Over that past few decades, the consolidation of radio and record label ownership has had an “interesting” effect on record releases — they have become quite a bit more homogeneous, much like the companies that help to produce them.
Labels picked up bands whose music was easy to categorize, and easy to market to their target audiences. It’s a sad thing, with most releases having no diversity of sound from start to finish. If you want an example for comparison purposes, think of a band like Led Zeppelin, who could offer up Celtic-tinged folk, hard rock, psychedelia, and reggae — and make it all seem quite organic.
None of this is to say that there haven’t been recent counterexamples of the trend. Artists like the Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Devendra Banhart (especially on What Will We Be), Wilco, and the Dirty Projectors have a penchant for taking the music in several directions at once.
To that list I have to add Everest. On Approach immediately went into heavy rotation, as my ears tried to make sense of it all. The diversity was evident: There are tunes that rock hard (“I’ve Had This Feeling Before,” “House Of 9′s”), moments of quiet introspection (“Unfortunate Sea,” a song what will get stuck in your head), soaring anthems (“Catalyst,” “Tall Buildings”), and more roots-oriented fare such as “The Rush” and “East Illinois.” It makes perfect sense that the record arrived on Neil Young’s Vapor label.
It’s not just the menu of styles that Everest deals in, but the palette of employed sounds and situations. The crushing chords and aggressive lines of “I’ve Had This Feeling Before” step aside, revealing a simple rhythm riff and chiming octave pairs from a piano. It’s a moment of relief that makes the next explosion all the more powerful. “Dots” is accented by flutes, strings, shifty chord changes, and even a smidge of 50′s-era backing vocals. It’s exactly the kind of wide-ranging construction I’m thinking about when I say that the industry has pushed its “product” into such narrow categories.
On Approach is that rare album that traffics in several musical styles while still managing to produce a cohesive statement. Let’s hope that this trend continues, both from Everest and the rest of the rock community. This feels like one big step away from “product,” and I thank them for that.