definite loss of vocal emphasis. If you’ve heard late 50s/early 60s “rock and roll”, guitars were prominent but not dominant. A strong emphasis was still placed on vocals. I think that since then and even more frequently nowadays, we are seeing a huge wave of “band” music. By that I mean, all members of a band focusing their talents to the best of their abilities, essentially making the best of the music. In my opinion, the vocals “fall” with these decisions, or aren’t as prominent as they once were. The truth is there’s a bigger market for voice modification and the technological mixtures of vocal soundings, because the artist inherently distorts their voice to make a new and original sound. A mass example of this would be T-Pain’s career, as well as several other recent hip-hop artists, and a slightly lesser known example would be Modest Mouse or Tom Waits. It isn’t that these artists aren’t good at what they do; they are just creating a new trend of voice modification that’s very interesting.
Simply put, the band no longer looks to magnify the singer, but vice versa in most cases. Folk and “Indie”, what I personally listen to most, are great genres that are showcasing this. Low-fi recording is one way that I can think of off-hand that seems to be coming up a lot. The Mountain Goats built the majority of their rather prolific, early recording career on low-fi sound, most notably with the album All Hail West Texas. That album sounds a lot like if you combined a CB radio with their vocalist John Darnielle’s pattern of amazing lyrics. Fleet Foxes, recently in the folk spotlight, create what has come to be called a “gentle wooze” in their harmonic folk, which sounds rather slow and rigid in a loose composition, if that makes sense. Iron and Wine, on the other hand, sort of battles this belief of declining vocals considering the singer, Sam Beam, is the main focus of that music. It shows on their album Shepherd’s Dog, released in 2007 and marking their gradual shift to a style that’s less “folky” and more “indie” in its focus on voice.
However, even with this trend in “band as a whole” movement, the instruments are becoming great windows into the lives of their players. Dead Confederate, who I’m calling a modern-day Nirvana, has a grunge-folk song called Wrecking Ball, by which they actually named their album. It has simple day-in-the-life lyrics with a ballad-type chorus, but in my opinion, shows the true heart of Hardy Morris – from his Seattle upbringing to the project he started the battles Nirvana’s shadow. The simple blues arrangement in a song that grinds so originally at points is sort of a work of genius. Separately, you have artists that are strictly instrumental, as in Andy McKee. McKee works to bind acoustic slaps with well-timed picking to create an amazing relaxing sound, where you are literally left with the name of the song for guidance. Since he has titles like When She Cries and For My Father, his audience receives the notion of hardship. Yet, the majority of his songs end on peaceful tones.
The point I’m getting at is that music is expanding. In the “mainstream” sense music is slacking, creating simple words and power chords that bands like Hinder, Nickelback, and Three Days Grace pounce all over and throw rather unfairly into the teenage ears of their listeners; however, when music is devoured by truth and stands with real meaning, I am forced to look at folk and indie. They stand as the most personal genres and whether they utilize types of voice modification or not, they are carving a new niche and I feel everyone should be a part of it.